Women and Genocide in the 21st Century: A Call for Action to End the Tragedy of Darfur

 It’s far from over, and a durable resolution seems more distant with the recent escalated violence in my homeland.

Today the situation in Darfur for our people is extremely dire and dangerous. As of today, Darfur has the largest number of internally displaced people in the world. In Darfur, over 3 million people have been forced out of their homes and sent to suffer long or indefinite exiles without hope of return. Hundreds of thousands have been documented crossing the border to neighboring countries, and many more have crossed without being counted in official numbers.

Rape has been used as a weapon of war and distraction, and is committed repeatedly to further terrorize the defenseless. Furthermore, government-supported outsiders have taken our lands. Sadly, for several years the United Nations has successfully downplayed and stopped adding to its official figures the total number of people killed in Darfur as the result of Al-Bashir and its allies, the Janjaweed. For more than 3 years there have been no journalists allowed in Darfur and all means of communication have been curtailed. Humanitarian access has been severely restricted, and starvation is consistently used as an insidious weapon for killing. Aid organizations and their workers have been targeted and expelled, and in most cases, they walk out in silence, fearful of government retaliation against those who remain to assist the needy. The joint United Nations African Union mission in Darfur, UNAMID, has completely failed not only to protect the vulnerable IDPs but to protect its own members. The number of attacks against peacekeepers is rising and the number of their troops killed in Darfur increases daily.

Speaking with our families on the ground every day, we hear heartbreaking tales. Between January 2012 and today, attacks against civilians have dramatically escalated and the security situation is rapidly deteriorating. As an isolated example: between August 1st and the end of September this year, the scale of the attacks staged equaled the level of 2003-2004. Just this August, the first Kassab camp and its surrounding area was attacked, approximately 25,000 displaced persons have been forced to flee again, their homes were completely burned, tens  of women, men and children were killed and hundreds more have gone missing. In late September Hashaba village, in the North, was attacked by both ground and aerial bombardment and over 100 civilians were reported dead. Unfortunately, the numbers reported were very conservative because of restriction of access. This is in addition to constant bombing in and around the areas of Jebel Marra and the complete blockade of aid access. Evidence showed that almost all of these attacks have again targeted the same tribes who have been systematically targeted for elimination since the beginning of the crisis. What else can you call this? It’s genocide. The crisis in our homeland is of global magnitude and it is imperative that we continue to bring it to the attention of the world community, remind them that if it’s not in the news that doesn’t mean it’s over and that Al-Bashir is never short of more orchestrated tactics to fool the international community.

The ICC has issued two arrest warrants against Al-Bashir alone and for three other suspects for crimes committed in Darfur. It’s increasingly clear that the world has compromised justice for the victims of genocide in Darfur in exchange for a nonexistent peace. That is why today our people in the regions of Numba Mountains, Blue Nile and Abyei are forced to join the people of Darfur in their misery, while their fate is left to be decided by their own murderers. Once again, women continue to bear the most suffering living in Darfur, South Kordofan or Blue Nile

Today, after ten years, the situation for women in Darfur remains tragic. Through 2010-2012 there has been a growing concern about widespread, systematic rape and sexual violence against women and girls. Just in  2 week ago , witnesses reported to Radio Dabanga that a three year old girl had been raped in Kass, South Darfur. Recent trends show that Darfuri women are being systematically targeted in other regions of Sudan, including the capital, Khartoum. There is, in fact, an increase in violence against female civil society leaders within Sudan at large. Female civil society leaders are continuously abused for raising their concerns about the repressive laws that restrict women’s freedoms and that allow impunity for security agents to abuse women under the Popular Discipline Act of the Sudanese security laws in the capital of Sudan.

Consequently, women activists and human rights defenders have been subject to arrest and derogatory treatment by the authorities of the oppressive government of Sudan. Last year, on International Women’s Day, women activists in Khartoum gathered peacefully to protest the rape of a Darfuri student by the regime’s security agents, demanding legal reforms of the repressive laws that legalized violence against women, such as flogging. Women were flogged or beaten in public because of their choice to wear pants, after which the government authorities arrested, beat, and interrogated over forty women.

Women represent about half of any nation’s talent and human resources, and even more so during times of war. In the midst of crises during which all resources are derailed and stretched to the limit, no society can afford to sideline those resources.  In Darfur, Sudan, where rape is used and stilla weapon of war, women are extremely affected .They are still oppressed and have been forced to live in silence for ten years. As of today, women represent the overwhelming majority of the IDPs and refugees in Darfur and neighboring countries.

Darfur’s women, despite being long-suffering victims of war, have demonstrated an outstanding resilience, strength and resolve to combat genocide and keep hope alive in their communities. Nevertheless, the abilities of women have not yet been utilized effectively by actors and stakeholders working to bring peace to Darfur. Their real empowerment has not been prioritized. Unless women's issues are brought to the forefront, a sustainable end to the crisis remains unattainable.

The sad reality is that ending the crises or attaining peace in Sudan is still very far off. This is particularly inarguable in Darfur, where women are gang raped on a daily basis, in and around the IDP camps, in villages and in cities, while their violators are treated with absolute impunity. 

This reality demonstrates how crucial it is that DWAG exists. Our mission is to address these issues and work with partners and stakeholders to bring these important issues to the attention of advocates and policy makers who are concerned about women's issues; as well as to integrate women’s issues into the broader genocide advocacy and its messaging, and to help develop strategies for women's inclusion and meaningful empowerment at all levels. This is essential in order to effectively combat violence against women and prevent genocide in the future.

We have watched how the world community has failed the people of Sudan in Darfur and the other marginalized regions, and that is why we need to step up to our responsibility, to stay on the side of truth to do all that we can to make a difference even if it is one life at a time.

I called, and many of you have answered the call, for which I am so grateful. I am empowered by the fact that I am being joined by people from all walks of life, from California to New York and within our own DC area; by students, faith leaders and the advocacy movement. Some of the same leaders who have joined us in the past continue to carry on the mission. I will confidently say that despite the frustration and the longstanding suffering of our people in Sudan, with our collective effort, ending genocide is possible

I am humbled and strengthened by those who have joined me, people like my sister and dear friend in the fight, Maria Bello (click here to read her article of support), who has travelled from LA to be with us in DC to speak for the women of Darfur; Mark Kostabi, who flew from Italy to stand in solidarity with us by using his talents to bring attention to the plight of women, along with  the distinguished speakers and the Sudanese musicians who have given their time and efforts in order to raise awareness. Those of you who have sent messages of support or joined us on Twitter or liked us on Facebook, your support invaluable and indeed you are making a difference. My fellow Sudanese from all regions of Sudan, who speak from their heart and committed to work together to build strategy for sustainable change in Sudan through the their collective effort, a strategy aspiring for a just and lasting peace for all the people of Sudan

Our recent symposium (Women and genocide in the 21st century) was the first ever symposium on women and genocide which have brought a lot of energy and galvanize the support of our members for which we are very grateful. With this kind of solidarity we will continue to fight against genocide until the world understands the magnitude of the genocide and its impact on men and women, and does something to end it sustainably.

To support our effort, please join us by visiting www.darfurwomenaction.org and don't forget to add your email to our list serv on the top right of the website, thank you!