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Violence and Resilience: women, war and the realities of everyday life in Sudan.


In his article Violence and Resilience, Dr. Jok Madut explores the insidious effect that militant opposition to the Sudanese government and that the Sudanese government's counter-insurgency tactics has had on Sudanese women. Madut begins his article by highlighting and criticizing the majority of media attention and academic scholarship on gender in Sudan, which myopically focuses on Sudanese women as helpless victims of warfare. Madut's article illustrates how gender-based violence has been an unquestionable trait of Sudanese warfare used by all parties of the conflict to dehumanize and devastate enemy populations. Madut argues, however, that the militarization of Sudanese society has led to the continuous reproduction and entrenchment of gender-based violence throughout Sudanese society resulting in widespread gender-based violence and marginalization within communities and families. Moreover, Madut's article illuminates a complex subculture of "expanded self-reliance" created by Sudanese women relying on newly found and traditional methods of resisting gender-based violence and marginalization. Madut warns that development programs often fail to address women's rights in Sudan in an attempt to return Sudanese women to their traditional female roles.



At the mention of war in Sudan, an image of women and children as hapless victims immediately comes to mind. For two decades since the start of the north-south second round of conflict in 1983, these images of the impact of war on women and children have featured .in mass media, documentary films, human rights reports and aid-related research literature, much of which has accomplished the task of exposing the sheer tragedy of Sudan's wars. But there is only scant scholarly writing that focuses specifically on the lived-experiences of these women that moves beyond the tropes associated with women as war victims. Such close investigation, particularly to gain their own perspective on the tragedies that befall them, would reveal the humanity of the victim; it would highlight some moments when they feel defeated along with the resilience it takes to rise above the daily challenges of living with war. Here we employ basic ethnographic research methods in an attempt to give room to the women's own efforts to explain things to the outside world in their own words; in a way that avoids the nearly pornographic representation of war victims now in vogue, especially in the visual media. Because of this kind of physical depiction, it has been possible for their suffering to be used by the Sudan's warring parties as mere tools of propaganda, each trying to show up the other in a bad light as the abuser of basic rights. Pandering to the media in order to promote political cause and gain sympathy has been an important practice used by both the state and non-state actors, and the suffering of women, which they are primarily responsible for, has been the object of campaigns. Rarely do the warring parties use the international media coverage as part of an effort to bring awareness and to minimize such gendered violence. In other words, the pictures of suffering also have negative uses, i.e. political uses in favor of the belligerents. The tale and picture of women as passive victims of wartime violence has been a part of the popular story of Sudan's war, and as such, it has obfuscated some of the women's notable struggles and coping strategies that must be highlighted and applauded. Without a doubt, the adverse conditions of such prolonged wars have forged a subculture of expanded self-reliance among women that is usually missed by reporters or quick assessment missions that are characteristic of humanitarian aid activities. Of course, these media representations cannot be dismissed or condemned in their entirety, for they arouse the sympathy of the world community, which people still hope could bring relief to these war-stricken societies. (1)

Alternatively, in addition to describing the suffering, the mirror image of these victims as fighters for survival, to protect their families, to prevent their children from starving, to search for the whereabouts of their abducted children, and to deal with the consequences of rape and other types of physical abuse, should also be made a familiar part of the tale. It is perhaps these latter struggles that come nearer to capturing the experience of many Sudanese women living in conflict zones. Beyond the usual ways in which such state-sponsored violence as found in Sudan affects women and children--through rape, abduction, sexual slavery, and labor exploitation, it is also important to draw attention to how women live with such violence on a day to day basis. (2) The years of the prolonged conflict have important implications for the changing roles of women. This paper attempts to address four issues regarding war and gendered violence in Sudan. The first is to provide a context by describing the practices of the warring parties, such as the politics of opposition to the government and the actions of the government in its counter-insurgency tactics in the south between 1983 to 2002, and in Darfur since 2003. The second is that while the war impact is felt by all sectors of the Sudanese communities in war zones, there are gender differentials in the war experience and how war is lived. The third issue is how the family--women and children--became a major battle field for the Sudanese government's war machinery, where the agenda was driven by what appears to be a conviction and determination to either reconfigure the cultural and racial identity of the nation, or effect physical elimination and/or displacement of the groups expressing opposition to such policies). (3) Finally, the paper will provide the women's perspective on a number of these issues.

1. The Warring Parties and the Logic of Gendered Violence:

Of the many urgent humanitarian issues in Sudan today, there is no question that the number-one imperative is to stop the killing that is occurring in Darfur and to a lesser extent in other parts of the country. The number-two imperative is that women and children must be protected from the blight of gender-based violence that continues even long after peace agreements have been signed. The need to resettle the displaced people and to ensure justice for all, including compensation, should also be high on the agenda of both the Sudan's warring parties and the international humanitarian community. The most cowardly of all the war-related crimes is the rape and abuse of women and children, which has been rampant throughout Sudan's war zones and many other modern conflicts. It has been hoped that the end of the war in the south was going to be the best way to cure that. However, protection for women against the violence left over from the years of the war continues to be absent. Women's and girl's reintegration into society is often hindered by reconstruction and development programs that fail to address women's rights and expect them to return to traditional female roles, regardless of their changed circumstances. What is comparatively good in southern Sudan is that some of the women who were abducted and raped by soldiers and have long retumed from areas of captivity were generally well received by the families and the communities. In Darfur, this does not seem to be the case. Very often families reject them--that they are impure. It is important that the local society integrates them and Non-Governmental Organizations will probably have a lot to contribute to this process. In southern Sudan, I have interviewed women's groups and they report that they are working for the reintegration of women coming out of displaced persons camps or from refuge in foreign countries, many of whom have had traumatic experiences and are mothers to children they were forced to have.

