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by April Ingram
Wednesday, Mar. 23, 2005 at 6:01 PM
Sudanese Women Become Targets for Rape and Violence
Contrary to mainstream media reports that the Sudanese conflict is caused solely by ethnic tensions, Katherine Cheiars, who is currently studying the Sudanese crisis, said the war is about exploiting natural resources, namely oil. Cheiar’s discussion titled “A Feminist Call to Action: Defend the Women of Sudan” was held at a Radical Women meeting on Friday evening March 18th at Solidarity Hall.
Though ethnic conflicts between the dominant Arab groups and indigenous African tribes have existed for years, ethnic strife alone does not account for the mass murder and violence in Sudan. “Many of the people who are being killed in Darfur are Muslim,” said Cheiars.
The discovery of oil in the Darfur region has given the Sudanese government a reason to back the Janjaweed militia in evicting the residents of Darfur, who are mainly from the Massalit, Fur and Zarghawa tribes. As people are removed from their villages, the land can be used for development. In the 1980s and 1990s, oil exploration began in the southern Sudanese region. Currently, corporations from China, Malaysia, India, Canada and Sweden own drilling operations and refineries in Sudan.
The Janjaweed, an Arab militia, has murdered hundreds of thousands of people and have left over a million homeless. Though the Sudanese government has denied involvement, there are eyewitness reports and photographs of bombings and airborne attacks. The weapons and aircraft used in these attacks belong to the Sudanese military. Cheiars said the Sudanese government not only supplies arms to the Janjaweed, but also recruits people from northern Sudan and Chad. The new recruits often view joining the Janjaweed militia as a way of escaping drought and poverty in their respective homelands.
Since February 2003, the Sudanese government has bombed villages in Darfur. Cheiars explained that the ethnic minority men are killed first. Then fires are set to their homes. Women escaping from these homes have been murdered, raped, and kidnapped.
After refugee camps were established to house those who were displaced, women would leave the camps to get firewood and water, because tradition dictates it is a woman’s duty to insure the survival of the family. As these women step out of the camps, they are at risk of being raped and kidnapped. Cheiars said that a Sudanese woman who was asked why men did not gather firewood replied that “it was better for her to be raped than her husband to be killed.”
Cheiars explained that this violence toward women is a way “to eradicate a culture.” Cheiars said, “As women are the child-bearers, they carry with them the future generation…Traditions and ways of life are passed from mothers to their children. When a female population is wiped out, the culture dies as well.” Cheiars cited that women represent 60% of the population of Sudan and 80% of the food producers. The loss of women means the loss of agriculture—the loss of sustenance. By destroying the lives of women, the Janjaweed destroys the social and economic structure that binds communities.
The numbers of reported rapes do not accurately reflect the actual number of women who have been raped. Many women are afraid to seek treatment because of the social stigma attached. Women who file complaints are often faced with a bureaucratic nightmare that does little to bring justice. According to Cheiars, the women who had filed complaints “had to travel long distances and had to name their assailants.” This is impossible in most situations because most women did not know who had attacked them. Furthermore, there is not enough funding to investigate these claims, said Cheiars.
Despite the peace accord signed in January of this year between the Sudanese government and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army, casualties continue in Sudan.
Though the situation in Sudan seems overwhelming to the average American, Cheiar said there are things that U.S. residents can do to help the situation in Sudan. Cheiar’s said we should pressure our representatives in Congress to advocate against sending military aid to Sudan and to ask for increased humanitarian aid.
Cheiars also said that capitalism is the root cause of conflict, because capitalism works by profiting from the exploitation of resources. Under capitalism, people become objects, obstacles that need to be removed, such as the case in the Darfur region, where the homes of tribal people come in conflict with the Sudanese government’s ambitions for oil exploration.
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