ANNEX: Project Update, July 23, 2022: Responding to Sexual Violence in Darfur
From the coordinating counsellor of Team Zamzam (translated by Gaffar Mohammud Saeneen):
This month’s update (for July) will focus largely on the current situation of displaced people in Zamzam IDP camp and in particular on the plights and difficulties which face those recently displaced. The context here is the free-fall of the Sudanese currency; economic stagnation; the exceedingly bleak crisis in living conditions triggered by the coup d’état of 25th of October 2021. Most consequential are the serious threats of violence to the current agricultural season.
The second part of the update will attempt to shed light on one of the most sensitive issues within Sudan generally and within Darfur in particular: female genital mutilation. Since this practice affects the lives of so many girls and women every day, an account of their suffering must be attempted.
The struggle for one meal a day
What is so saddening—and hurtful to any human heart—is that a country like Sudan, with its large size, untapped natural resources, and agricultural potential is faced with severe food shortages. Despite the wealth from livestock, farming, and other forms of agriculture, Sudan’s population suffers from acute lack of food, resulting in terrible malnutrition rates. Overwhelming responsibility for this state of affairs lies with the irresponsible elites that have sunk ever deeper into corruption.
The problems facing Sudan are not a scarcity of resources in Sudan, but absence of political will at both the local and national levels. Most Sudanese are well aware of this, but at the very moment I am writing this report, many thousands of children in camps for displaced persons in Darfur are slowly dying from malnutrition. Meanwhile, the political elites continue to roam the streets in the latest cars, with heavily armoured escorts and 4x4s.
Only a few kilometres from Zamzam, where so many children are suffering from malnutrition, the governor of North Darfur State continues his wasteful and profligate spending. He drives the latest cars and is accompanied for protection by a fleet of four-wheel drive vehicles. Recently the governor had scores of cars head to the airport to escort him on his return from Khartoum by private jet. Perversely, this occurs at a time when hundreds of heavily armed militiamen are roaming the towns and deserted villages in West Darfur, often in these same four-wheel drive vehicles, and accompanied by the regional leader of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF).
How much does it cost to have so many of these luxury cars? How much fuel is consumed per day? And where does this money come from if not from national funds that should be working to provide relief to the suffering of the vast number of children suffering from acute malnutrition? In any truly civilized society, people should be allowed to raise these legitimate questions without fear of repercussions. But in Sudan, and particularly here in Darfur, no one dares risk his or her life; deep in their hearts, however, many they are aware of vast corruption in a society that has become defined by the power of the elites at all levels.
“In this country, in the past, people suffered from these kinds of problems only in the month of Sambaria”: these are the words of Haji Noreen, a seventy-year-old disabled man who has lived in Zamzam camp since 2006:
“Sambaria” here refers to the “sambar” bird, which breeds in Sudan and migrates from it. This bird originally came to Sudan because of drought in Kenya and Tanzania. In western Sudan it is called “the Kargiyah,” meaning it brings news of rain.” When in the sky, the sambar signifies that the clouds are coming together and it will rain.
The “sambar” bird has been breeding in Sudan after previously breeding in Egypt, which it abandoned due to the lack of trees and water; so Sudan became its homeland. In western Sudan, and Darfur in particular, the term “Sambaria” is also very often used to symbolize the bleak food situation that comes between planting and the harvest season.
For Hajj Noreen, the bird’s signifies that hundreds of thousands of residents of Zamzam camp and other camps on the outskirts of the state capital, El Fasher, during what is known as the “hunger gap.” They are suffering from severe shortages of food and basic necessities. Haji Noreen said: “Here you will find that most of the people in the camp have not had breakfast in the morning because of scarcity and poverty. I myself, beginning in the morning, think about the rest of the day and hope that someone will invite me for a cup tea. Now, thanks to you, my daughters from Team Zamzam, you have made my day with this sugar which I crave so much.” He concluded saying: “We are forced to submit our destiny to the almighty Lord of the Lords, and we pray that He can ease our pain, suffering, and hunger.”
Seventy-year-old Noreen, when he received his portion of our distribution for this month (comprising 2 pounds of sugar and 1 kilo of pasta), instantly shed tears from the intensity of this sheer moment of happiness. But with his shrinking eyes, there is also a frail tone in his voice that resonates with the further layers of sadness and pain in a man who has been caught up in a catastrophe that exceeds his ability to cope. This is the general situation among the residents of Zamzam camp, and other camps throughout Darfur: they suffer from severe food shortages. And among those suffering, women and children are most affected and hit hardest by this rapidly growing and highly alarming food crisis.
