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An illustration highlighting the collaboration between the UN and Sudan for women's rights, symbolized by a woman holding a balance scale.
Empowerment in Balance A Sudanese woman symbolizes the collaboration between Sudan and the United Nations united in the fight for womens rights

The Unseen Scars: How the Sudan Conflict Devastates Women’s Lives

Uncovering the multi-layered impact of the Sudan Conflict on women, from gender-based violence to the failure of governance, and the urgent call for international intervention.

By Darius Spearman (africanelements)

_About the author: Darius Spearman is a professor of Black Studies at San Diego City College, where he has been pursuing his love of teaching since 2007. He is the author of several books, including Between The Color Lines: A History of African Americans on the California Frontier Through 1890. You can visit Darius online at

Key Takeaways

AspectImpact on Women
Gender-Based ViolenceRampant sexual violence, rape, and other atrocities
Failed GovernanceShort-lived transition to civilian rule, continued violence
International ResponseUrgent calls for action, yet vast humanitarian needs remain unmet

The Root Cause of the Crisis

The Sudan Conflict is not a sudden eruption but a culmination of decades of violence against civilians. Women have been disproportionately affected, bearing the brunt of the conflict in almost every aspect of their lives. “The current violent conflict in Sudan is a result of decades of violence against civilians, violence that has impacted nearly every aspect of women’s lives” (IPS News). The crisis has its roots deeply embedded in systemic issues, including political instability, economic downturns, and deeply ingrained patriarchal norms.

Gender-Based Violence: A Weapon of War

The weaponization of Gender-Based Violence is one of the most horrifying aspects of the Sudan conflict. Sexual violence, rape, and other forms of gender-based violence have been used as tools of war. “During this time, mass atrocities, including sexual violence, rape, and other forms of gender-based violence, have been used against my people” (IPS News). The Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA) reported over 10 cases of sexual violence in a single day at one emergency room in Khartoum (Sudan Tribune).

Forms of Gender-Based Violence in Sudan

Sexual ViolenceHigh
Physical AssaultCommon
Forced MarriageOccasional

Women at the Forefront of Protests

Women have not been mere victims in this conflict; they’ve been warriors. They led the Protests in Sudan that resulted in the ousting of former president Omar al-Bashir. “The mass protests led by women and youth that began in December 2018 and led to the fall of al-Bashir were, in part, a direct response to how women’s bodies and voices have been systematically under attack for over 30 years” (IPS News). However, the victory was short-lived. The transition to civilian governance failed to bring the change women had fought for, and violence against them continued.

List of Women-Led Protests in Sudan

  • December 2018: Mass protests begin
  • April 2019: Omar al-Bashir ousted
  • Ongoing: Protests against military rule

Failed Transition to Civilian Rule

The euphoria following the ousting of Omar al-Bashir was short-lived. The transition to civilian governance failed to bring the change women had fought for, and violence against them continued. “The transition, however, was short-lived, and further change did not come. Violence continued against civilians in Darfur and the women and youth protestors across the country” (IPS News). The failure of governance is a glaring example of how women’s lives are often used as bargaining chips in political negotiations, only to be discarded when convenient.

List of Failed Governance Milestones

  • April 2019: Omar al-Bashir ousted
  • Transitional government formed
  • Continued violence against civilians
  • Military takeover

Military Takeover and Its Consequences

The military takeover in Sudan revealed the insufficiency of mere lip service to women’s rights. “The subsequent military takeover illustrates how only paying lip service to the Women Peace and Security (WPS) agenda, without insisting on women’s rights and women’s meaningful participation in peace and political processes, is not enough to overcome the repressive, patriarchal, and dangerous status quo” (IPS News). The military’s grip on power has only exacerbated the already dire situation, making it even more challenging for women to navigate their daily lives safely.

Table: Consequences of Military Takeover

ConsequenceImpact on Women
Women’s RightsIgnored

Recent Surge in Violence

The conflict took a darker turn when a new war erupted in April, with immediate reports of gender-based violence. “War erupted again in April, this time reaching Khartoum. The gendered nature of the conflict became obvious mere hours after the fighting began” (IPS News). The surge in violence has led to an increase in human rights violations, including sexual violence and other forms of abuse against women. The Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA) has been vocal about the rampant sexual violence perpetrated by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) against civilian women and girls (Sudan Tribune).

Human Rights Violations by Armed Forces

The Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) have been at the forefront of committing grave human rights violations. “Both the SAF and RSF have committed serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law” (IPS News). These violations range from sexual violence to extrajudicial killings, leaving a trail of devastation in their wake. The lack of accountability for these armed forces only fuels the cycle of violence, making it a never-ending ordeal for the women caught in the crossfire.

Table: Armed Forces and Their Violations

Armed ForceType of Violation
SAFSexual Violence, Extrajudicial Killings
RSFRape, Physical Assault

Underreporting and Stigma

The actual scale of the atrocities remains unknown due to the fear of stigma and reprisals, leading to underreporting of violations. “Fear of stigma and reprisals means that we do not even know the full scale of violations” (IPS News). This culture of silence further marginalizes the victims, making it difficult for them to seek justice or even basic support. The lack of accurate data also hampers the efforts of organizations and governments to provide targeted assistance.

List of Barriers to Reporting

  • Social Stigma
  • Fear of Reprisals
  • Lack of Trust in Authorities

The Aftermath: Health and Well-being

The physical and psychological toll on women who have survived these atrocities is immense. “Life after experiencing violence and torture at the hands of the RSF is unbearable—a number of these women and girls have died by suicide” (IPS News). The healthcare crisis is aggravated by the closure and destruction of hospitals, some of which have been repurposed as military compounds (Sudan Tribune).

Table: Aftermath and Health Impact

AftermathHealth Impact
Physical TraumaSevere
Psychological TraumaExtreme
Access to HealthcareLimited

International Calls for Action

Despite the urgent calls for action, the international community has been slow to respond. “I urged the international community not to repeat this mistake in other crises, where you have the power to do things differently and demanded them to stand with courageous women human rights defenders in crises around the world and show them you will not abandon them” (IPS News). The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) states that vast humanitarian needs remain unmet (ICRC).

List of International Bodies and Their Actions

  • United Nations: Limited intervention
  • African Union: Calls for peace
  • ICRC: Humanitarian aid, but needs unmet

The situation in Sudan is a glaring testament to the international community’s failure to protect the most vulnerable. It’s high time for concerted, meaningful action to bring an end to this cycle of violence and suffering.