A new report has been released by Arry shedding light on the struggle of Nuba women in Sudan and putting a much-needed spotlight on what is often described as a hidden war. Aid agencies and journalists have been banned from Sudan’s Nuba Mountain region and the subsequent lack of information about the humanitarian crisis has left the stories of those caught in the conflict largely untold. This includes the struggle of the Nuba women, who the report describes as both the “main victims” and “courageous heroes” of the conflict.
The Nuba are a group of approximately 100 tribes indigenous to Sudan, numbering 2.5 million according to a 2010 census. A historically marginalized group, they are native to the Nuba Mountains near the Sudan and South Sudan border and are predominantly Christian within Sudan’s Muslim majority. The Nuba Mountains’ rebels – referred to as the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North (SPLA-N) – fought as part of the South Sudanese rebellion against the Khartoum government until a peace deal in 2005 led to South Sudan’s independence in July 2011. Weeks before independence, tensions over a state election in South Kordofan triggered the current conflict between SPLA-N and the regime in Khartoum, resulting in frequent air raids over the Nuba Mountains that have left countless dead, injured and displaced.
According to Arry’s report, the majority of the displaced are women and children. Displaced women face increased risk of sexual violence either in internally displaced people (IDP) camps or in large Sudanese cities such as Khartoum. Arry interviewed many displaced women during the course of their research and encountered stories of widespread sexual violence. One such account came from a displaced woman who sells tea in Khartoum:
“A police man who used to drink tea from my place started to threatening me to stop me from work if I do not go with him and let him rape me, because I have no other option, I had to do it to feed my children”
Displaced Christian Nuba women reported religious discrimination that has resulted in abuse from police and lack of access to jobs and education. One interviewee explained,
“We are being forced to act as Muslims, and the police treat us as prostitutes just because we are Christians, the police arrest us and beat us for the way we dress”
Many Nuba women work to provide aid to IDPs, defend democratic and political participation rights of the Nuba people, and document violations committed by the government both inside and outside of the conflict zone. In response to their activism, many have been the target of attack from the Sudanese security and armed forces. Various tactics of intimidation are employed, including looting their organizations and threats of detention. Between April 2012 and May 2013, Arry documented six cases of women activists being raped by Sudanese security, 5 of which were while in detention.
The arrest of Jalila Khamis Koko, a well-known activist, caused a public outcry when she was imprisoned for 10 months without charges. Her arrest came after she testified on video about the humanitarian crisis in the Nuba Mountains. She was eventually charged with “spreading false news”, a criminal code often used by the government to silence dissent.
Arry is calling for the international community to put pressure on the Sudanese government to cease the bombing and allow aid agencies into the area to protect civilians – with special consideration for the issues facing Nuba women. They also call for both the Sudanese government and the SPLM-N to respect the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 and ensure women’s participation in the peace process.
Victims and Heroes: Nuba Women Struggle in Two Years of War, Arry, August 14, 2013.
Hidden war: scores killed, displaced in Sudan’s Nuba Mountains, Global Post, June 24, 2013.
Jalila Khamis: a beacon of inspiration, Open Democracy, February 10, 2013.