In all of these wars Khartoum's attacks on villagers everywhere in the south, Darfur and the eastern front have been documented as viciously aimed at civilians and are executed either directly by the regular army, through aerial bombardment, or by use of militias recruited as a means to fight the war by proxy. These tactics have reduced the people in the various war zones to precarious level of subsistence, without food, clean drinking water, not to speak of the outright denial of citizens' rights to services. This level of deprivation is often deliberate and is made possible by well-coordinated attacks on civilian targets, during which property is looted or destroyed and the people are forced to flee their homes. During these raids, much of the destruction does not have immediate military significance other than to mete out collective punishment and humiliate the civilian population accused of abetting the opposition. Hence, the rural subsistence economy and its assets were the primary target for attack. In the south, water hand pumps were often blown during the raids, cultivation fields were often set on fire, and the civilians were driven into extreme poverty by these mechanisms over the years. Relief inputs were also targeted. Since 1994 (4) especially, food drops, primary health care facilities and relief agency compounds have invited attacks. For example, on February 20th 2002, an aerial attack on a food aid distribution center in Western Upper Nile instantly killed 47 people and injured hundreds of women who were receiving relief. A United Nations World Food Program staff member who was in charge of food distribution described the attached like this: "The gunship maintained its position right over the WFP compound and started shooting sideways aiming at the huts across the compound. Missiles/rockets were used to blow hut after hut with large number of people inside, followed by machine guns aimed at those running for cover." Those who were in the huts were children, the sick, the elderly, the more vulnerable, who were waiting for their mothers or sisters to return with food from WFP distribution. The relief activities were often disrupted for the simple reason that they gave the dissenting communities a sense of independence from the government and a kind of world recognition for the distinct regional identity.

Whatever the broader political and military objectives of the warring parties, the battles between organized armed groups, with the intention of seizing or holding territory, were only one aspect of the fighting. The civil wars have always been fought on the ground mainly as resource wars. The tactics used from the outset included the systematic targeting of civilians and asset stripping during militia raids. The government's intention was not only to seize whatever resources the opposition possessed, but to deny these resources to the civilian population regarded as the support base for the opposition. In essence, the civilians themselves were often treated as resources to control. The pattern of this resource war was gradually expanded to include relief supplies, with the various government armies and militias adapting their strategies either to secure relief items, or to interdict the delivery of such items to the areas under their opponents' control.

All of these activities produced widespread displacement, as specific groups of Sudanese were denied the opportunity or means to feed themselves, and as a result had to flee areas of conflict seeking refuge elsewhere. All parties to the conflict have also organized forcible relocations of populations at different times during the war. Large southern populations braved the gauntlet of the military onslaught through what was supposedly an "enemy" territory to seek refuge in Darfur, Kordofan and as far north as Khartoum. They sought refuge in SPLA-controlled areas as well as moving south to the neighboring countries of Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, and Congo. Families that fled to government-controlled towns lived under constant harassment and deliberate disturbance. Once under the government control, for example, the cultural aspect of the war was beeped up. Conversion to Islam, demolition of schools that taught native languages, and constant attempts to imbue them with Arab culture were often the targets in what has increasingly become a cultural war. The demolition of displaced settlements, their schools and churches and the relocation of the populations involved became a major source of disruption. Such activities, which were aimed at undermining the cultural identity of the vast non-Arab populations, were particularly pursued in government-controlled towns in the south, away from the eyes of foreign journalists or human rights agencies. So, military actions in rural south were meant to force people into government areas, where they were rendered vulnerable and less likely to cling to their ideals in the face of such calamity. This forced regroupment of population was also a military and political tool as it was deliberately exercised to bring them under a close watch of the government to eliminate the possibility of lending their support to the opposition.

Government security forces and their allied-militias did not stop the pattern of extrajudicial and indiscriminate killings that have characterized the war. In the midst of destruction, displacement and death, rape of women and girls became a weapon of interrogation and intelligence information acquisition. One Dinka woman who was arrested on accusations of spying for the SPLA around Wau told me in an interview about the interrogation she underwent at Grinti army command center in 1998.
 Whenever they took a woman to Grinti, it was not known whether
 there was genuine suspicion or the particular security officer was
 looking for sex. I spent two nights in a cell and the officer
 constantly told me that I could either give it up and sleep with
 him or expect more serious charges against me and forget my dreams
 of ever seeing my children ever again. Then suddenly on the third
 morning of my time at Grinti, I was called out and let go. I came
 to realize that another woman from my home village had been
 offering herself sexually in exchange for release of people
 arrested on charges of spying, whom she knew were in grave danger.
 She had rescued so many people in this way. She saved my life."

The endeavor to regroup Southerners and Westerners in government-controlled towns was particularly directed at women and children. Women and girls were often carried off to government-controlled towns to function as domestic servants and concubines for the army, and any captured able-bodied men were executed by shooting or nailing them to the trees with iron spikes. The young were thought to be impressionable and can easily be absorbed by force, persuasion or trickery. As for the women, the logic of forcing them into government garrison towns was three-fold. They became concubines, sex servants or "wives" whose potential children were to be raised "Arab" and Muslim, and therefore, injecting Arab genes and culture into the southern population. Women were also feared by the army as the "secret organizers" and spies without whom southern opposition forces would lack the support services necessary for their military success. Finally, women in many Sudanese communities are regarded as the care-givers and when the men joined the opposition forces, they could count on their women folk to sustain the society. Many people in the south stated that they would have probably not joined the opposition forces if they had not had "strong women to look after things, a woman who would take up a man's role." So the government often gained an upper hand in the confrontations because it was able to weaken the opposition by destabilizing this basic foundation.

