SUDAN: Gender-based violence still rampant in Darfur, say aid agencies


NYALA, 5 Dec 2005 (IRIN) - Humanitarian agencies have called for increased efforts to prevent sexual and gender-based violence (GBV) in war-torn western Sudan, saying such acts against women violate their human rights.

The call was made during a meeting in Nyala, the capital of South Darfur State at the start of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence campaign, on 25 November.

The campaign links 25 November, the International Day Against Violence Against Women and 10 December, International Human Rights Day. 'Violence is not inevitable,' said Hassan Mohtashami, a UN Population Fund (UNFPA) representative in Sudan. 'Rather, it is often predictable and preventable. A number of interventions can be promising and effective in preventing violence and reducing the harm caused when it does occur.'

UNFPA has been mandated to initiate GBV prevention and treatment programmes in Darfur. It is working with federal and state officials to implement measures to protect women and girls, change harmful policies and build the capacity of UN agencies, government institutions and NGOs in the region.

'The impact of the conflict is very clear in all aspects of life. But it's more clear on women, children, and the elderly because they are most fragile,' noted Elhaj Atalmnan Idris, the deputy governor of South Darfur.

'I hope that we can learn to respect women and appreciate their role in life as the mother, the sister, the daughter, the colleague in the office,' he added.

GBV, particularly the rape of women and girls by armed groups, has been widely reported throughout Darfur. According to state records, however, only five cases of rape have been prosecuted, resulting in three convictions so far.

An important impediment to the effective prosecution of perpetrators is a mandatory form, known as Form 8, which women are required to fill out in the event of a rape before being attended to by police or medical personnel.

Aid workers said the sensitive nature of GBV makes women reluctant to fill in the form. Many of them therefore do not report the crime or receive timely medical treatment.

The deputy governor insisted, however, that this form was no longer mandatory. According to Decree 17, which the governor signed on 6 March, women in South Darfur should have access to medical attention without having to fill out the form.

'We believe firmly that the humanitarian situation has witnessed a remarkable improvement. But we are still looking for more opportunities, more improvements,' Idris stated.

Mohtashami said actions that could prevent GBV included educational programmes in schools, educating families and peer groups to prevent child abuse and youth violence, improving emergency response systems and providing trauma care and access to health services.

'Violence continues to terrorise millions of women and girls regardless of geography, race or socioeconomic status,' Mohtashami noted.

Globally, the UNFPA representative added, one in every three women suffers some form of violence in her lifetime and one in four will suffer violence by an intimate partner.

An earlier report released by UNFPA and the UN Children's Fund said a study had shown that sexual violence was consistently reported during attacks on villages - especially when women and girls left the camps.

'Although the women ... were asked no direct questions with regard to sexual and GBV, the issue came up in most focus groups when discussing the health impacts of the conflict,' observed Roselidah Ondeko, GBV team leader for UNFPA, at the time.

'Unmarried girls were the most affected, and some did not seek health care in clinics due to stigma and shame,' the report said. Women in the focus groups cited 'physical injuries due to beatings, rape, miscarriages, excessive bleeding or injuries sustained during flight from the enemies' as some of the health problems they had suffered.

Sexually transmitted diseases, malnutrition, irregular menstrual cycles and psychological disturbances such as nightmares were also frequently mentioned by the women.

The Darfur conflict pits Sudanese government troops and allied militias like the Janjawid against two main rebel groups, the Sudanese Liberation Army/ Movement and the Justice and Equality Movement, who claim to be fighting against the marginalisation of their region by Khartoum.

According to the UN, some 3.4 million people continue to be affected by the conflict, of whom 1.8 million are internally displaced and 200,000 have fled to neighbouring Chad. The majority of those affected are women and children.