Originally published by We Are Noor.
This interview was conducted by We Are Noor, and is a deep dive into the challenging but crucial topic of gender-based violence (GBV) in times of war, with a specific focus on Sudan and the broader impact on women and girls in conflict zones. In this candid discussion, our regional programme manager, Faizat Badmus-Busari, explores the intricate dynamics of GBV in conflict settings, the resilience of women and girls amidst adversity, and the vital role of organizations and communities in supporting survivors and working towards systemic change.
Dr. Faizat Badmus-Busari is the Regional Programme Manager for SIHA Network. With a Doctor of Juridical Science (SJD) degree and an extensive background in Human Rights and Gender, Faizat masterfully blends gender, law, religion, and social justice to uplift marginalized communities, primarily women and girls. Her experience spans diverse projects championing gender equality, democratic values, and human rights. At SIHA, she brings her extensive gender-transformative, legal, and program management expertise, directing the network’s regional initiatives across the Horn of Africa. Guided by a belief in collective action and intersectional feminism, Faizat collaborates with organizations and partners to promote women’s rights, peacebuilding, and social justice in the region.
Noor: Can you give us a brief overview of the work that SIHA network does with regards to countering and dismantling gender-based violence against women in the Horn of Africa?
FB-B: At Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA) Network, our approach to eliminating violence against women and girls (VAWG) in the Horn of Africa is grounded in intersectional feminist principles. We prioritize support for women and girls from diverse and
marginalized backgrounds, including those in conflict zones, internally displaced and refugee communities, urban poor areas, and those facing socio-economic challenges, educational barriers, or discrimination due to their religious or ethnic identities. Our interventions across the region aim to address the complex nature of VAWG. We engage in community awareness initiatives that aim to shift societal mindsets, employing tools such as legal aid clinics, strategic litigation, women-led dialogue sessions, and research and policy advocacy. Additionally, we focus on educational outreach, developing and distributing training manuals and curriculums for educators and service providers working in the VAWG response sector.
A critical component of our work includes offering direct support to survivors of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). This includes providing free legal representation, psycho-social support, and facilitating relocation as needed. We also work on strengthening referral pathways to ensure survivors have access to the services they need. SIHA also places heavy priority on capacity building for activists in the region. We invest in empowering these change-makers, enhancing their advocacy skills, and fostering connections across national and regional levels. This not only strengthens individual efforts but also nurtures the growth of a collective movement against VAWG in the Horn of Africa.
Noor: It is well documented that there is an escalation in gender-based violence (GBV) during periods of war and conflict. With regards to the ongoing war in Sudan, can you provide an overview of the specific challenges women and girls are facing regarding gender-based violence in the region?
FB-B: The ongoing conflict in Sudan has led to a significant increase in gender-based violence, gravely impacting the lives of women and girls. At SIHA Network, we have documented a surge in human rights violations through our networks, with women and girls being disproportionately affected. Our data certainly underrepresents the actual scale of violence due to the conflict’s impact on our information-gathering networks.
Women and girls are facing horrendous violations, including systematic sexual violence perpetrated by armed groups, particularly the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). Reports and survivor accounts indicate that sexual violence is being used strategically as a weapon of war.
Assaults occur both in public spaces and within homes, often in the presence of family members. This method of warfare targets women and girls of all ages, aiming to instill fear and exert control over communities.
Additionally, there are alarming instances of abduction, where women are forced into various forms of slavery, including sexual slavery, domestic servitude, and forced marriages. In some regions, such as Khartoum and Darfur, women abducted by the RSF are subjected to conditions akin to slavery, with no means to escape. One of our sources from one of the Khartoum emergency rooms recently informed us that they had witnessed a pattern of young women and girls – most often underage – being kidnapped and taken to an RSF soldiers’ camp in Wad Al-Aqali, where they are forced into sexual slavery for the RSF soldiers in the area.
In other cases, economic desperation and fear of reprisals are driving families to accept forced marriages, often for dowries, further trapping women in cycles of abuse and exploitation. Displacement adds another layer of vulnerability, exposing women and girls to additional risks and hardships. Displaced populations often struggle with access to essential services (#PadsForPeace) and resources, exacerbating the challenges for women and girls, who also face heightened risks of GBV in these settings.
Overall, the war in Sudan has intensified gender-based violence, with women and girls bearing the brunt of these atrocities. These acts are not mere consequences of the conflict but are being used as deliberate tactics of war, making the need for targeted interventions and support for survivors all the more urgent.
Noor: Can you elaborate on the specific tactics employed by far-right groups to perpetrate gender-based violence during wartime? How do these groups utilize gender-based violence as a tool for achieving their broader objectives in conflict zones?
FB-B: GBV in conflict zones is a deliberate strategy for control and domination. Far-right groups use GBV to spread psychological terror, destabilizing communities and instilling a climate of fear and helplessness. It’s a tactic to break down social resilience and suppress resistance. At SIHA, we have observed the strategic use of GBV for ethnic cleansing and forced displacement, targeting specific groups to achieve demographic shifts aligned with ideological visions, as highlighted above in the case of Sudan. Far-right factions enforce stringent gender norms and religion, using violence to reinforce patriarchal control and suppress any defiance, further
extending their dominance.