Women returning from government-controlled towns or from the north have reported that these were the issues that the army officers or security agents usually raised during interrogation conducted with those suspected of being "fifth columnists." Women abducted during the raids, those displaced from the war-zones, or civilians rounded up from their neighborhoods, usually at night, were taken to army barracks and interrogated and tortured, sometimes for weeks on end. In July of 2006, I conducted focus group meetings with the residents of Juba, the capital of Southern Sudan, a town that is quickly coming to life from horrors of the years before the peace agreement when the Sudan Armed Forces controlled it. Rape of women, men, girls and boys was the most talked about issue. (5) One man stated it as follows:
 There were times when an army vehicle could come to your house
 after dark and they load everybody into it and take you to the
 barracks. There, you were divided up according to pleasures of the
 soldiers. Those desiring boys or young girls could pick and an
 entire could be kept in the barracks for a week or two until the
 soldiers wish to have new people. They would you in the car and
 drop you off anywhere in town and warn you against speaking a word
 about this to anybody. They threaten to come back to get you if
 they hear that you have been telling people about this, and if they
 have to come back, you would be tied up and thrown into the White

Also most decried were the militia raids that the south and the Nuba Mountains had witnessed throughout the late 1980s and 1990s, and currently in Darfur. After a raid on a village, what followed was often ominous in the extreme. Raping and enslavement of women and children, kidnapping and forcible conversion of children to Islam were but the most common. In its 2001 report on human rights, the organization Human Rights Watch confirmed these charges. The report described Sudan's government as "a gross human rights abuser." Many other international bodies also protested the situation in Sudan. For example, Christian Aid and International Christian Concern described in their reports issued in 2001 how in many cases the military forces followed a scorched-earth policy. (6) Areas were sealed off by road and air, and government forces were often sent in to "depopulate" the regions that were designated as hostile. People and livestock were taken or killed, and buildings were destroyed. Survivors were then forcibly relocated to "peace camps," where the young were taken away from their adult guardians and sent to other camps for indoctrination by Islamic fundamentalists.

When Darfur conflict erupted in early 2003, it was quickly covered by the international media in a fashion not generated by the destruction effected in the south and was likened to the Rwandan experience with one qualification that it was another Rwanda the slow motion. But for some of us who have closely watched the situation in South Sudan over the last twenty years, what was taking place in Darfur was a simple extension of what had been happening in South Sudan since the start of the second round of the war between Khartoum and the opposition Sudan Peoples' Liberation Army (SPLA). The tactics employed in Darfur had been tested, refined and proven extremely effective because of two decades of similar activities in the south. In other words, Darfur was not just Rwanda the slow motion but also a repeat of South Sudan in high speed.

2. Women and the War Experience:

There is no question that Sudanese women are caught in this conflict and are used as trophies and targets. But the women's war experience must be understood not only as a feature of conflict in which belligerents target each other's female populations as tools of war but also as a practice that is developed and reproduced within the societies and communities of each side. The prolonged conflict conditioned large numbers of male youth to violence that they often turn against the members of their own communities and families (Jok, 2005 and Elis, 2003). Therefore, despite the focus of this paper on the targeting of women in Sudan's war zones that is underwritten by the belligerents, it must be noted that women's rights are both subtly and flagrantly violated in all parts of the country as a result of overall war-induced attitudes and the emergence of a sub-culture of violence that is being used as a method of governing throughout the country. As a result, it is my contention that targeting of women by the Sudan's various military groups must be viewed as a tactic driven by different projects for different regions of the country, and this is why its manifestation in these regions has taken variable forms according to the nature of each region. In other words, the targeting of women in a specific area or in response to a conflict, the government employs the perceptions it holds about the people of that region. Race, religion and political demands are often part of the consideration (Jok, 2007).

As mentioned earlier, one aspect of the war most taxing to women is internal displacement made possible by various military activities of the warring groups. Even though whole families may be displaced, it is commonly known in Sudan that women and children make up the majority among the displaced persons. Their most common response is to move to humanitarian relief stations. It is therefore important to examine the causes of displacement to assess the decision-making process as to where people decide to move once they have come under a military attack, how they reach such decision and why. The primary cause of the internal displacement in Sudan is direct armed attack, or threat of armed attack on civilian populations, rather than innocent populations finding themselves in the crossfire of military-against-military operations. Because each factor in civilian displacement was an effective weapon in the war, it is also important to explore how the government uses each of these weapons to attain a solution to the conflict and to the crises of culture and identity that Sudan faces as a nation.

The causes for internal displacements were multiple and complex, as are the driving forces behind them. A typology might, among others, include categories such as mass evictions as was seen in the oil areas of Western Upper Nile. Displacement may be "simply" a collateral effect of indiscriminate warfare as shown above. However, it is military action with the clear intent to displace civilians which became the major cause of displacement in South Sudan. The same now goes for Darfur. Slave raiding by the Baggara upon the Dinka of northern Bahr-el-Ghazal and Abieyi was another important cause. Both the slave raids and oil-related evictions indicate that the practice was used by all government troops and allied militias, including the deployment of militias engaged in factional warfare within the south. Our interviews and other sources suggest that systematic attempts were made to evict the indigenous population from the oil-rich Western Upper Nile region (Ryle and Gagnon, 2003). There was also the forced regroupement in "peace villages," as undertaken by governmental forces in the Nuba Mountains. And then once the Nuba were evicted or relocated, Arab peasants were settled on the agricultural land owned by the Nuba. We have also learnt that the Toposa and the Dedinga of Eastern Equatoria were forcibly held in Torit garrison town between 1994 and 2004 to be used as human shield against SPLA attacks. It was common knowledge that the military commanders in government garrison towns had calculated that the presence of women and children in the towns prevented the SPLA from attacking them out of fear of high civilian casualty. The circumstances in the town were reportedly horrendous for this "hostage" population. So whereas the displaced may have opted to move to these garrison towns to flee military confrontations in the rural areas, they were trapped in the towns under harsh existence, and without the option to move again as the pattern of behavior among displaced persons in other parts of the world has reflected. (7)

