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!

Thank You

Dear partners and supporters of Darfur Women Action Group,

I hope you are all safe from the aftermath of Sandy storm. Our heart and prayers are with those who are affected and those lost loved ones; we ask God to grant them strength and patience and to grant speedy recovery for those who lost their homes and their services. Safe travels to those of you who were unable to travel home because of the storm.

It gives me the pleasure to express my deep appreciation to all of you for taking the time to be with us over the last weekend. A special thanks to those of you who have traveled from as far as California, Vermont, New York , New Jersey, Texas, and Florida, as well as those who are in the DC who made sacrifices to be with us. Your presence meant a lot to us and to the cause of women. It has empowered us and has further contributed to the success of our first ever symposium on Women and Genocide and gave us more energy to continue to fight for our people’s rights.

I believe our effort for movement building to confront genocide is moving forward with more confidence because of your support and dedication, without which achieving the symposium would not have been possible.

As promised, the updates from the symposium will be up on our website soon, and we will also soon share with you our strategy and upcoming action.


Niemat Ahmadi

President, Darfur Women Action Group


The Badass Women of Darfur Written By Maria Bello

Niemat Ahmadi is a quiet badass. She is a native of North Darfur, founder and president of Darfur Women Action Group and the director of Global Partnerships for United to End Genocide and has been a friend and colleague for many years. She is soft-spoken but passionate when it comes to her country and the atrocities that are still being committed there. She has seen things and her family and friends have and are experiencing things that no human being should ever encounter.

This weekend I am joining her in Washington, D.C. for Darfur Women Action Group’s symposium on “Women and Genocide in the 21st Century,” it is taking place this month in D.C. to draw the attention of the advocates and policy makers to the plight of the women of Darfur who have long suffered and to take with us on our journey of women empowerment by developing practical strategies for women. The symposium will also be bringing Sudanese diaspora leaders from various regions of Sudan to set strategies of how to bring about change in Sudan that will sustainably end the crisis in Sudan.

What do you know about the crisis in Darfur today? Here is what I know and am horrified by:

First off, it’s far from over and women continue to bear the brunt of the suffering. Today, after almost 10 years, the situation for women in Darfur remains tragic. The widespread systematic use of rape and sexual violence against women and girls is now spreading beyond Darfur into other regions of Sudan, including the capital city of Khartoum. There is also an increase in violence against female civil society leaders in Sudan. These women are continuously abused after raising their concerns about the Sudanese’s repressive laws that restrict women’s freedoms and allow impunity for security agents to abuse women.

Despite the outcry and the attention built around the Darfur genocide movement, little has been done to affect the situation on the ground. I am really wondering why and I feel that the international community owe the people of Darfur an answer.

It’s worth noting that Omar Al-Bashir of Sudan has already been indicted as a genocidal criminal. In 2004, the United States government declared the crises in Darfur as genocide and in 2009 the International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued two arrest warrant against Al-Bashir for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. I am still wondering what other confirmation the world community and its leaders needs before they can take serious action and stop the ongoing genocide and hold the perpetrators accountable.

As expressed by my friend Niemat:

Imagine, your mother who is over 70 years old and is sadly caught up under the threat of fire with nowhere to turn, you are constantly getting news about a beloved relative just shot dead or a best friend who has been brutally raped with total impunity or sisters whose children are left to die because they have no access to and cannot afford medical treatment, you may never be able to imagine that. For those of us lucky enough to escape the genocide, you cannot believe how much pain we carry with us daily, with little hope for the situation to change. It’s devastating and it is indeed far from over.

As Niemat points out:

In spite of the suffering, Darfuri women are emerging throughout the grassroots as potential leaders; they serve as healers and keepers of their families and acting as spokespersons for their people in articulating the demands of their community. Further, they demonstrate a unique resilience and outstanding capacity to lead the potential to sustain their society. However, they are rarely recognized for these tremendous contributions, despite the enormous challenges that they face.

