top of page
  • Writer's pictureMehr Fatima

Wounded Warriors: The gendered impact of Sudan's war on women

Taking the context of the raging war in Sudan, it is important to understand the effects of protracted conflicts on gendered relations and structures within the fabric of the conflict-ridden societies.

War is a catastrophe. With the immeasurable loss of lives and livelihoods, they become harrowing realities for those who live them. In the backdrop of prolonged civilian conflicts, and their economic cost, people undergo a massive transformation through each stage of the crisis. For people in Sudan, this has been the situation for many decades. With the country gaining independence from Anglo-Egyptian rule in 1954, there have been short intervals of peace followed by long spells of war. South Sudan, dominated by non-Arabic, Christian tribes, separated from the predominantly Arab Muslim North in 2011. The crisis in Sudan has claimed more than two million lives since 1954. However, in the context of the war’s impact on women, the focus of this paper shifts between the North-South clash, the conflict between Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and, the civil crisis in South Sudan.

The prolonged crisis in the country has proved to be more devastating for women. Trafficking, displacement, and sexual violence have been some of the harsh realities women living in conflict-prone areas of the region have faced, especially in Khartoum, Darfur and South Sudan. In this article, an attempt has been made to discuss the plight of affected women in more detail. This article aims to bring more nuance to the impact of war on women by dwelling deeper into the crisis from a gendered standpoint.

Consequences for Women

Sudan has been suffering from a protracted civilian conflict for many decades. However, after the split of South Sudan in 2011, North Sudan has been mired in a civil and military crisis as warring factions led by the SAF and the RSF have been vying to hold onto power. According to Alex de Waal, Sudanese society is a complex one. It is fraught with ethnic and racial ambiguities. However, the cause of the distress has been animosity between the Arab and non-Arab tribes. In a society fraught with racial, ethnic, and political tensions, Civil War in Sudan has cost thousands their lives and livelihood.

Both North-South War and clashes in the North have led to the internal displacement and exodus of millions of people. It has also led to the migration of several people outside Sudan to neighboring countries like Chad and Ethiopia.

Since the onset of infighting between the RSF and the SAF, around one and a half million people have been displaced and more than two thousand killed according to the United Nations.

Amid the strife, tensions, violence, and forced expulsion, the war has not spilled similar effects for everyone. Women have been disproportionately affected and have found themselves at the receiving end of the whole conflict.

According to a report, women, both old and young, have faced sexual exploitation or violence. Additionally, women have also been required to bear the financial burden along with domestic duties, with men engaged in war. They, along with children, constitute the major proportion of migrants, refugees, and internally displaced people.

In this article, above mentioned aspects would be discussed in more detail to bring a more nuanced view of the effects of war on women. This article explores different dimensions of the Sudanese war from a gendered perspective, and how war exacerbates the repression of women and various war crimes that are committed against them.

War and Weaponisation of Sexual Violence: Rape as a War Crime

Physical exploitation of women in wars is, unfortunately, not a new phenomenon. Mass rape of women belonging to the enemy side has been recorded before in history as well. This gives insight into the gravest consequences of patriarchy for women during war times. Sudan’s society is a tribal society with entrenched patriarchal norms. In the name of customs, women have been forced into marriages after their families pay a “bride price” and how women widowed in wars or due to another reason are then “inherited” and get married to their deceased husband’s closest male relative (usually brother). During the North-South War, women belonging to both Arab and non-Arab tribes accused militias of another side of sexual violence and rape. The same has been true for the conflict raging in North.

In a War, the weaponization of sexual violence, such as rape, serves many purposes. According to a study, not only it inflicts pain upon the men of the enemy side, but also tends to serve as vengeance. This reveals the deeper psychology of war and the attribution of hyper-muscularism to it. Most of the men in wars see women belonging to the enemy side as ‘bounties’ won in war. Also, to gain an egotistic advantage over the other side, women have been targeted often. As the men engage themselves in war, women become more vulnerable to such attacks. According to a research report, almost one in five Sudanese women have experienced intimate partner violence and non-partner violence at the hands of men during these times.