In the North, especially around Khartoum, where hundreds of thousands of women and children have sought refuge, the demolition of displaced persons' spontaneous settlements without compensation and often with little or no advanced warning, and the relocation of the populations involved was a common practice and a major source of suffering. Here, the displaced, most of them female-headed households, were brought under the mercy of security agents. And since these activities were a part of a concerted government effort to render people dependent, the displaced had nowhere to file complaints. Once made dependent on the meager handouts from aid agencies, the policy of cultural Jihad would proceed unhindered. (8) For example, humanitarian assistance was often distributed in coordination with Islamic relief organizations that require conversion to Islam in exchange for relief goods. Most displaced people objected to such blackmail. Those who accepted such conditional aid did so at a cost of their pride, apparent humiliation. And those who objected to this practice tried their own survival techniques that have to be exercised under harsh conditions of harassment. The Islamist government, for instance abhors the fact that most female-headed households rely on petty income-generating activities such as brewing alcohol to make ends meet instead of the food-for-religion policy that is adopted by Islamic aid agencies. To counter this displaced persons' effort to ensure their economic independence, and because brewing alcohol is illegal according to the Islamic constitution, large numbers of women were sent to jail without due course of law. Those who protest this kind of treatment were labeled "fifth column" in support of the opposition and they are either jailed or relocated to dessert settlements in the peripheries of Khartoum where there were no services whatsoever and mortality rates were appalling. The harassment of the displaced suggests that even those civilians who had sought refuge in government centers continued to suffer from lack of protection and constant mobility as the government periodically bulldozed housing sites and relocated them to new sites without consulting with the people. Any popular resistance to these removals was ruthlessly suppressed by government security forces. Following demolition, the residents of these shanty towns were either left to fend for themselves or trucked off at gun point to a fluctuating series of camps far from the economic heartlands of the capital. Mortality rates at these new settlements were reportedly even more abysmal, especially those of young children, pregnant women, and the elderly.

Such treatment of the internally displaced was part of an effort to control relief resources. All the warring parties aspired to control aid and use it as a weapon of war, both in terms of feeding the fighters as well as keeping it from going to opponent's side. And so by controlling access to the most displaced persons, all the different military authorities wished to redirect the flow of aid from the international community to areas under their control. Khartoum has been most witty in this game. The distribution of aid resources, especially in Bahr-el-Ghazal and Upper Nile is a factor in government attempts to control the displaced persons' political action, as well as in the government strategy of depopulating the rural areas where the SPLA was thought to receive support. Such "aid-farming," so to speak--the use of aid by the strong to exploit the subordinate--has became commonplace in the government's conduct of war. There was in government areas a complex system of relief committees and structures which presented lists of needs to aid agencies in the areas of nutrition, health, education, water and sanitation training. When provided, such aid did not really reach its intended beneficiaries but its benefits were most marked among soldiers and other government officials who diverted it and earned their living in its design and distribution. Naturally, government's response to allegations of forced evictions has triggered some debate whether or not civilians were actually retrieved by force in a systematic manner. Khartoum flatly denies any wrongdoing, and says that people move on their own account to government areas fleeing "rebel" abuses and shortage of food in opposition areas. Whether civilians were deliberately displaced or simply entrapped by lack of supplies and the danger of being caught between lines forced them to regroup, there is denying that this process has played into the hand of military authorities, with grave consequences for women.

In the south, living in displaced persons' camps or forced into a garrison town, women fell in a bind. Their loyalty to the political cause of south was often questioned by the SPLA when and if they managed to sneak out of town to join their families in the "liberated areas," and they were forever suspected by the government security agents of delivering military intelligence to the opposition. To stay put and receive aid to feed themselves and their children meant subjection to sexual blackmail by soldiers, Arab traders in southern towns and other men, including those in charge of food distribution; and to attempt self-reliance through petty income generating activities such as brewing alcohol, trading, and employment meant having to deal with the Islamic law that prohibited some of these income generating activities. Demanding sexual services in exchange for freedom to produce and sell alcohol or freedom from daily harassment about security was always among the chief methods the security officers used to subjugate the town's women population. There is now a large population of children born to single mothers and whose northern fathers had never acknowledge their paternity or have long returned to the north after the peace agreement. The social upheavals of this situation, for both the mothers and the children, remain to be seen in the next several years.

3. Women as Agents of Revolution and Trophies of Counter-Insurgency:

Opposition groups such the SPLA have also had their own philosophy of how to involve women in the struggle. Our interviews with a variety of women throughout South Sudan have revealed a complex picture whereby women may be considered naturally incapable of direct contribution to the liberation war and were assigned specific roles by a military sub-culture that expected them to contribute nonetheless. The women we have talked to over the years have provided detailed descriptions of the militarization of everyday life and the suffering that ensued throughout opposition-controlled areas of the south (Jok, 1999). These interviews have provided an understanding of how violence is reproduced within communities and families beyond the common contention that violence against women in wartimes is a product of the warring parties targeting each other's women populations. Many studies about wars as temporally and geographically disparate as Bosnia, East Timor, the Congo, and even anti-colonial wars in Africa, have raised the issue of violence against women as a question of belligerents trying to humiliate and break each others' morale by destroying the popular support base of the enemy. However, while sexual violence against women and girls perpetrated by one army against the women of the other is a common and painful practice in many of the prolonged civil wars in Africa and elsewhere, an equally insidious and prevalent but less noted is how the conditioning of young men to violence becomes almost a license for them to reproduce violence within their own communities and families, and thus also reflecting the gender differentials and hierarchies in the ways in which war is experienced. In South Sudan, as the nationalist movements developed a rhetoric and expectation that everyone must contribute to the struggle,

these expectations developed into an ideology of liberation that requires women to keep up their reproductive front as their contribution to the liberation effort. In the heat of the war, the rising mortality rates matched against low fertility due to absence of men on the war front, this liberation ethos was so widespread that it was fit to be called "nationalization of the womb" (Jok, 1998).