Another person struggling is a young mother, Mariam Abdulsalam, who recently have lost her second child during a period of slowly destructive malnutrition; she is living testimony to how the situation is worsening day by day. Mariam said: “I lost my second child last week. It’s hurting me so much and I don’t know how I can ever think of bearing another child with these miserable circumstances.” And she continues by saying: “I used to go every day to El Fasher to do anything I could get my hands on to bring some food for my children; but there is no work at all. These days, the streets of the city are filled with beggars, hungry people, and robbers.”
Yes, in fact today the vast majority of the residents of the state capital (El Fasher) wander desperately around, day and night, in search of food to feed their families. In Zamzam and other camps people suffer silently in their miserable conditions, with nowhere to look at except the sky for some miracle of relief from almighty God. Sudan has reached the point—and again, particularly in Darfur—of unsurpassable danger. It is difficult to predict what will happen in the next three months, but signs of famine are already beginning to appear in most of the streets of towns and cities in marginalized regions, with a complete lack of security or assistance from state agencies.
The humanitarian situation is made bleaker by political denial of access
The humanitarian situation has become much bleaker and for many, each day is unbearably difficult. The food aid which provided by the UN’s World Food Program (WFP) is grossly insufficient and assists less than 15% of the population of IDPs in Darfur, which altogether represents over one third of Darfur’s total population. [In West Darfur humanitarian access has been seriously limited by the al-Burhan/Hemeti junta—ER]
The political situation is just as grim. Following the coup d’état of 25th of October 2021, we have witnessed a deterioration in all spheres and reached a point of no return. And still the political deadlock continues. The national arena is dominated by bitter rivalries, political polarization, ethnic divisions, regional polarization—and all of these have been triggered by incompetent, greedy elites who are doing everything they can to gain a share of the political rewards. Sudan is physically paralysedand psychologically overwhelmed. Many feel only numbness and the trauma of moral collapse. The country is clinically dead waiting to be buried.
The political elites have become a dangerous beast, devouring not only themselves but the people of Sudan at the same time. Each political camp is sharpening its arms waiting for what promises to be a final round of all-out war. The friends of Sudan and its people must sound a final warning. The UN and humanitarian organizations must take urgent measures and practical steps to prepare for the coming period in order to avoid a catastrophic collapse of what is left. Humanitarian assistance in the Darfur region must be tripled; urgent intervention is required and must overcome all obstacles to relief aid placed by the junta.
The agricultural season in North Darfur is threatened by failure due to the refusal of the regional and state governments to secure farmers from Janjaweed attacks
The people of North Darfur state want urgent measures to be taken to secure the current agricultural season; otherwise famine and more displacement will be the inevitable consequences. The general security situation in Darfur, and particularly in the North Darfur State, has again become dangerously volatile and could explode at any time. And the people of the state have begun to worry whether there will ever be security guarantees from the government for this year’s agricultural season: will people be able to plant and harvest their crops without fear? The rainy season is well begun.
Recently, many localities in North Darfur have sent committees of farmers to El Fasher to make inquiries of governor’s office and the state: will the government provide assurances and safety for the agricultural season so that people can return to farming? But various committees said the officials in governor’s office refused outright even to meet with these delegates; they have found it impossible even to inform the governor’s office about what is happening.
Officials at the level of the over all governor’s office [Minni Minawi is regional governor of Darfur] and the office of North Darfur’s governor have refused to meet with these delegated committees, whose aims is to gain an understanding of what the government and its officials will provide. With this deliberate procrastination on the part of the regional Government (for Darfur) and the government of North Darfur State, it seems certain that the agricultural season this year will fail for the second year in a row. And if the agricultural season fails because the government refuses to provide security, the result for the region will be much greater displacement and the potential for severe famine.
Notably, on July 4 in El Fasher, at the graduation ceremony for one element of the government’s armed forces, the “Daqo Jowa” battalion, officials were led by the vice-chairman of coup d’état government, Hamdan Dagalo (“Hemeti”). Hemeti did not even mention securing the agricultural season, while before the graduation there had been much talk about the mission of this force. Supposedly upon its graduation the battalion would be deployed to secure the agricultural season in the state; now it appears that they have walked away from these commitments. All the forces who graduated on 4th July were immediately given a month of leave to return to their families. By the time they return, the agricultural season will have ended without timely crop planting.
“The planting period is almost over,” one of the farmers said. The people of the state ask the government: will there be an agricultural season this year or not? Because if there is no agriculture, the citizens will migrate, and the state will become vacant for the government and its Janjaweed allies. They in turn are all too eager to snatch up what arable and pasturable land is left behind.
