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October 2022

Participatory Assessment: Increasing Access to Justice and Holistic Services for Survivors of Gender-Based Violence in Sudan

Executive Summary

Gender-based violence (GBV) and violent extremism (VE) are complex phenomena with many possible root causes and exacerbating or mitigating factors. Both are present but poorly understood in Sudan, and research on the relationship between them is particularly limited. Recent studies, including Voices from Sudan 2020: A Qualitative Assessment of Gender Based Violence in Sudan conducted by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), have illuminated the different ways in which GBV manifests in Sudan. Other research, including studies conducted by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Search for Common Ground (Search) explore how violent extremist organizations (VEOs) recruit, operate, and exercise influence in Sudan and its regional neighbors. Some studies, such as Invisible Women: Gendered Dimensions of Return, Rehabilitation and Reintegration from Violent Extremism prepared by the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN) and UNDP, address aspects of the experience of female VEO members in other states. However, no study has yet examined how Sudanese women and girls are affected by the intersection between GBV and VE.

Search and the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) under the Women and Girls Empowered (WAGE) Global Consortium are undertaking an 18-month initiative to address drivers of GBV and VE in Sudan. Partners will work with Sudanese civil society and justice sector actors to increase access to justice and holistic services for GBV survivors and address the drivers of GBV and VE. This assessment is intended to inform initiative activities by exploring gender roles, access to GBV services, manifestations of GBV including within VEOs, female participation in VE, and community resilience factors to support GBV survivors.

The methodology includes key informant interviews (KIIs) and focus group discussions (FGDs) with more than 370 individuals in the WAGE initiative’s three target states: Kassala, White Nile, and Khartoum. Search conducted the assessment in line with its Grounded Accountability Model (GAM), which uses community validation to tailor interventions to local needs. The current political environment and sensitive nature of GBV and VE imposed limitations on data collection, but the lack of discussion around the two subjects does not necessarily indicate GBV and VE are not affecting the three states. The research team supplemented field data collection with a comprehensive literature review of existing research about GBV and VE activity in Sudan.

GBV in Sudan: People in the three geographic areas have similar ideas about what constitutes GBV, but respondents from each area emphasized different points of concern. Early and forced marriage and denial of education feature prominently in Kassala; verbal abuse and sexual violence are frequently mentioned in White Nile; and respondents in Khartoum highlighted public violence, looting and robbery, and men denying agency to their female relatives. Beating is the most common form of domestic violence (DV) described in all three areas. Individuals who experience GBV often lack support due to customs that normalize GBV, stigma, lack of services in rural areas, and/or minimal enforcement of anti-GBV laws. Justice and dispute resolutions mechanisms have a poor history of providing justice for women. Some forms of GBV, such as female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) or DV, may not violate community social norms, while others, such as sexual violence, may result in harsher consequences for the survivor than the perpetrator.

VE in Sudan: VEOs deploy sophisticated techniques to attract qualified female recruits in Sudan. Recruitment strategies may include shaping women’s and girls’ ideological or religious commitments and offering promises of financial reward, protection from threats, or tangible power within the group. Financial motivations were the most frequently mentioned reason for joining a group regardless of gender. Respondents tend to presume women and girls are seeking independence and safety, while men and boys are motivated by power or ideological conviction. Respondents generally expect female recruits to perform roles consistent with gender norms: wives, nurses, cooks, and/or victims of sexual exploitation, as well as recruiters and spies. This is consistent with other research, which finds that women recruited in Sudan are rarely recruited to be fighters and more frequently serve as recruiters and propagandists, intelligence officers, and morality police. Women who leave VEOs often do not try to return home because they are likely to experience ostracization and potential retribution. Without assistance, women and girls are likely to struggle to reintegrate into communities.

Connections Between GBV and VE: A substantial body of research shows that GBV and VE are interrelated. GBV is both an important tactic and essential to the ideology of many VEOs. Additionally, both GBV and violent extremist ideologies thrive in communities where rigid gender roles limit possibilities and constrain acceptable behavior. Rigid gender roles constrain the behavior of both men and women in Sudan. For women and girls, rigid gender roles prevent women from making their own life decisions, while inflexible ideas about masculinity tell boys and men they must be both protectors of families and enforcers of discipline. Civil, tribal, and religious authorities are rarely able or willing to address the problems women and girls face which leave them vulnerable to both GBV and VEO recruitment messaging.

Resiliency: This assessment identified factors that could mitigate GBV and build resiliency against VE. Traditional and customary practices, including dispute resolution mechanisms, are as much an opportunity as a challenge. Traditional authorities involved in extracting community members from VEOs are often the only accessible means of resolving conflicts. These authorities have not historically delivered justice for women and girls in Sudan, but in some areas, they have shown themselves capable of evolving to better serve female members of their communities. For instance, younger sheikhs1 are mediating DV disputes they previously might have ignored; however, it is unclear if their interventions are rights-based, result in optimal justice outcomes for women and girls, or utilize methods that center the needs and wishes of the survivor/victim. Other anti-GBV initiatives such as anti-FGM/C campaigns are engaging traditional leaders to help change perspectives. Young men and women have also organized to provide services and reduce violence through neighborhood patrols and community mediation. This assessment could not confirm the results of these mediations or if they followed a survivor-centered or trauma-informed approach. Informal women’s networks may also be an effective source of support, particularly since networks leaders could help develop community strategies to address sensitive issues.

Recommendations: The WAGE initiative may build on prior successes. Respondents in all areas agreed that awareness-raising campaigns have been effective and requested that they continue in the future, focusing on rural areas, using multiple forms of media, and targeting men as well as women. Respondents in White Nile and Khartoum also said their communities benefit from service centers for GBV survivors. These service centers, which provide medical, psychosocial, and legal services for female GBV survivors, may be able to share valuable lessons for rehabilitating and reintegrating former VEO members into society. Please refer to the Recommendations section below for more information.

Read the Report

The statements and analysis contained in this participatory assessment “Increasing Access to Justice and Holistic Services for Survivors of Gender-Based Violence in Sudan” are the work of the Women and Girls Empowered (WAGE) consortium, led by the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) in close partnership with the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), Grameen Foundation USA, and Search for Common Ground (Search). The Board of Governors of the American Bar Association (ABA) has neither reviewed nor sanctioned its content. Accordingly, the views expressed in the report should not be construed as representing the policy of the ABA. Furthermore, nothing contained in this report is to be considered rendering legal advice for specific cases, and readers are responsible for obtaining such advice from their own legal counsel.

All opinions, findings, and conclusions stated herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of the United States Government, WAGE, or any members of the WAGE consortium.

About WAGE

Women and Girls Empowered (WAGE) is a global consortium to advance the status of women and girls, led by the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) in close partnership with the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), Grameen Foundation, and Search for Common Ground (Search). WAGE works to strengthen the capacity of civil society organizations (CSOs) and private sector organizations (PSOs) in target countries to improve the prevention of and response to gender-based violence; advance the women, peace and security agenda; and support women’s economic empowerment. In this context, WAGE provides direct assistance to women and girls, including information, resources, and services they need to succeed as active and equal participants in the global economy and public life. WAGE also engages in collaborative research and learning to build a body of evidence on relevant promising practices in these thematic areas. To account for the deeply interconnected nature of women’s and girls’ experiences, WAGE’s initiatives employ approaches that are highly collaborative, integrated, and inclusive. WAGE is funded by the U.S. Department of State Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues.