Act Now to End Violence Against Women – Is it Rhetoric or Reality in Sudan?

“Act Now to End Violence Against Women” was the theme of the recent global summit that was hosted by British government in London and was largely attended by people from all walks of life, including global intergovernmental institutions such as the UN and other nongovernmental organizations. While the summit was an important milestone toward addressing VAW (violence against women) worldwide, we believe there is a clear indifference in the world response to the plight of women. Unless there are practical steps taken and an inclusive approach that can speak to every single woman in conflict, or if the vicious attacks against women in Sudan are addressed, the campaign will only remain slogan.

Rape and Murder of a Woman in a Darfur Camp

While the world leaders and women’s rights advocates were meeting in London and debating how to address violence against women in conflict, sadly a Darfuri woman, Kltoma, was brutally raped by the Janjaweed militias and murdered[1] not far from Kalma camp3 where she had lived for years. However, there was no mention of this at the summit. Sudan, where the government policy and laws reinforce violence against women such as flogging women because of their choice of wearing pants and Darfur, where rape has been and still used as a weapon of war are notorious for VAW. Yet they were overlooked at one of the most significant platforms to address these issues.

Rape in Darfur is not just sporadic incidents, but it is a systematic plan by the government of Sudan and its Janjaweed militias to dehumanize, humiliate and kill the will of women in Darfur. It has continued to devastate women and girls for the eleven years of the crises in Darfur. It is imperative that the global summit includes the Darfur and Sudan in its priority agenda otherwise the campaign will not effectively eliminate a large amount of sexual violence in conflict in the world.

It is quite clear that because of the indifference and disparity in the way the world responds to the plight of women being raped and attacked, VAW has continued unremittingly in Darfur and Sudan.

Death Sentence for Meriam

By now, many have heard of the injustice that has befallen in Sudan concerning Meriam Ibrahim being sentenced to death for apostasy and adultery—apostasy because she has supposedly abandoned the Muslim faith and adultery because in Sudan’s Islamic law, Muslim women are not allow to marry non-Muslims (her husband is Christian). What makes it even worse is that Meriam recently had to give birth in prison because of her death sentence. The global community mostly agrees with the statement made by Amnesty International calling the decision “abhorrent”.

While there has been a large outpouring of support for her, the issue still remains of the injustice that she has experienced for expressing her right to religious freedom. Meriam is being persecuted for refusing to recant her Christian faith. However, the government does not see it this way. They believe that Meriam has abandoned the Islamic faith, even though she expresses that her mother, due to the lack of her father’s presence, raised her as a Christian during her childhood[2].

What this whole dilemma does is raise the debate of Sudan needing to allow not only religious freedom, but allowing more freedoms to women in general. Sudan has ratified the UN conventions meaning, they agreed to defend the concept of freedom of religion[3]. In going against this, it is another way of Sudan displaying their lack of willingness to develop as a state in the modern world. It also is an issue of oppressing women—if Meriam has testified in court that she was raised Christian, then there is no issue with her marriage and, therefore, she should not be persecuted. It is a problem of Sudanese suppression of women’s rights. Because the court wants to believe that she was not raised Christian and they want to believe she is lying, they treat her as such. Through all this we have found Sudan has problems in their justice system, in allowing expression of religious freedom, and in accepting that women should be given equal rights as citizens.

As always we stand vigilant to defend women’s rights. Darfur Women Action Group joined rallies outside of the White House and the Sudanese Embassy this past Thursday and Friday (June 12 and 13th) and stood in solidarity with her plight and to demand protection for Meriam, to have her death sentence overturned, and for her and her children to be granted protection by the United States government. Her children and husband are U.S. citizens and as a woman at risk of death who is a part of that family, she deserves protection and support from all world leaders.

What is happening in Sudan is the responsibility of the global community. Allowing a vicious government to continue deliberately committing atrocities against its own people and direct its most brutal attacks against women is immoral. Because of the inaction from the international community to protect women in Darfur from attacks against them it has continued with impunity. It is worth noting that the Global Summit to End Violence Against Women has overlooked the women of Darfur and excluded Sudan in general. The hard reality is that heinous crimes of raping a and murdering a woman continue, and sadly those who gather at the global summit have not expressed outrage or have even noticed what had happened in Darfur’s Kalma Camp

In order for the global summit and to succeed in completing its priority agendas and for their campaign to be effective, Darfur and Sudan should not be an exception.

By Niemat Ahmadi, President of DWAG and Genevieve Turcott, Outreach and Government Relations Intern