I know you join me with the belief that women should not be treated as victims but as equal partners in resolving the crisis. Hence, civilian protection, response to women’s emergency needs, education and economic empowerment of women, along with facilitating women’s access to justice and peace-making forums are of particular importance in combating violence and in achieving a sustainable end to the atrocities in Darfur and Sudan at large.

There is nothing more powerful in fighting genocide than empowering the affected communities. At its core, empowering women is of particular importance to help the Darfuri and the Sudanese people at large to stand for themselves, work together to end the crisis and to bring democracy to their homeland. That is what the Darfur Women Action Group is all about and that is why I will do whatever I can to support it. By asking questions, listening and using my voice to speak up for women and I call up on you to join me. Only with our collective effort can we end violence, protect the vulnerable and empower men and women to make our world a peaceful and just place to live.

Please visit http://DarfurWomenAction.org website to learn more, volunteer, or whatever it is you wish to participate in helping bring some peace to this situation. If you are in D.C, I invite you to sign up and join us at this event. [Darfur Women Symposium in D.C. Oct. 27th-28th.]

Message from the Chair of the Darfur Women Action Group

I am very honored and pleased to serve as the Chair of the Darfur Women Action Group.

Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn subtitled Half the Sky, their remarkable book “Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide”. The book, while presenting oppression of women and girls throughout the world, is focused on positive, pragmatic responses by women to the circumstances of oppression.

I have had a life-long aversion toward oppression and victimization. During my childhood in the 1940s, my family sponsored and housed cousins who had survived the Holocaust in Europe. Night after night for two years, I heard stories of the horrors of Auschwitz. My cousin, Rachel, was spared death because she was a nurse and could work in Dr. Mengele’s laboratory as he performed tortuous experiments on children. Her response to this was to smuggle children out of his compound under her clothing. Of course, many were re-rounded up, but many survived and thrived because of her.

I’m also convinced that the power of people lie in their stories. It is in Rachel’s story that I’m reminded of the human resiliency that I see inNicholas Kristof’s New York Times Op-Ed pieces on the Darfur genocide; in the documentary movies on the genocide in Darfur that have been produced over the years; from the Darfuri friend’s I’ve been blessed to make. And for this reason I feel the interconnectedness between myself and the people of Darfur because we share a common story.

Genocide is disgusting. Simple statement but within a complex context. Sadly, I believe that genocide is inevitable where there is a group that considers itself stronger than another group but feels somehow threatened by the perceived weaker group. The most effective response to this supposed threat is to get rid of the “weaker “group. BUT a species cannot survive where genocide is tolerated; a rule of law to protect life is required. So, in order for human beings to survive, we must fight genocide wherever it exists and we must fight impunity for the perpetrators and pursue justice for those whose rights have been denied.

Fighting genocide is often a political act. But it can also be fought by enhancing and strengthening social justice by changing the balance of power, so that the differential between the stronger group and the weaker group is diminished. In Darfur, as in so much of the developing world, women and girls are perceived to be the weaker group. Physically, this is often the case – but social mores and political laws often cause women to be the weaker group on an economic basis. Without economic opportunity, I strongly believe that we cannot have social justice. The concept of responding to the horrors of genocide by developing areas of opportunity for surviving AND THRIVING is quite thrilling to me.

And so, DWAG – and its commitment to developing opportunity and, thereby, empowering women as a positive response to genocide. This requires a multi-lateral approach with a collective effort from all of you who want to make a difference in other people’s life:

• Empowering women with skills to heal from the horrors of rape and torture.
• Empowering women with familial skills to enable them to nurture their families within a hostile environment.
• Empowering women with vocational skills to improve the economic status of themselves, their family and their community.
• Empowering women and girls with first-rate and quality education to develop skills of leadership within their community and, subsequently, internationally.

I encourage you to join us in this most exciting venture. To do so, please go to www.darfurwomenaction.org/ and sign up.

My deepest thanks to all for your support – especially to Niemat Ahmadi , the founder of DWAG who for her vision, commitment, talent and courage and her dedication to the rights of women.

Thank you.
Norrie Kurtz