In Darfur Wood-gathering Women Walk Through a Minefield of Rape
The women rise early, venture out from their camps and forage for wood to build fires to cook food for their families. They are slow-moving targets, perhaps the most vulnerable victims of violence in the deadly Darfur region of Sudan.
“In the light of the morning, the horizon is just full of women carrying wood,” said Richard Brennan, M.D., director of health programs for the International Rescue Committee. “Many are being raped by soldiers and beaten. They are being forced to take the wood to the soldiers.”
Brennan has been touring the regions where an estimated 1.2 million black Africans have been uprooted by Arab militias. The plight of the wood gatherers in the displaced-persons camps has become one of the most intractable problems of the war.
The UN’s World Food Program is seeking money for alternative fuels, such as kerosene and coal, to keep droves of women from venturing outside the camps. But the sale of firewood collected by the women also is one of the few sources of income. Fuel donations could damage that market. Competition for firewood is also a sore point between the displaced and host populations.
The IRC is dispatching a specialist in gender-based violence to the region to assist the rape survivors. Because they live in a society reluctant to acknowledge rape, the trauma and psycho-social aspects of their plight will be addressed as a health issue. And it is indeed a health issue — there have been reports of numerous pregnancies resulting from the rapes, along with self-administered abortions.
In addition, the IRC will also seek to implement measures that will improve the safety and security of women in the camps.
“There was a lot of rape. Women have been vulnerable to gender-based violence and continue to be so,” Brennan said. One victim he knew of was a 6-year-old girl; another, an older woman, found out she was pregnant after the Janjaweed militia raped her and killed her husband.