So often, the narrative about the crisis in Sudan involves disempowering stories of women as mere victims of brutal violence, painting men as uniformly aggressive perpetrators with no goals but brutal lust and women as victims who have no agency in determining the shape of their future.
Quite the contrary.
Last week, Niemat Ahmadi – a Darfuri activist who is currently United to End Genocide’s Diaspora Outreach and Advocacy Coordinator – presented a paper last week in Sweden at the 10th Horn of Africa Conference with Focus on the Role of Women in Promoting Peace and Development. Her paper wove a different narrative, and it can be found in its entirety here (I encourage you to read it as soon as we post it!).
Ahmadi’s narrative centralizes power in the discussion of sexual violence. She argues that Sudan’s elites – identifying themselves as Arab for the economic and sociopolitical advantages that this brings under Sudanese president and genocidaire Omar al-Bashir – are using the ethnic heterogeneity of Sudan to consolidate and strengthen their power. Groups labeled as African are being targeted systematically as Arab-labeled elites assert their control. In very powerful ways, Ahmadi continues, this systemization of elite power translates into the assertion of sexual power and control of targeted groups, particularly women and girls from these groups.
While Ahmadi points out that historically in Sudan, women held places of firm power in society, today’s governmentally-enforced mechanisms of power grossly disadvantage women. Combined with the oppression and genocidally violent disenfranchisement of marginalized groups that we are witnessing in Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile, these power dynamics dominate the motivations for the use of rape and sexual violence as a weapon of genocidal war in Sudan.
The narrative of sexual violence in Sudan too often begins and ends with the fact that women are so often targeted for rape of a particularly brutal nature. Yet Ahmadi – in her daily life as an activist, and as an academic in her paper – emphasizes the continued resilience of Sudanese women who have been victims of rape. Her narrative helps highlight the activism of Sudanese women, as she strongly concludes:
"Despite the magnitude of the crisis and its impact on women, Darfuri women continue to emerge as leaders in their communities on local grassroots and international levels. These women have demonstrated a unique resilience and strength for which they must be recognized. Women should not be treated as victims, but rather as equal partners in resolving the crisis and shaping a future of their own."
We would do well to keep Ahmadi’s words firmly in mind as we communicate narratives about the situation in Sudan.