A message from the women of Southern Sudan to the UN Security Council about UN Security Council Resolution No. 1325 was delivered to the UN Security Council in June 2006 from the Chairperson of the South Sudanese Parliamentary Committee on Gender, Youth, and Sports. The Chairperson informed the Security Council that women continue to be subject to extreme forms of assault and continue to be deemed to be of low socioeconomic status.

It is not easy to document cases of sexual violence in exact magnitude due to the prevalence of disturbance. Also, due to legal plurality existing in Sudan and the presence of various customary laws that often favor men in such cases, it is highly difficult for the survivors to get justice. This is further abetted by political opacity and destruction surrounding the conflict. The weaponization of sexual violence becomes a pervasive reality for these women which incurs a heavy emotional, mental and physical toll on these women reeling under dire and hostile circumstances. Though women constitute the majority of migrants and asylum seekers, many are unable to escape and hence are caught in a vicious cycle of violence and hate, often punished for the crimes, they didn’t commit.

In the case of countries like Sudan, all the factions (foreign as well as domestic) involved in the war have a role to play. Due to the prevailing situation, getting any sort of relief or justice becomes a distant reality. Many times stories do not even come out, and many times victims are just too afraid or too desolate to allow documentation of their realities.

Economic Fall-out and Gender Vulnerability

Women experiencing sexual violence are just one of the many facets of this crisis. Besides the dangers of sexual violence, women also take the burnt of financial nurturing of their families in times like these.

With the men away, engaged in the protracted conflict, women have to take up the role of provider besides the nurturer.

Amidst the looming humanitarian crisis, the Sudanese economy has taken a plunge for the worse. Due to strict tribal codes and patriarchal notions, women are not supposed to be earners. With this notion in mind, women are not quite given attention in terms of financial education. However, with the war dragging on, and the men involved at the frontiers, women have little choice but to leave houses and earn for their families. This has brought a certain degree of independence for these women. Just like the Second World War led to the participation of more women in industrial labor in Europe, similarly Sudanese women have been leaving their homes in search of wages and earnings. Given the shape of the once-prosperous Sudanese economy is bleak, women are faced with limited options. This is also true for women widowed by war and single mothers.

Although Sudan has been the recipient of one of the largest aid programs of the United Nations, infighting on the ground has obstructed aid distribution and also led to its abandonment. Volunteering organizations have also faced difficulties in ensuring a proper supply of food and aid due to various reasons. Also, economic disparities have ensued in an imbalance in the pastoral and agricultural economy of Sudan, specifically in the South. The severity of conflict can be felt in diminishing food security in both parts of the region. This has taken a toll on these households. For women to play a double role of nurturer and provider, amidst the looming crisis, tasks become more steep.

Forceful Displacement, Migration, and Women: A Reality Check

Since the inception of the Sudanese War almost twenty years ago, millions of civilians have faced internal displacement. Around a million more have migrated as well due to enraging conflict in Khartoum and Darfur. Women and children constitute the majority of those who left the country out of their own will or were forced to do so. Among the asylum seekers documented by various governmental agencies and others, this displacement has been due to various reasons. For instance, a source cited, many people residing in the majority of Arab regions have left.

Women and children who migrate then face the fears of trafficking, prostitution and slavery. For instance, a number of Sudanese migrants, the majority women, were then forced to enter domestic labor in Ethiopia and Turkiye. Those trafficked to other parts either as domestic labor or forced into prostitution in other countries. In addition to that, many are stuck at the border due to security reasons. challenges include privacy infringement and physical violation in the name of security checks at the borders. There is also a lack of safe spaces in the refugee camps, and these places have been reported to face harassment and sporadic violence. Borders become a porous space for such activities. Many such women have been rescued by Sudan-based voluntary groups as well as by international non-governmental organizations, yet it is not sufficient. These issues do not find mention at the high tables of politics because other interests, mainly geopolitical, take over.

Women and War: Geopolitical or Feminist Issue?

Sudan is not the only country impacted by war. Neither are Sudanese women first to suffer its consequences. However, an enraging protracted civilian conflict, as seen in Sudan remains a case in point as to how there are various dimensions to war for different sections of the affected region. However, when it comes to the traditional security sphere, issues related to women do not find much room within the established geopolitical traditions. Feminist traditions see war as a structural crime against womanhood because of the pervasive violence directed against them either as vengeance or due to lust. There is little overlapping between the two traditions in practical spheres. Feminist discourse remains academic in spreading awareness around the same. While in the established geopolitical understanding of war, consequences are mainly seen in terms of materialist gains and losses, with women being so as well.

