Sept 6, 2005 (Nairobi) — Women and girls continue to experience sexual violence in the strife-torn western Sudanese region of Darfur and more needs to be done to prevent such crimes, a joint report by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the UN Children’s Fund said.
"Sexual violence was consistently reported during attacks on villages but was reported to be continuing even at the time of the study - especially when women and girls left the camps," the report said.
By conducting a large number of focus group discussions with internally displaced persons, the report, published on Monday, aimed to gain a better insight into the ways the conflict had affected the health and well-being of women and girls, and to better understand indigenous coping mechanisms.
"Although the women in the focus groups were asked no direct questions with regard to sexual and gender based violence [GBV], the issue came up in most focus groups when discussing the health impacts of the conflict," Roselidah Ondeko, GBV team leader for UNFPA, told IRIN on Tuesday.
"Unmarried girls were the most affected and some did not seek health care in clinics due to stigma and shame," the report noted.
The study mentioned "physical injuries due to beatings, rape, miscarriages, excessive bleeding or injuries sustained during flight from the enemies" as some of the health problems cited by women in the focus groups.
Sexually transmitted diseases, malnutrition, irregular menstrual cycles and psychological disturbances such as nightmares were also frequently mentioned by women as some of the health impacts they were experiencing due to the conflict.
"While survivors of sexual violence reported that they were stigmatised, communities to some degree were demonstrating an increased awareness of the nature of the problem and seemed to accept/support survivors of sexual violence more so than at the start of the conflict," the agencies noted.
Despite this increased awareness, it was common for survivors to seek healthcare outside official clinics and hospitals. The most common healthcare providers mentioned by the women interviewed were the so-called "traditional birth attendants".
The study urgently called for increased access to and coverage of healthcare services in Darfur tailored to the needs of women and girls in particular.
Fatima Elsheikh, UNFPA’s reproductive health officer, added that the women interviewed also asked for an expansion of the protection forces of the African Union as well as the disarmament of armed militias.
The conflict in Darfur pits Sudanese government troops and allied militias like the Janjawid - accused of terrorising the region’s non-Arab tribes - against two main rebel groups, the Sudanese Liberation Army/ Movement and the Justice and Equality Movement, who claim to be fighting against the marginalisation of their region by Khartoum.
The conflict-affected population in Darfur is estimated at 2.74 million, about 60 percent of whom are women and children.
Link to report: http://www.humanitarianinfo.org/darfur/