Violence and Resilience: Women, War and the Realities of Everyday Life in Sudan

Article excerpt

Abstract

In his article Violence and Resilience, Dr. Jok Madut explores the insidious effect that militant opposition to the Sudanese government and that the Sudanese government's counter-insurgency tactics has had on Sudanese women. Madut begins his article by highlighting and criticizing the majority of media attention and academic scholarship on gender in Sudan, which myopically focuses on Sudanese women as helpless victims of warfare. Madut's article illustrates how gender-based violence has been an unquestionable trait of Sudanese warfare used by all parties of the conflict to dehumanize and devastate enemy populations. Madut argues, however, that the militarization of Sudanese society has led to the continuous reproduction and entrenchment of gender-based violence throughout Sudanese society resulting in widespread gender-based violence and marginalization within communities and families. Moreover, Madut's article illuminates a complex subculture of "expanded self-reliance" created by Sudanese women relying on newly found and traditional methods of resisting gender-based violence and marginalization. Madut warns that development programs often fail to address women's rights in Sudan in an attempt to return Sudanese women to their traditional female roles.

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Introduction

At the mention of war in Sudan, an image of women and children as hapless victims immediately comes to mind. For two decades since the start of the north-south second round of conflict in 1983, these images of the impact of war on women and children have featured .in mass media, documentary films, human rights reports and aid-related research literature, much of which has accomplished the task of exposing the sheer tragedy of Sudan's wars. But there is only scant scholarly writing that focuses specifically on the lived-experiences of these women that moves beyond the tropes associated with women as war victims. Such close investigation, particularly to gain their own perspective on the tragedies that befall them, would reveal the humanity of the victim; it would highlight some moments when they feel defeated along with the resilience it takes to rise above the daily challenges of living with war. Here we employ basic ethnographic research methods in an attempt to give room to the women's own efforts to explain things to the outside world in their own words; in a way that avoids the nearly pornographic representation of war victims now in vogue, especially in the visual media. Because of this kind of physical depiction, it has been possible for their suffering to be used by the Sudan's warring parties as mere tools of propaganda, each trying to show up the other in a bad light as the abuser of basic rights. Pandering to the media in order to promote political cause and gain sympathy has been an important practice used by both the state and non-state actors, and the suffering of women, which they are primarily responsible for, has been the object of campaigns. Rarely do the warring parties use the international media coverage as part of an effort to bring awareness and to minimize such gendered violence. In other words, the pictures of suffering also have negative uses, i.e. political uses in favor of the belligerents. The tale and picture of women as passive victims of wartime violence has been a part of the popular story of Sudan's war, and as such, it has obfuscated some of the women's notable struggles and coping strategies that must be highlighted and applauded. Without a doubt, the adverse conditions of such prolonged wars have forged a subculture of expanded self-reliance among women that is usually missed by reporters or quick assessment missions that are characteristic of humanitarian aid activities. Of course, these media representations cannot be dismissed or condemned in their entirety, for they arouse the sympathy of the world community, which people still hope could bring relief to these war-stricken societies. …