In the north, as we are currently witnessing in Darfur, the path for the targeting of women was through radical Islamic policies, which are intrinsically anti-women. For example, since the National Islamic Front (NIF) came to power in a military coup in 1989, and with the imposition of these radical Islamic policies, women have not only been forced to wear the veil but were also instructed to abandon work in public places, in occupations that might bring them into contact with men. While these policies have not succeeded in keeping women down, the ability of women to rise above them indicates another side of women's successful struggles that is shadowed by the scenes of suffering that has overwhelmed the nation. It has to be borne in mind that although coercing women to veil does not amount to physical violence on the same scale as rape or abduction, it still reflects state's effort to appropriate the women's bodies. It is the starting point of a policy that holds contempt for women, and which could escalate into physical violence given the legal requirement for women to be invisible. Of course it goes without saying that not all veiled women are actually coerced into doing so. Many women wear the veil as a means to "liberation" from daily harassment by Muslim radicals and the state "morality police." Others do so out of genuine conviction that it is required of them as good Muslims. But because it represents the reality of women's struggle for visibility, recognition and justice, the state utilizes the Islamic codes to muzzle the voices and to mete out violence to achieve its policies behind the facade of being true to the Islamic faith. The regime also suppresses the women's voice and visibility through the overall rhetoric of suppressing dissent. In the same manner that a woman is raped, mutilated and systematically violated, in times of war, and caused to disappear from the public sphere, a veiled woman is metaphorically removed from public life. Her body cannot be seen in public and therefore rendered invisible both physically and in political representation. In other words, even those women who are outside the conflict zone are also under severe oppression of the current government, which feels that its ability to remain in power can only be ensured through a systematic and universal pattern of abuse that forces women into invisibility and silence. This is the tool that the state uses to create localized violence against women within the north. Due to the laws that require women to be invisible, the police, the army, and prison wards have been given the carte blanche to mete out violence against women.

Meanwhile, in the south, the ground for targeting of women is already laid by Islamic and racial ideologies that view southern women who are non-Muslim and non-Arab as lower beings anyway. This image of the southern women comes handy during times of counter-insurgency. For one, northern soldiers deployed in the south enjoyed a sense of physical and moral freedom in their dealings with southern women because these women were not protected by the same moral and religious codes that might have constrained a Muslim man towards a Muslim woman. The concept of Hurma, forbidden or out of bounds, in Islam only applies, at least in Sudan's war philosophy in the south, to Muslim women. So a northern Muslim soldier would be more at ease with raping a southern non-Muslim woman than with her northern counterpart. But when there is a need for military force to suppress dissent in the Muslim regions, as is the case now in western and eastern parts, race becomes the justification the soldier needs. If Islam cannot provide a justification against targeted women in the north as it did in the case of southern women, then explaining the attitude in terms of Arab versus non-Arab becomes more suitable.

It seems that the most effective way for the government to execute its agenda, as shown by its actions toward the people of the dissenting peripheries, is by targeting the family--women and children. Such technique is made possible by means of specific well-planned military activities to ensure physical disruption of family life through raiding, stripping or destruction of assets, killing of men, and forced relocation of women and children to government controlled areas. These practices are both counter-insurgency tactics as well as a sharp end of an effort to reconfigure the identity of the nation. These tactics and their consequences have undoubtedly amounted to deliberate destruction that some have described as genocide. (9) All in all, gruesome as the violence has been and depopulating as the war has been in all Sudan's war zones, it is the experience of those who have survived to tell that is most terrifying. It is so because there is no telling whether they will survive the onslaught currently still underway in Darfur. Until the carnage is over, an end that is not currently foreseeable, many of these "survivors" might soon be victims as well. In all of these confrontations, whether attacks by government-recruited militias on civilians, the scorched-earth tactics of the regular army, or the confrontations between the southern militias, it is their impact on women, children, and the family in general that is testimony to a two-pronged gender-based violence. It threatens physical elimination on the one hand, and on the other it attempts to reconfigure the cultural identity of a sector of people in order to achieve national unity. Such impact is presently unspeakable, especially in Darfur, but without prospects of the situation letting up, what the future holds for the war affected peripheries is even more unimaginable. It threatens to create a situation where the people living in regions peripheral to the centers of power have to choose either to keep fighting for inclusion, in which case they might face annihilation of their women and children now hostage in refugee camps, or concede, in which case they will be relegated to a position of second degree citizenship and servitude.

As counter-insurgency has been conducted through formation and arming of tribal militias to aid the army, and because racial ideas are deployed as recruitment discourse, the consequences of this tactic for women have been unspeakable. To persuade northern Sudanese to join the militias, the old Sudanese ideas of racial cleavage between the north and the south were invoked. Southerners were characterized as abid, slaves and kufaar, infidels, all in order to justify to the would-be militias why it was important to defend the Islamic nation against the southern insurgents. Racial and religious ideas do very well in Sudan when it comes to enticing people into war. Various militia forces were formed on the basis that Arabs and Muslims had to defend their identity and maintain the good name and the territorial integrity of the country. Northern militias were to execute the policy of ethnocide. The southern militias, recruited through the old northern Sudanese adage to "kill a slave through another slave," were to weaken opposition armies within the south. A popular discourse commonly heard in South Sudan is that northern politicians are bent on defeating the south and forcing it into a unified state and the above adage is said to be the widespread mentality in the north.