GBV also serves as a demoralization tool, weakening opposition forces by targeting their families. Women and girls are often abducted, forced into sexual slavery, and trafficked, which acts as both economic exploitation and a perverse reward system for fighters within these
groups. What is particularly troubling is the long-term impact of such violence, leading to stigmatization of survivors, breakdown of family units, and enduring societal scars. At SIHA, our efforts are aimed at not just addressing the immediate needs of survivors but also at disrupting the cycle of violence by changing mindsets, rebuilding communities, and empowering women and girls. We not only provide a counter-narrative to the far-right’s agenda but also sow the seeds for a more resilient, equitable society.
Noor: How do far-right groups use media and propaganda to disseminate or normalize gender-based violence during times of war? What role does online or digital communication play in facilitating or resisting these narratives?
FB-B: Far-right groups often use media and digital platforms to spread and normalize gender-based violence (GBV). Their media narratives dehumanize enemies and embed misogynistic ideologies, portraying GBV as a legitimate war tool. It has become a stage where acts o violence are not only shared but often glorified. Online platforms, especially social media, amplify these messages, asserting power and instilling fear. However, the digital realm is also a space for resistance. We also use these platforms to raise awareness, share survivor stories, share campaigns (see our #BringSudanMissingGirlsandWomenBack), debunk misinformation, and mobilize international support against GBV. Furthermore, digital tools are key in documenting GBV and creating historical records for future accountability.
Noor: What preventative measures or strategies have been implemented to address gender-based violence before, during, and after conflict? And how can civil society and transnational feminist organizing contribute to preventing and responding to gender-based violence in conflict zones?
FB-B: Some of the preventive measures SIHA has used include, before the conflict, our efforts often revolve around advocacy for inclusive policies and laws that protect women’s rights, alongside educational programs to challenge and change societal norms that perpetuate GBV. This includes building awareness in communities about the impacts of GBV, promoting gender equality, and establishing early warning systems to identify and respond to signs of escalating violence. We also foster a resilient feminist movement. We offer capacity-building training in transformational leadership, feminism, gender equality, and collective care, empowering coalition members to engage in policy advocacy and lobbying.
During the conflict, our focus shifts to responding to the current needs of the community and protecting and supporting those at risk. This involves establishing safe spaces, offering psychological and support access to medical services to survivors, ensuring access to essential services, and amplifying the impact of the conflict on women and girls through advocacy and research. We tap into our network who remain resilient in the face of adversity to help us reach those impacted by the conflict, work on the ground to provide immediate assistance and referral to GBV survivors and maintain networks for emergency response and support.
Post-conflict, our strategies include economic revitalization and reintegration programs, holistic rehabilitation services for survivors such as enrolling in vocational and literacy classes and support transitional justice mechanisms to ensure perpetrators are held accountable and justice is served, helping to break the cycle of violence.
Through collaborative efforts, our network members and transnational feminist organizing play a vital role in all these stages. They advocate for policy changes, provide grassroots support, and ensure the voices of women and survivors are heard in peace-building processes.
Noor: In your experience, how have women and grassroots organizations been involved in peace-building and conflict resolution efforts, and what impact has their participation had on addressing gender-based violence?
FB-B: Women in the Horn of Africa have been instrumental in peace-building and conflict resolution efforts, yet their contributions often go unrecognized in formal political processes. Throughout the struggle for a peaceful democracy, especially in countries like Sudan, women have been at the forefront. They formed the majority of protesters in movements that brought down oppressive regimes, such as the dictatorship of the Bashir regime. However, their involvement did not translate into equal representation during the transitional political phases. Despite being sidelined by official political institutions, women found alternative platforms for participation.
In this context, neighborhood committees emerged as a vital avenue for political engagement, free from the barriers present in official political parties. SIHA recognized the potential of these grassroots structures and supported initiatives like the ‘Join the Committee’ campaign. This campaign not only raised awareness but also encouraged women and girls to actively participate in these committees, providing them with a platform to influence political outcomes. Our strategy at SIHA is to ensure sustainable results by engaging in inclusive movement- building. We strive to build networks and coalitions of Women’s Rights Organizations and Activists, which can mobilize around common issues and engage in collective advocacy even if resources are limited. In response to the NGO-ization of civic space, SIHA also tries to foster the inclusion of existing grassroots groups, such as professional associations, students’ groups, women’s cooperatives, etc., into the women’s movement. The objective is to build a women’s movement that is ‘organic’ and allows different forms and modalities of organizing.
Since the military coup, which has led to an escalation of conflict, women peace activists in Sudan and across the region have been steadfast in their call for a return to a peaceful democracy. A key aspect of their advocacy is the demand to end the practice of appeasing
warlords and aggressors. We argue that sustainable peace cannot be achieved by continuously allowing those who perpetrate violence a seat at the negotiation table. Instead, there is a pressing need for accountability for crimes committed.
The impact of women’s participation in peace-building cannot be understated. We bring unique perspectives and solutions, often focusing on community-level reconciliation and long-term stability. Women’s involvement is crucial in addressing the root causes of gender-based
violence, which is often exacerbated in conflict situations. Through advocating for accountability and inclusive dialogue, women and grassroots organizations contribute to peace-building efforts while actively working towards a society where gender-based violence is addressed and mitigated.
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