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Women and Genocide in the 21st Century: A Call for Action to End the Tragedy of Darfur
Editor's Note: Darfur Women Action Group is hosting an event this weekend in Washington, D.C., focused on women and genocide. Niemat Ahmadi is the founder of the group, and she wrote this guest blog post about why the ongoing tragedy in Darfur demands such an event.
Today, the situation in Darfur is extremely dire and dangerous. Over 3 million people have been forced out of their homes. Darfur has one of the largest number of internally displaced people in the world, and hundreds of thousands have been documented crossing the border to neighboring countries. Many more are not counted in official numbers.
For several years, the U.N. has downplayed official figures and stopped publicizing the mounting total number of people killed in Darfur as the result of the tactics of Omar al-Bashir and his allies, the Janjaweed. Khartoum very rarely allows international journalists to report from Darfur, and communication within the region and with the outside world is very limited. Humanitarian access has been severely restricted, and starvation is used as a weapon of war. Aid organizations have been targeted and expelled, and in most cases, they leave in silence, fearful of government retaliation. The joint United Nations African Union Mission in Darfur has failed to protect both IDPs and its own members. The number of attacks against peacekeepers is rising.
Speaking with families on the ground, we hear heartbreaking stories. Since January 2012, attacks against civilians have escalated and the security situation is rapidly deteriorating. Horrifyingly, reports suggest that the perpetrators continue to target victims based on ethnicity. These crimes are of global magnitude, and it is imperative that we remind the world that just because we’re not reading about Darfur in the news every day does not mean the crisis is over.
After almost 10 years, the situation for women in particular remains tragic. Rape and sexual violence against women and girls is widespread. Just last week, witnesses reported to Radio Dabanga that a three-year-old girl had been raped in Kass, South Darfur. Recent trends show that Darfuri women are also targeted in other regions of Sudan. There is an increase in violence against female civil society leaders within Sudan at large; women are abused for raising concerns about laws that restrict women’s freedoms and endorse impunity for security agents.
Female activists and human rights defenders have been subject to arrest and derogatory treatment by authorities of the government of Sudan. Last year, on International Women’s Day, female activists in Khartoum gathered peacefully to protest the alleged rape of a Darfuri student by the regime’s security agents, demanding that authorities stop violence against women. Over 40 women were arrested and beaten by Sudanese police.
Darfuri women, however, have demonstrated resilience, strength, and resolve to combat genocide and keep hope alive in their communities. Nevertheless, the abilities of women have not been utilized by actors and stakeholders working to bring peace to Darfur. Their empowerment has not been prioritized. Unless women's issues are brought to the forefront, a sustainable end to the crisis remains unattainable.
The sad reality is that ending the crisis and attaining peace in Sudan is still very far off. This reality underscores why it is crucial that Darfur Women Action Group exists. Our mission is to address these issues and bring them to the attention of advocates and policy makers. We aim to integrate women’s issues into the broader genocide advocacy and its messaging, and to help develop strategies for women's inclusion and meaningful empowerment at all levels.
I called, and many of you have answered the call. I am empowered by the fact that people from all walks of life are joining us for our symposium this weekend—our first on women and genocide. I am humbled and strengthened by those who have joined me, like my sister and dear friend in the fight, actress Maria Bello, who will travel from L.A. to D.C. to speak for the women of Darfur; artist and composer Mark Kostabi, who flew from Italy to stand in solidarity with us by using his talents to bring attention to the plight of women; our distinguished speakers and Sudanese musicians; my fellow Sudanese, who speak from their hearts and work together for a lasting peace in Sudan; and those who sent messages on Twitter or Facebook—your support is invaluable.
With this kind of solidarity, we will continue to advocate until the world understands the magnitude of the genocide and its impact on men and women, and works to end it sustainably.
Niemat Ahmadi is the founder and president of the Darfur Women’s Action Group. A native of North Darfur, Ahmadi serves as the director of global partnerships for United to End Genocide