South Sudanese explain the atrocities meted out against them over the years in terms of the aforementioned alleged northern reasoning. For sure, many acts of horror have been committed against Southerners by armed or security agents since 1955, when the first round of North-South conflict began, and especially during the course of the current war. But whether such acts were actually a part of a grand design according to the above reasoning is no longer the central issue in the crisis of the nation. Most deplorable and relevant is the fact that they continue to take place. The worst excesses were to be committed by those militias that were built by using the Sudanese cultural divides. Militia forces such as the Fertit "Army of Peace" that was based in Wau throughout the war period before 2005, or the Baggara Murahileen from Kordofan and Darfur that conducted the slave raiding became the norm in government's conduct of war and these ethnic-based forces were meant to "break the back" of the Dinka groups in Bahr el-Ghazal as the fighting men formed the majority in the SPLA. The violence was gruesome and hundreds of thousands of civilians died by guns and spears of the militias, but also by starvation after the militia raids had destroyed property or had caused massive population displacement. (10) The repeated bombing and burning of health facilities, refugee camps, churches and other civilian targets, and manipulation of foreign food aid, the government brought 2.6 million South Sudanese to the brink of starvation in 1998. About 100,000 people in fact died of hunger during the period between the month of February and September of that year alone, most of them women and children. This is because times of severe food deficits are often most detrimental to children given that their resistance to hunger is weaker than that of adults. Achol Kuol, a Dinka woman I interviewed in the summer of 1998 at the relief camp of Ajiep in what is now Warap State, told me the following story:
 My husband's entire cattle herd was looted by the Murahileen. He
 left me with five children and went to the north hoping to bring
 some food back, but he never came back. I have since starved in
 order to feed the children and two of them still died. I collected
 wild foods, I begged, I slaughtered the last goat we owned, but it
 seemed nothing was going to stop the hunger from claiming my
 beloved children. I moved here, into the UN camp and I stood in
 line all day waiting for aid and endured the humiliating words and
 looks from the distributors, and I still do not know what tomorrow
 will bring, death or survival.

This military situation left families in South Sudan exposed to conditions deleterious to women due to limited access to whatever few resources that may exist because such access is influenced by political and military power, which women have very little of. It is also because in the wartime Sudanese context, women were the ones who had to juggle the preferred and traditional livelihood options of rural people. These options have become increasingly untenable as more and more families have become both destitute and displaced. Combined with the fact that people's survival techniques have become more and more individualistic and/or household-oriented, their abilities to sustain the community-wide institutions and practices that formerly restrained abusive behavior or emphasized sharing within rural communities have declined dramatically. Extreme food deficit is also more virulent to women because households made destitute in this manner often flee to foreign aid centers and their congregation at such places makes them clear and easy target of military activities of the armed groups as well as exposing them to localized violence that has resulted from many years of prolonged wars.

Slave Raids and Women:

The abduction of women and children by Murahileen militias as war booty was yet another method with which the north-south war was fought. This had gone on for many years before it received a rather overdue international recognition of the problem when United Nations issued report through its High Commission for Human Rights. Although a sign of search for facts about this most inhuman of abuses, the report was a mere scratch on the surface of a much more elaborate government's counter-insurgency plan. The government denied involvement or complicity in slavery but it took no action to halt these practices. But an earlier study has shown that there are really three different phenomena in the slavery/abductions issue. First, there is armed and organized raiding in which the role of the government is not clear, and is likely complex. There is information that sometimes, the government provides arms, other times the groups of Murahileen go off on their own. Northern tribal groups have been known to organize raids with "representatives" from other Arab groups; returning with children, women and cattle taken in these raids, all of them have had a common celebration (Jok, 2001 and Collins, 1992).

Then there is the state-owned military supply train escorted by the Popular Defense Forces (PDF) which carries government supplies which travels slowly from the North down through contested territory of Aweil and Wau in Bahr-el-Ghazal. It was evident that there was formal recruitment by the government of militia to guard the train from possible SPLA attack. These Murahileen (or Mujahideen, holy warriors) then go out from the train and attack villages suspected of supporting the SPLA on the way from Babanusa to Wau and back. According to eye-witness accounts that we have received over the years, the Murahileen rode on horseback along both sides of the railroad tracks, fanning out within a radius of up to 50 kin, and systematically raided villages, torched houses, stole cattle, and killed men. Their booty consisted not just of goods, but also of women and children. Often, abducted women and children were taken up to the North and remained in the possession of the captors or other persons.

Finally, we have documented over the years joint punitive raids carried out by the government and the Murahileen, who, under the Popular Defense Act, can enjoy status as state-sponsored militias, the PDF. Our interviews and many NGO reports contain lengthy and detailed testimonies of women and children abducted and kept in these circumstances, who regained freedom only by escaping or through ransom. The captors were often referred to as PDF, Murhileen militia, or sometimes even as government soldiers. It was therefore, doubtless that regular troops also took part in or facilitated the raids. According to certain accounts, the perpetrators were said to be wearing uniforms; whereas Murahileen and other militias wore plain cloths. Although an auxiliary force, the PDF were directly under the control of the Sudanese authorities, sometimes conducting raids jointly with the regular Sudanese troops. Moreover, the militias were armed by the Sudanese authorities and received ammunition from the Sudanese Army. Raid preparations followed established patterns, leaving little doubt as to the Murahileen's intentions of capturing women and children for enslavement.

