Bodies as Battlegrounds: How to Protect Sudanese Women?


By: Saba Hussam

Amidst the turmoil in Sudan, discussions among Sudanese women about effective contraception methods have gained unexpected prominence. One might envision these conversations unfolding in the intimacy of a women’s gathering, or perhaps during a lecture on family planning. Or even in a random argument on a WhatsApp group. Yet, they now echo across digital platforms, underscoring a poignant reality.

Sudanese women find themselves scouring the remnants of the current war for emergency contraception. The urgent need arises from the harrowing experiences of random rapes by the RSF.

In the absence of accessible emergency contraception, how do Sudanese women react in these dire circumstances?

Reflections beyond Sudan: Are women’s bodies a curse and punishment

Women’s bodies have always borne the burden of controversy and contradiction. Despite strides made in challenging stereotypes, the relentless glare of societal norms and entrenched traditions persists, casting a shadow over their safety even within the sanctity of their homes. The relentless cycle of violence—murder, rape, and abuse—continues to haunt them.

Since the eruption of conflict between the Sudanese National Army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) this April, women have found themselves on the edge of a precipice, facing a fate sharpened by the blades of uncertainty. For those who narrowly escape death, the specter of sexual violence looms ominously.

A malevolent specter desecrates their bodies, striking like a frenzied beast in front of their loved ones, driven by vengeance, degradation, or both. These atrocities are not merely committed but also documented and boasted about, leaving women with only one avenue of escape—a fragile thread of solidarity, a glimmer of hope for survival.

Caught between the horrors of rape and the bleakness of suicide, where do Sudanese women turn for salvation?

Broaching the subject of suicide in our Arab societies, particularly those deeply rooted in religion, is akin to adding fuel to the fire. Whenever suicide is mentioned, it triggers a stark division of opinions, with opponents and sympathizers entrenched in their positions, often neglecting to delve into the underlying narratives and factors driving such despair.

For many women in Syria who fell victim to rape at the hands of Assad’s militias during the revolution, suicide became the only conceivable escape. Their bodies endured unspeakable violations, yet their stories remained marginalized, and overlooked amidst the tumult of the Syrian uprising. They faced victimization twice over—first when subjected to the horrors of rape, and then again when their suffering was minimized and subsequently erased from the narrative.

Today, Sudanese women face the same danger. They are subjected to sexual violence, their bodies are violated, and their voices are marginalized. Except for social media, which has witnessed calls for help and the search for contraception after rape.

For some, preventing a second catastrophe seems crucial after enduring the first. Like their counterparts in Syria, some Sudanese women contemplate suicide as a preferable alternative to further suffering, amidst a chorus of voices urging them towards suicide rather than enduring the trauma of sexual assault. It seems we are destined to perpetuate the stigmatization of victims/survivors of sexual violence, rather than holding the perpetrators accountable.

In the same vein, feminist voices are getting louder, emphasizing that rape does not signal the end of life for women and girls. Amidst the horrors they endure, their existence remains significant, and preserving their lives becomes paramount. These voices decry the false dichotomy between death and rape, challenging the notion that survival is not an option for women.

Yet, for Sudanese women, discussions about psychological rehabilitation for survivors become a distant luxury. They struggle to safeguard themselves from forced pregnancies, a cruel reminder of the trauma inflicted upon them through sexual violence.

Media Blackout on Crimes Against Sudanese Women

The glaring “breaking news” banner, often in a vivid hue of red, dominates news channels, signaling significant events. Yet, it disregards the core tenets of media ethics, which mandate the prompt reporting of humanitarian violations against civilians.

Today, however, this very emblem of urgency turns a blind eye to the plight of Sudanese women, who endure unspeakable sexual, physical, and psychological violence. A deafening media blackout shrouds their suffering, stifling their cries for help and leaving their pleas unanswered. Even well-meaning attempts at support on social media inadvertently exacerbate their trauma, perpetuating the cycle of harm.

The circulation of videos depicting rape, including that of innocent children, serves as a stark reminder of the dire situation in Sudan. However, amidst this effort to shed light on the crisis, a profound ethical dilemma arises. While these videos aim to raise awareness, their reposting inflicts fresh wounds on the victims, rekindling their trauma. Furthermore, it flagrantly violates their fundamental rights to privacy and safety in the aftermath of the assaults.