Without cultivation during this current agricultural season, the crops will fail. The government’s refusal to provide security for farmers from in the face of ongoing Janjaweed aggression ensures that the agricultural season will fail and that a large wave of displacement will occur in North Darfur.
The people of North Darfur are currently concentrated in the only six gathering areas that remain: Shangil Tobaya, Zamzam, Kebkabiya, Abu Zureika, Korma, and Tawila. Further to the north, Kutum and Dar Zaghawa have no inhabitants because the war has pushed most its inhabitants to flee for safety to refugee camps in the eastern Chad. The other eighteen localities in the state are largely without inhabited villages: a great many have been totally abandoned. Some of the localities in the east of the state are inhabited, such as Mellit, Kuma, Al-Malah, Al-Tuwaisha, Umm Kadada, Al-Lait Jar Al-Nabi, and Dar Al-Salaam. But the rest of the localities in North Darfur have no residents because they have been displaced to IDP camps.
Continuation of FGM in Sudan despite the illegality of practice
This month we had a follow-up meeting with the women’s group of volunteers who work on a regular basis within the camp to raise awareness and combat the culture of “female genital mutilation” (FGM). We had three consecutive days of meetings, held to discuss progress and the evolution of thinking on this sensitive issue. In these meetings, various new ideas were brought forward for discussion and shared.
They addressed the question: “how do we get the messages of awareness effectively circulating despite the sensitivity of the FGM issue?” The subject we noted is considered taboo among most classes within the society. Throughout these meetings, what was clear is the determination, willingness, and motivation of these volunteer participants, many of whom are driven by their own personal experiences. In general, women in Sudan, especially women in remote areas and in the camps, are those most affected by the “Pharaonic circumcision” culture in Sudan.
The women who are IDP’s fully appreciate what is happening behind the scenes despite the criminal laws addressing FGM; for this practice is deeply embedded in the cultural, religious, and tribal fabric of the region, and it is exceedingly difficult to eradicate. We must urgently put in place intensive and effective awareness-raising tools, through education and female-led workshops. For female genital mutilation in the peripheral regions of Sudan continues despite 2020 laws criminalizing the practice.
Notably, Sudan is one of the countries in which the practice of female genital mutilation is the most widespread. According to a 2014 report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), almost 87 percent of women had been circumcised by the age of 15. Circumcision ranges from removing part of the clitoris to amputating all external sexual organs.
Resilient and strong fighting spirit within the camps
This widespread crime threatens the lives of millions of women and girls every year in Sudan. But throughout Sudanese history many feminist movements and right groups have struggled to provide effective, meaningful legislation that definitively criminalizes FGM in all its forms. For more than 60 years, Sudan has witnessed many stages on its way to criminalize this practice completely, an effort which culminated in 2020 with official approval by the Council of Ministers to amend the articles of the national criminal code. This provided for the criminalization of all types of external female genital mutilation.
Yet more than two years after ratification of amendments to the Criminal Code, which included declaring female circumcision a crime punishable by up to three years in prison, these amendments have remained merely ink on paper. The culture of circumcision continues, especially in the remote peripheral provinces, and the statistics are still worrying despite our efforts and those of other women’s groups in the camps.
FGM causes not only physical and psychological harm to girls and women, but violates their dignity, leaving lasting psychological scars
The culture of circumcision in Sudan is well-known and has been practiced for hundreds of years; hence it was known as “Pharaonic circumcision.” According to the UN’s World Health Organization, this type of circumcision is considered the worst, because it removes all the external female genitalia, in addition to narrowing the vaginal opening by sewing, so that only a small opening for urine and menstruation remains. Usually in remote areas only traditional tools are used during the circumcision process, and it is often performed by non-specialized women. This leads to many deaths among young girls.
Various health agencies linked to UN and many other local health organizations say that this practice does not bring any health benefits to its victims, but it may cause severe bleeding and problems when urinating; it can later lead to cysts, infections, infertility, complications at birth, and the death of new-borns.
Previously, such a traditional practice was seen as an important part of Sudanese culture. For this reason, many experts and activists now believe that the law alone is not enough to permanently and completely eradicate this phenomenon. A well-known mental health professor, Ali Baldo, was quoted saying that “female circumcision in Sudan is no different from a daily execution crime against girls, knowing that death is possible.” FGM can cause nervous shock, permanent depression, fear, and an inability to perform normal social tasks. FGM also leads to personality disorders, feelings of inferiority, desire for revenge, and hatred of society.