The testimonies of abducted women and children contain descriptions of the ill-treatment and forced work to which they were subjected, usually involving cooking, cultivation, tending animals in the dessert, collecting firewood, fetching water from the wells, washing cloths and other domestic chores. Domestic servants reported being made to sleep in the kitchen, cattle tenders sleeping in the same space as the cattle, and various other forms of abuse such as being addressed with demeaning terms like Abd, "slave." Women and girl's testimonies cited rape, forced "marriage" and other sexual abuses amounting, in certain cases, to sexual slavery. Many of those who were freed were either pregnant or gave birth to children fathered by their captors. In some cases, women were freed and instructed to return to the south but leaving the children behind with the Arab men who fathered them. Consider the following, recorded in the summer of 2004:
 The man in whose house I had worked for a few months following my
 abduction was nice at first, but when he decided one day to force
 himself onto me he would not stop any more and there was nothing I
 could do as he told me that he would tell his other friends to rape
 me if I did not comply with his demands. He demanded that I become
 his wife, but he had no courage to tell his real wife and did not
 want his neighbors to know about it. His wife still found out and
 she became furious but aimed her anger at me instead. She would not
 stop yelling all kinds of insults at me and threatened to kill me,
 at which point the husband decided to let me go because it was
 going to bring disgrace to him. At this time I was already two
 months pregnant. I moved to a displaced persons camp in el-Daein
 where I met up with other Dinka people from my home area. I
 remained there for nearly 5 years ... Although my child is an Arab
 child, I consider him my compensation. I am blessed that my child
 was not taken away like all the other women who were forced to have
 children with Arab men and were forced again to leave the children

4. The Women's Perspective:

As shown above, the prolonged conflicts have produced a wide spectrum of gender-based inequities and abuse, which will continue to block women from achieving economic and political progress and access. With regards to women's development, besides civil war, there are a number of other obstacles and challenges to be overcome, the most challenging being certain disempowering customs and gender conflict. For example, it has already been two years since the comprehensive peace agreement was signed to end the north-south conflict, and both the SPLM and humanitarian agencies have been providing little more than lip service in promoting the safety, security, and rights of women, including greater participation of women at all levels of government, improvements in protective legislation, and reforms in customary practices. To this situation, individual women and women's groups have developed a variety of responses that assist them in coming to grips with violence and marginalization that characterize their lives. For example, women's war time coping strategies are a combination of new ways that were improvised and learnt in the course of the war, in an effort to lead as normal lives as possible under abnormal circumstances; and the pre-existing more traditional networks and loopholes in these traditions that they could use retroactively. In southern Sudan, the new ways include a more reconciliatory language, offers of food, expression of sympathy to the soldiers' plight, giving an air of consent to the soldier's demands with the view that the longer the verbal engagement takes place the less likely that a sexual assault would happen. Some women have even reported maintaining careless attention to their bodily hygiene and appearance in order to discourage sexual interests of the young men. The more traditional methods to avert sexual assault include claims of breastfeeding, pregnancy, clan relations, and claiming being related to one of the military officers in the area.

Furthermore, as the war had become so prolonged and people had come to think of it as a part of their lives, women became more critical of the militarization of everyday life, and assertive of their rights. Once, during the course of an interview with a group of South Sudanese women, I told them that I was writing on the war and wanted to hear their views on how their communities come to grips with the killing of civilians by "soldiers." (11) I had also informed them that the word "genocide," is being used frequently in the media around the world to describe the death and destruction that is happening in their country, and that much debate was taking place on whether or not such description was accurate. Of the myriad responses that I received, some of which were lengthy and poignant descriptions of the war experience, one particular reaction that remained with me for the past two years was when one of the women stood up pointing her fingers at me as if to accuse me of a crime and said that she did not know why one has to do a study about death and destruction. "What is to study ... is it not obvious how much death has happened at the hands of the soldiers, how many of our loved ones have been carried off into the unknown by the Baggara, (12) does it make fun reading that we are being slaughtered like chickens and no one lifts a hand to prevent it, is it not apparent who should be held responsible for the death of so many people in my village over so many years? She rattled her questions at me in a single breath, as if she had a rehearsal. "How many people have to die before anyone notices?" Another woman shouted.

This response to my question brought several things to my mind. One is that there is no question that the communities which have experienced such horrendous violence at the hands of both the state and opposition groups have been debating their own ways to come to terms with life under conflict. Some of the questions that come up in such discussions include where the victims' families might bring a case against the perpetrators of violence, how they might be able to escape more of this recurrent violence, and a search for understanding as to why they fall victim of a war that is not their choosing, a war they cannot even begin to explain how it involves them.

The second issue that comes to mind is that the communities affected by war have become frustrated with all these studies that do not seem to contribute much to their lives by way of stopping death and destruction. This is more the case especially because the women are more aware of the targeting of the family that the warring parties exercise, and yet the discourse on genocide only focuses on the consequences rather than the process. "How does it help prevent future slaughtering if we just focus on reporting how many were killed without learning how they were targeted?" a woman activist asked. This is a frustration that some of us who come from these areas will relate to because we have watched the ineffectiveness of these studies in spurring the international community to act when it is most needed. It is by now evident that condemnation of the perpetrators of mass murder always happens after the fact. And this is partly because the discourse and the instruments of the genocide convention only seem to facilitate discussions over the applicability of the term during the slaughter and actions against it come later; at which point any intervention is no longer useful for the victims. However, for the women of South Sudan, where relative calm is gradually coming back, there is hope that violence will subside. But lack of gender equity will continue to hold back development. The region's constitutional, legal, judicial and electoral frameworks need to be framed with gender equality in mind, and unless that happens, no matter how peaceful a transition, the entire country will never have a fair chance at development, and violence against women will continue to inhibit its progress.


This paper has examined the tools used by the government of Sudan to execute its counter-insurgency policies and justification for its actions. 1 have attempted to show how, although the destruction is universal, the military techniques affect the women population more than rest. Like all wars, although Sudan's conflict appears to affect every sector of the war zone population, the way it is experienced by individuals and groups has gender aspects to it. Without a doubt, it affects women in different ways than men, and therefore, meeting the intent of the government to effect a speedy military victory through the destruction of the family. Given gender dynamics within the different war zones and due to the intentions of the warring parties, Sudan's wars have proven more insidious to women and children. Almost all the weapons used by the government to execute the counter-insurgency plan have been intended to displace the civilian population, especially the women population, which is regarded as the basic foundation for resistance. Targeting the family was regarded as the most subtle but effective approach to the military problems presented by the opposition.

