As the Sudan War Passes One Year, Sexual Violence and Hunger Surge

After a year of war and unrest, a staggering 6.7 million people in Sudan need protection and response services for violence--especially women and girls. © UNFPA Sudan/Sufian Abdul-Mouty
After a year of war and unrest, a staggering 6.7 million people in Sudan need protection and response services for violence – especially women and girls. © UNFPA Sudan/Sufian Abdul-Mouty

Sexual Violence Is a Weapon of War

Sudan – “I can’t forget that moment. I can’t forget his smell. I can’t forget their faces. This moment will haunt me until I die.”

Fawzya*, 26, was fleeing her hometown in Sudan and heading towards Chad when fighting broke out in front of her. After a year of war and roiling insecurity, Sudan is experiencing the world’s largest internal displacement emergency. An estimated 6.6 million people were forced to flee their homes and relocate to other regions of the country.

“I had to run and lost my aunt,” she told us. “A family offered me shelter but after three hours armed men stormed in. ‘Where do you hide the weapons?’ they shouted.”

Despite Fawzya and the family being unarmed, the owner of the house was shot right in front of them. “The men told me to go to the next room and bring them something to eat,” she continued. “I left and three of them came in after me and locked the door. One pointed a gun at my head and told me to take off my clothes. When I refused he shot a bullet into the roof. I was so scared.” She was forced to the floor and raped.

“I was vomiting and crying. A woman came to the room after they left, covered me, and started crying with me.”

Fawzya’s experience is among an untold number of reports of harrowing sexual violence in Sudan. Women and girls face a high risk of rape, kidnapping, and forced child marriage. As a staggering 6.7 million people need protection against violence, the crisis has instilled terror in people. Tragically, there is very little recourse in the way of health services, support, or justice.

The Sudan War Is a Multiplying Crisis

In Sudan, sexual violence is a weapon of war. Perpetrators are indiscriminate of age and devoid of mercy. As millions of Sudanese people are being pushed towards catastrophic levels of hunger, attackers are using the people’s mounting desperation to their advantage. 

“We ran out of food after hiding for a month,” said 14-year-old Sarah*. “I went out with my sister to search for something to eat – three armed men found us. My sister managed to escape, but they raped me. I passed out for hours. When I woke up I found some older ladies who recognized me and took me to my mother.”

Kidnappings have also soared in conflict-hit areas. For 22-year-old Shakra*, an evening at her friend’s house quickly spiraled into a nightmare. “Four men forced me into a car and drove for two hours,” she told UNFPA. “They raped me and left me there for two days without water or food. Afterwards, I found people from my tribe and asked them to take me to my family.”

Sudan is experiencing the world's largest internal displacement emergencies, with some 6.6 million people forced to flee their homes to other areas of the country. © UNFPA Sudan/Sufian Abdul-Mouty
Sudan is experiencing the world’s largest internal displacement emergency, with some 6.6 million people forced to flee their homes to other areas of the country. © UNFPA Sudan/Sufian Abdul-Mouty

Perils for Pregnant Women

The war has not spared the healthcare system in Sudan. Staffing and supply shortages have rendered close to 80% of hospitals in conflict zones non-functional. People seeking care overwhelm the operational facilities, pushing the system to the brink.

Amid this catastrophe, 150,000 pregnant women find themselves displaced. “None of us has stable work or resources to meet our needs, such as medical treatment,” said Amina*, who has been displaced from Khartoum. “We rely on free services provided by mobile clinics that visit our gathering site.”

The clinics are part of UNFPA’s support to reach some of the people in the most remote areas. We are delivering supplies and critical maternal health services, including emergency obstetric care and clinical management of rape. Additionally, UNFPA deployed 33 mobile units across the country, and set up 64 safe spaces that offer protection, treatment, and specialist referrals for survivors of violence.

Most women and girls in conflict zones of the Sudan war have no access to the reproductive health services they need. “One woman suffering from pregnancy complications had to be carried on a donkey cart for 6 miles,” said Zainab, a midwife working with a UNFPA mobile team in Aj Jazeera State.

The volatile situation means medical staff often cannot return home after their shift has finished. “I leave for three days at a time, attending birth after birth,” said Fatima, a midwife in Khartoum. “I go back home on the fourth day just to rest. Then I start again.”

A UNFPA-Supported Lifeline in the Sudan War

In Darfur, Khartoum, and Kordofan – areas in the crossfire of the heaviest fighting – the lives of more than 7,000 new mothers will be at severe risk if they don’t get the health and nutritional support they need. Some 1.2 million pregnant and breastfeeding women will likely suffer from acute malnutrition over the coming months, greatly increasing the risk of illness and death for both mothers and newborns.

UNFPA is working with partners to provide lifesaving reproductive healthcare and protection services, especially in areas with high numbers of internally displaced people. In the last year, more than 100,000 people received reproductive health and medical services and more than 600,000 people received violence response in the Sudan war.

“They offered us a lifeline,” Amina* said.

“The feeling that there is someone who cares about you, especially as a displaced person, means so much,” said Samia, from East Khartoum, currently receiving help at a UNFPA-supported safe space.

*Names changed for privacy and protection 

Dani Spencer
Be there for women and girls, no matter what

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