Abducted and raped

Sudanese women are paying a particularly high price for the war that has now lasted more than six weeks. Sexual violence – committed by all parties – has skyrocketed. By Karim El-Gawhary

By Karim El-Gawhary

The war in Sudan has been going on now for more than six weeks. And as in any other war, women are paying a particularly high price. Reports of the rape and abduction of young women are mounting. The situation is particularly dramatic in and around the capital Khartoum. There, fierce fighting continues despite the agreed ceasefire.

Army chief Abdel Fatah Burhan and the head of the so-called RSF militia, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as Hemedti, are fighting for sole control. It is a conflict that none of the warring parties has been able to win so far. Meanwhile, the civilian population and Sudan's women are forced to look on helplessly.

"What is happening to Sudanese women is a relentless vicious circle of violence from which there is no escape. Women are being raped again and again because the streets are not safe. Add to that the constant bombings," Suleima Ishaq tells Qantara.de. "No woman in Khartoum is safe," she sums up the situation.

Ishaq heads the Organisation to Combat Violence against Women in Khartoum, which looks after rape victims. Having tried many times to reach her so that she could comment on the situation of women in today's war in Sudan, she finally got back to me a few days ago via WhatsApp.

A market in ruins, El Geneina, West Darfur (image: -/AFP)
Sexual violence in times of war: women who work as day labourers or in the markets are particularly affected; they are especially vulnerable, says Suleima Ishaq, who heads the "Organisation to Combat Violence against Women" in Khartoum. These women are forced to continue working on the unsafe streets in order to survive

Eyewitnesses from the civilian neighbourhood committees

A phone call is not possible, nor is talking over the Internet, which rarely works anyway because of the constant power cuts, she writes back. But she can answer questions via WhatsApp provided the Internet works briefly in between.

She says that women who work as day labourers or in the markets are particularly affected; they are especially vulnerable, says Ishaq. These women are forced to continue working on the unsafe streets in order to survive. The fact that armed men repeatedly break into homes also exposes those who do not have to work outside to particular danger.

The militias set up their positions in the houses or spend the night there. If the militiamen leave the women alone, criminal gangs often take their chances in the houses that have been broken into later. Ishaq knows of at least three cases of brutal gang rape.

"Sexual assaults have increased, as have abductions of young women. Eyewitnesses from the civilian neighbourhood committees tell us that sexual violence has hit a record high," says Ishaq, describing the situation in Khartoum. "Our problem is that most of the time we are not informed. Otherwise we could help the women and advise them on how to behave and what reasonably safe route they should take to escape from the area." This, she says, is the biggest challenge for her organisation.

Healthcare for the women is also difficult, she says. Most of the areas around the hospitals are controlled by armed groups, she says, and even if the hospitals are still functioning, they are difficult to access.


"Many women in Khartoum urgently need help in health centres, not only for childbirth. But these have either been shelled or are occupied by armed men. Many women bleed to death during childbirth, some are having miscarriages because of the traumatic war situation," Ishaq reports.  He says it is also difficult for rape victims to find help. "Where we can offer help changes every day depending on the state of the fighting," the psychotherapist describes her work.

Meanwhile, 1.4 million people are on the run, most of them still within Sudan's borders. Sometimes men will simply leave their wives behind, Ishaq says. Other times, husbands, brothers or fathers go missing, having either left home to run errands and perished, or been arrested at a roadblock.

This puts the women and children in a particularly precarious position. "They are particularly vulnerable to any attacks and exploitation, and they also run the risk of becoming victims of people smugglers," Ishaq warns. The people smugglers gave them false hopes, claiming to take them to a safe place. Women with no papers are especially affected. For these women, she says, the risk of falling victim to human traffickers is particularly high.

Karim El-Gawhary

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