More support is needed to strengthen the emerging women volunteer groups
We are intensifying awareness-raising through educational tools, recruitment of more volunteer groups and setting up more educational workshops within different neighbourhood in the camp. From the conclusions of the three days of meeting, it is clear that there is an urgent need to intensify still further the raising of awareness in an organized manner and recruiting of more volunteers in the first phase of the initiatives. Despite the will and determination of these volunteers who want to fight to eradicate FGM by all means, the great challenge that stands before them is sustainable financial support that will allow them to facilitate their travel to move around and inspect various locations. And concerning this issue of financial aid, volunteer Ikhlas Omar said: “We were able to save more than 32 young girls on the verge of operation for FGM in less than a month, and all thanks to individual efforts.” Ikhlas continues: “The problem here in Darfur is that we cannot go around to ask financial assistance from people who don’t understand the implications of this backward culture of FGM, which is destroying lives of many innocent young girls. Many men here don’t want to even acknowledge this problem, but want to keep things as they are. This is sickening.”
The biggest challenge in the issue of FGM is that despite the criminalization, the operation is very often practiced inside homes by non-medical personnel, known locally as Dayiat, or by medically untrained traditional practitioners.
This issue of FGM has been largely forgotten and deliberately neglected within Sudanese society, particularly in the peripheries. But each day it is destroying the lives of thousands of girls, some as young as five years old. It is essential to eradicate this of culture of FGM from our society, which suffers from the many challenges created by high illiteracy rates. Instead of endless cycle of violence and civil wars, the real focus of government should be on strengthening such initiatives and those volunteer groups of women who are determined to defy backward cultural practices and views.
Work carried out during first two weeks of July 2022
 3 consecutive meetings were held with volunteers alongside several influential woman of the camp to discuss the issue of FGM.
 11 field visits were carried out to check the: (1) conditions of living, (2) hear the complaints of inhabitants within the neighbourhoods, and (3) evaluate the situation of recently displaced persons.
 6 meetings were held with various committees and farming delegations from various locations to listen to the concerns and challenges of the present farming season.
 41 persons/patients suffering from different illness were accompanied to different hospitals and health centres within El Fasher; we also carried out 4 visits to inspects the condition of 8 eight children suffering from wounds caused by the blast of a grenade inside the camo.
 1 fistula patient was accompanied to clinic for surgical treatment.
Distribution of basic necessities and hygiene kits
Due to the rapid rise in food prices throughout the entire country, this month only the most basic necessities were purchased: sugar, flour, and some pasta were distributed to the most impoverished and needy families.
A total of 223 families benefited from this around of distribution: each family have received a ration of 8.5 pounds of sugar, 2.3 kg of flour, and 2 kg of pasta.
Female Hygiene kits
Each kit contains: 1 tube of toothpaste; 1 tube of shaving cream; 2 razor bundles containing 12 razors inside each; 1 tube of body cream; and 1 packet of menstruation cotton containing 6 pieces each.
Number of beneficiaries: 18
Psychosocial counselling sessions
Individual counselling sessions: 83
Group counselling sessions: 41
Testimony of fistula patient receiving reparative surgical treatment through our program
My name is Fiza Abakar Harounand. I am 21 years old. I’m originally from Mahajeria [North Darfur] but I have grown up here in Zamzam. I don’t know that much about where I was born because we moved here when I was five or six.
Last year I got diagnosed with some unknown illness; this happened after an attack [rape] I experienced while were coming back to Zamzam from a village near Tawila [North Darfur]. At the beginning I was so traumatised by the events of the attack that all I was thinking about was whether I might get pregnant from those hateful people; but after three or four months my stress began to ease. Still, the pain would come and go. This pain continued sporadically but began increasing earlier this year. I began to lose control of myself and my life, and I couldn’t sleep at night.
My family was very worried about my situation, but they couldn’t afford to take me to hospital for lack of money. I spent many nights crying, and my condition became worse and worse. My mother thought of getting help from some of our relatives who live in El Fasher and Nyala, but I refused. For I thought when people found out about my illness, it might bring us shame and more misfortune. Here in Darfur everyone thinks that the issue of dignity and honor is very important, and I didn’t want anyone—especially my relatives—to find out that I had lost my virginity.
The pain continued to become worse for three months, and finally was so bad I decided to break my silence by going to see one of the Sisters from Team Zamzam. Before this, I knew a bit about them but I never thought that they would be my saviours. In fact, they are such empathetic, generous, and gifted people that they immediately understood what I was going through. Only ten days after meeting them, I was taken to clinic for first examination and luckily the doctor said that it’s an early stage of fistula which could be treated by means of a slight operation and medicine. The doctor prescribed for me some medication and gave us another appointment for September for more treatment; since then my pain has been decreasing every day.
I now feel much better than before, and emotionally I’m getting better every day.