The overall military situation that emerged was complex, but with a distinctly gendered character. Women, of course, paid the heaviest price. The cumulative effect of all military activities was a state of chronic insecurity and poverty in rural Sudan, especially in the south and west. They have caused disruption of relief services such as child immunization campaigns and feeding programs for under nourished children.

At one point before the peace agreement, this had in turn led to a chronic population drain from the south towards the transition zone (southern Kordofan and Darfur), and further north to Khartoum. The northwards movement of the displaced created other types of gender-based problems in displaced persons' camps. Thus, for example, the displaced in the transition zone were often exposed to economic exploitation by local landowners. In the Greater Khartoum area large numbers of displaced persons were considered illegal squatters. They were under the threat of forced relocation to settlement sites lacking the necessary infrastructure. Without concerted and systematic efforts to create more stable conditions for them, they risk to remain in a state of vulnerability and dependency to this day. It was also here that women were most susceptible to rape, labor exploitation, and children were subject to recruitment into the army to fight against their own people or blackmailed into changing their faith. It was here that the cultural front in Sudan's conflict was most active.

Furthermore, whether or not the government of Sudan encountered SPLA military resistance, its rapidly growing ascendancy and the overall military situation was often ominous in the extreme for the civilian populations. In an extension of the scorched-earth fighting that has creating displacement of populations around the oil concessions areas since 1998, and which has created the displaced population that the World Food Program has reported in the Bentiu area in 2001, very recent fighting in the newer oil regions south of Bentiu, in eastern Upper Nile, and in Darfur, all produced new human displacement and destruction (Amnesty International, 2000). This has all happened amidst protests by NGOs, religious groups, human rights agencies, and women's civil society organizations, but without any initiative from any foreign governments. Without any foreign governments taking up these cries from Sudan's war zones beyond lip service that has gone on, the government of Sudan will most likely continue to regard condemnation of gender-based violence by a handful of non-governmental organizations business as usual.


Amnesty International (AI), 3 May 2000, Sudan: The Human Price of Oil.

Collins, Robert, 1992, "Nilotic Slavery: Past and Present." In Human Commodity, Elizabeth Savage (editor). London: Frank Cass.

Deng, Francis M. 1995 War of Visions. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution.

Fitzgerald, Marianne "Throwing the Stick Forward: the impact of war on southern Sudanese women" (2002).

Harker, John, 2000, Human Security in Sudan: The Report of a Canadian Assessment Mission Prepared for the Minister of Foreign Affairs Ottawa (Part 1).

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(1) Many Sudanese women favor media exposure so long as it provides enough space to fully explain the situation rather than simply mention the suffering of women.

(2) It became all too familiar throughout 2004 to hear of how young girls, displaced by GoS-sponsored Janjaweed militia in Darfur, have been abducted and raped when they ventured outside the camps in search of firewood or water. And in attempts to protect girls from such attacks, old women have had to take up these tasks.

(3) Physical elimination is already evident in what many groups have described as genocide, and displacement has resulted in earning Sudan the rather dubious distinction of being a country with the largest internally displaced population in the world.

(4) The year 1994 is significant because of the intensification of militia recruitment, especially among southern groups that were opposed to the SPLA such SPLA-United under Kerbino Kuanyin and Lam Akol.

(5) Rape of men and boys as a common practice has never been explored in the past. There is no space in this paper for this issue but it has to be noted that sporadic reports of such violations are now beginning to surface and warrant a special look as an area of violation that went unnoticed due to the notions of shame that seem to silent the victims, and the psychological consequences of which can only surmised.

(6) Christian Aid has particularly focused its report on how Sudan is using oil revenues to sustain its military campaign. In these efforts Sudan was supported by its overseas partners through a consortium made up of oil companies from Canada, China, Malaysia, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Human rights violations related to oil industry are beyond the scope of this paper, but it is an area that remains a source of suffering for populations living in oil areas and a cause for worry among rights activists.

(7) Because displacement may not be a result of rational thinking, people may try one place and then change their minds and move to another location once life becomes untenable at the place of first choice. Southerners displaced to government-held towns rarely have such options.

(8) Traditional concept of Jihad, holy war extends beyond forced conversion to Islam. It also includes vigorous efforts to win the minds and hearts of the unbeliever. As is practiced in Sudan, it includes blackmail using resources.

(9) John Ryle describes these GoS war tactics and others in which groups are pitted against one another as a kind of "vicious applied anthropology." See John Ryle, 2004 "Disaster in Darfur." The New York Review of Books 51(13): 24-5.

(10) Roger Winter has been a strong advocate on behalf of the people of South Sudan and the Nuba Mountains while heading the Refugee Committee, but has been appointed the Director of Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) since George Bush took office.

(11) The word "soldier" is almost exclusively used by South Sudanese to refer to government army, and it is used here in that sense. Most people in the South use the word "Anyanya" or "SPLA" when they mean southern opposition armies.

(12) This was a reference to the slave raiding that had gone on for over 15 years in which the Baggara Arabs of Darfur and Kordofan have captured women and children and dragged them into slavery in the north. See the chapter by Laura Beny, this volume, for more details on this subject. Also see J.M. Jok "The Targeting of Civilians as a Military Tactic." In Ann Lesch and Osman Fadl (eds.) Coping with Torture." Images from the Sudan. Trenton, NJ and Asmara: the Red Sea Press, 2004.

Jok Madut Jok, Loyola Marymount University
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Author:Jok, Madut Jok
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Date:Dec 1, 2006
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