In geopolitical discussions, crimes committed against women do not get the required attention as the focus remains on economic and territorial gains and losses, and political repercussions.

Under such circumstances, grievances of the affected women and survivors are mainly put forward by civil society actors. In order to gain wider ground for these issues in larger public discourse, a feminist understanding of war needs to be embedded in the security discussions of the state.

Governmental organizations have largely failed in ensuring the safety of women in war zones or conflict zones. This is true for Sudan as well. Though the United Nations has initiated various response mechanisms to ensure the safety of women, referencing various humanitarian treaties, the main change is being brought via volunteer-run organizations. For the governmental agencies, the main focus is on security- that too of the State actors. Those tasked with ensuring peace, unfortunately, have not yet accommodated gendered perspectives. Since women find little to no mention in the major geopolitical traditions, the feminist school remains the only source for the same.


There are certainly no excuses for everyone’s right to exist peacefully. Yet wars have been a persistent reality for several communities across different lands. For Sudanese people, this reality has run its course over decades and claimed a heavy toll for the same. However, the range of consequences differs for certain sections. Bringing a gendered perspective is one way to look at this point. By pointing out the vulnerability of women in the Sudanese conflict, this article aims to broaden the scope of discussion around war as a structural imperative. The weaponization of sexual violence, economic fall-out, and the disproportionate number of women constituting the Internally Displaced People and refugees are some of the points that tend to explain this. Further, there is a need to clear more space for this issue within the traditional security debates or let the areas overlap at least, which will allow more women from such areas to tell their stories. There is also a need to see women in the context of casualties of war and not just from a collateral damage perspective. Only by changing the language of discourse around war can one bring a shift in the reality of it.

Further Readings

Adeogun, T. J., & Muthuki, J. M. (2018). Feminist perspectives on peacebuilding: The case of women’s organisations in South Sudan. Agenda, 32(2), 83-92.

Aldehaib, A. (2010). Sudan’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement viewed through the eyes of the Women of South Sudan.

Amusan, L., & Ufuoma, E. P. (2020). Psychological Effect of Civil Strife on Women and Girls in South Sudan. Psychology and Education, 57(6), 382-387.

Danjibo, N., & Akinkuotu, A. (2019). Rape as a weapon of war against women and girls. Gender and behaviour, 17(2), 13161-13173.

De Waal, A. (2007). Darfur and the Failure of the Responsibility to Protect. International Affairs, 83(6), 1039-1054.

De Waal, A. (2005). Who are the Darfurians? Arab and African identities, violence and external engagement. African affairs, 104(415), 181-205

Fulton, A., & Holmes, O. (2023, April 28). Sudan conflict: why is there fighting and what is at stake in the region? The Guardian.

Ghobarah, H. A., Huth, P., & Russett, B. (2004). The post-war public health effects of civil conflict. Social science & medicine, 59(4), 869-884.

Hove, M., & Ndawana, E. (2017). Women’s rights in Jeopardy: The case of war-torn South Sudan. Sage open, 7(4), 2158244017737355.

Is history repeating itself in Darfur? (2023, July 6). Spotify.

Jazeera, A. (2023, April 16). Sudan unrest: What are the Rapid Support Forces? News | Al Jazeera.

Jok, J. M. (2006). Violence and resilience: women, war and the realities of everyday life in Sudan. The Ahfad Journal, 23(2), 58.

Reitano, T., & Tinti, P. (2015). Survive and advance-the economics of smuggling refugees and migrants into Europe. Institute for Security Studies Papers, 2015(289), 32.

Sherwood, L. F. (2012). Women at a crossroads: Sudanese women and political transformation. Journal of International Women's Studies, 13(5), 77-90.

Tubiana, J. (2023, June 30). Between two wars: 20 years of conflict in Sudan’s Darfur. Conflict | Al Jazeera.

Young, H., & Maxwell, D. (2013). Participation, political economy and protection: food aid governance in Darfur, Sudan. Disasters, 37(4), 555-578.


bottom of page