Need: PLEASE HELP -Offering comfort and support for sexual assault survivors in Sudan
Through my recent training with our local rape crisis center, it has become apparent to me the critical role that sexual assault advocates play in the lives of the survivors. As much as I was overjoyed and thrilled with the idea of being at the crisis phone line to be of service and comfort, something deep inside me was gnawing at the flesh of my soul: I thought about the women of Sudan. I also thought about the many obstacles that face survivors of sexual assault in my culture.
My culture is a culture that glorifies patriarchy so much that the idea of women asking for their rights still continues to be a source of unease. For example, when women took to the streets during the Sudan Revolts protests that took place in Khartoum during June-July of last year, many people have expressed outrage on the idea of women leaving their homes (the traditionally accepted place for a woman) and doing “what men are supposed to be doing”. And as if asking for freedom and an end to dictatorship is only a man's area of expertise, many women have not found sympathy when they were harassed or sexually assaulted by the NISS .There is so much that can be said about the NISS, the least is that they use oppressive sexual insults against female activists to curb dissent. I see them as an extension of the same practice of wartime rape against the women in Darfur. Many women are suffering silently through this traumatizing experience, and whether they are in Darfur or in Khartoum, they are bound by the same obstacles that keep them silent, and further away from reaching their full recovery potential.
The NISS are a group of individuals who hold archaic views not only about women, but also medieval ideas regarding the need to maintain brutal interpretation of the so-called Sharia Laws. It is quite disheartening that their impunity and ability to oppress women are given power by the deeply rooted patriarchy, and culturally accepted gender norms, which disturbingly justifies their shameful practices. Their other source of power is relying on the silence of women, since they are aware of the obstacles a woman would face if she chose to speak about her ordeal.
Through my training at the rape crisis center, I was inspired to reach out and give women an outlet to speak out against their ordeals. I would really like to introduce crisis lines in support of women that have gone through the trauma of sexual assault. I know that this fight is a challenging one for many reasons:
- The issue of conflict zone rape in Darfur can be misunderstood as an attempt to politicize the issue for a certain tribal or political agenda. This causes a woman’s personal trauma to be taken as a political issue and shifts the focus away from the needs of the survivor.
- Due to the sexual nature of the crime of rape, it is often women who are seen as the perpetrators of their own assaults, either because they were seen as dressed inappropriately, or out late at night. Thus, the blame is placed on them. This shifts the attention from the perpetrator, towards the victim, which is something that is facilitated by cultural norms and patriarchy.
- The NISS enjoy the privilege of impunity because of the existence of Public Order Laws, which allow their interpretation to be entirely up to the NISS, and allows for a lax application of these laws. This shows that the law is not on the women’s side.
- The cultural norms that are enforced in the lives of Sudanese women can create a huge obstacle and be an agent of fear, which can prevent women from seeking help.
- The cultural conceptions about “honor” and chastity add more to the trauma and further internalize a woman’s oppression of herself. A woman who was sexually assaulted is seen as a “slut”, and this view is not only imposed by the culture, but is also internalized and accepted by women themselves.
Having discussed these challenges, I feel even more inspired to be engaged with the World Pulse community in order to find suitable solutions, and to achieve my dream of starting crisis line networks to help women. I want women to find an outlet and a safe space where they can feel comfortable telling their stories. I also would like women to feel empowered and encouraged to seek help and not suffer in silence. That is why I call upon all of you, to reach out and help me in this endeavor. I look forward to your valuable suggestions, visions, feedback, and any support you are able to give. Together we are ever stronger, and ever louder!