After all, we live in societies that stigmatize women and girls for experiencing sexual violence. As we have seen in this context and others, women who kill themselves for being unable to cope with the trauma of abuse, stigma, and blame are eventually glorified.

Therefore, those circulating the videos should have paid attention to the appropriate method of “support” for the survivors themselves. Advocacy for justice must never come at the expense of their right to privacy and safety.

Sudanese women looking for contraception… online

Setting aside other considerations, how should we interpret Sudanese women’s use of online platforms to seek contraception? The search for contraception implies that the rape occurred without any sort of sexual protection. With the recurring and frequent accounts of Sudanese women experiencing random assaults, alarm bells ring.

Despite common misconceptions, condoms serve not only as a highly effective means of preventing pregnancy but also as a barrier against sexually transmitted infections and diseases. These consequences of sexual violence necessitate prompt medical attention for survivors/victims, including appropriate medication to prevent the assault from developing into a chronic sexual disease.

In addition to the physical harm caused by assaults, like injuries to sensitive areas such as the vagina, anus, and cervix, or bleeding, urgent medical attention is crucial for survivors’ safety. At the very least, they should not come out of this trauma with physical and sexual injuries that may affect them in the future.

However, the targeting of hospitals and the closure of pharmacies and clinics as a result of the current armed conflict has exacerbated the crisis. Survivors/victims cannot receive the necessary health care, nor can they receive treatment doses that protect them from the physical repercussions of the assault, including contraception resulting from the assault. Of course, talking about psychological rehabilitation for survivors/victims becomes a luxury in the case of Sudanese women when they can’t even find a means of contraception that protects them from forced pregnancy which reminds them of the trauma of sexual violence.

Abortion Off the Table for Sudanese Women

Considering Sudanese law’s strict stance against abortion, what recourse do women have in cases of pregnancy resulting from rape? It’s a grim reality that they face, one that prompts frequent searches for contraception online. Even with condom use, the risk of pregnancy remains, underscoring the harsh truth that such pregnancies stem from sexual violence and rape. In the absence of emergency contraception, how do Sudanese women act?

The breadth of violations against women in Sudan is undeniable, spanning from physical and sexual abuse to denial of medical care and the risk of unsafe abortions. Given the scarcity of resources, treatment, and even functional hospital emergency rooms due to the ongoing war, it is inevitable to recognize that what is happening is a comprehensive violation on many levels.

Massive displacement and genocide

Eight months into the war, according to statistics, 6 million people have been displaced both within and outside Sudan. The number of casualties has risen to 10,000. There is a complete cessation of water and electricity supplies in many cities. 19 million children have been deprived of education, as 70 percent of schools have been completely or partially destroyed. The destruction of infrastructure also includes a collapse of the healthcare system, leading to numerous fatalities due to interrupted medical treatment.

The rape and harassment of Sudanese women is not limited to this war. There is a long history of sexual abuse against them. For example, the testimonies of women in the Dafur region provide a clear picture of the sexual atrocities committed against them since 2003. These include rape, harassment, and forced abductions. The region has long been embroiled in political events and armed conflicts in which women and girls pay a double price.

Women and girls endure a heavy toll, ranging from physical and sexual abuse to denial of medical care and unsafe abortions.

Left Exposed

In Sudan, women find themselves in a precarious position, lacking the protective shield of support. Despite enduring decades of oppression, both governments and international organizations have been reluctant to respond to their cries for help. There’s been a failure to unite under a collective umbrella recognizing Sudanese women as integral members of society, despite their enduring the most egregious violations, in the context of war crimes committed in Sudan.

Currently, Sudanese women continue to grapple with the erosion of their rights, their voices stifled by oppressive forces. Some claim to champion the Sudanese cause while overshadowing the plight of women. Yet, amidst this tumult, Sudanese women are rising up, denouncing those who have violated their bodies and their privacy, and condemning the silence surrounding these crimes.

It’s imperative for the international community to take swift action to halt the sexual abuse of Sudanese women. Urgent humanitarian aid should include provisions for emergency contraception and abortion pills, as part of the humanitarian aid that should be sent as soon as possible.


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