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December 2022

Study on Access to Justice and Holistic Services for Women and Girl Survivors of Gender-based Violence in Sudan

Executive Summary

About the Study

The American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) and Search for Common Ground (Search) are working with Sudanese civil society and justice sector actors to increase access to justice and holistic services for survivors of gender-based violence (GBV) through the Women and Girls Empowered (WAGE) Global Consortium. The 18-month initiative under WAGE aims to empower women-led/serving civil society organizations (CSOs) and women leaders with the skills and knowledge to lead initiatives to prevent and respond to GBV, enhance the capacity of GBV service providers, and improve accessibility for survivors to holistic GBV services and justice mechanisms.

Voluntas, in partnership with ABA ROLI, conducted a mapping and rapid assessment of the GBV landscape in Sudan, identifying the legal and non-legal barriers to and opportunities for women survivors to access services and pursue justice for GBV acts in Sudan. Voluntas, therefore, conducted a desk review as well as 15 key informant interviews (KIIs) and organized two panel discussions with practitioners and experts.

Key Findings

  1. The strongest barriers to GBV survivors accessing services remain socio-cultural perspectives on women in Sudan and their place in society. Women are expected to follow strict rules and remain under their husbands’ guardianship, thus leading to a normalization of violence and social stigma related to harmful gender norms.
  2. The legal landscape regarding GBV is missing key laws and provisions, including a definition for marital rape, domestic violence (DV), and economic violence, and clearer laws prohibiting child marriage. Loopholes within the existing laws should be addressed as they directly impact GBV survivors and their ability to report (i.e., laws on adultery).Communities have limited understanding of GBV due to normalization of violence. Community
  3.  mostly do not intervene when witnessing or hearing about a GBV incident due to the perception that GBV is a private matter.
  4. Reporting patterns differ across the country. In Darfur, sexual violence is rampant and used as a weapon of war. Survivors often seek health services, and justice is served through local reconciliation mechanisms. In White Nile, reporting to the police is more common, and child marriage is widespread. In Kassala and Eastern Sudan, most cases go unreported, and social stigma is very high. Reporting patterns may be affected by the perceived quality of services provided.
  5. Survivors prioritize accessing health services over any other service, and this is the first step of reporting. According to respondents, health services are prioritized by survivors because they are a source of support and as a consequence of their fear of police personnel and being charged with criminal offenses. This is in contrast with some data shared in previous reports, which suggested that only one percent of survivors choose to report GBV to a medical service provider.
  6. There is limited understanding and use of survivor-center/trauma-informed approaches by service providers. Service availability is affected by short operating times at centers, lack of inclusion, and unavailability of safe housing. Accessibility is affected by a myriad of economic barriers, long distances to service providers, a lack of standardized referral networks, and doctors’ approach to populating Form 8 with information. In addition to this, the lack of confidentiality, privacy, and trained professionals, the attitude of service providers, and competition between institutions compromise the quality of services.
  7. Shortfalls in law enforcement, including a dearth of trained police on GBV best practices, Do No Harm (DNH) and safeguarding, a lack of recognition of DV, incriminatory practices, lack of forensic labs and a DNA clause, and low levels of awareness around GBV medical examination protocols are specific barriers to access to justice.


  1. Community awareness raising to shift social norms and raise awareness of existing GBV services and educate community members, particularly women and girls, on their legal and social rights, what services are available, and how to access them.
  2. Support for women-leaders and decision-makers by training women leaders as well as women-led/serving CSOs on the contextually relevant women’s rights praxis, as well as training and capacity/skills enhancement for women as mediators.
  3. Training and capacity strengthening on survivor-centered and trauma-informed care for lawyers, paralegals, and medical staff to support local capacity on data management, confidentiality, and security.
  4. Male engagement in community level awareness-raising activities, gender and GBV-related trainings, and collaboration with other stakeholders and partners to understand the need for improved justice systems.
  5. Strengthening referral systems to support local capacity on data management, confidentiality, and security by conducting local-scale mappings, providing capacity building to actors within the GBV ecosystem, and integrating legal services into the larger referral pathway. There should be one central policymaking entity to coordinate efforts.
  6. Improving coordination in the GBV sector, safe spaces, and other channels to reach services and clearly conveying to beneficiaries through awareness raising activities what they are for, how to use them, and when to use them.
  7. Support local CSOs to advocate for increased funding for GBV service providers, as well as for service providers to adopt survivor-centered care and best practices.

Broader Recommendations

  1. Advocacy and Legal Reform: Advocate for strengthening of the legal framework addressing GBV and ensure relevant stakeholders are included in drafting policies.
  2. Law Enforcement: Build capacities for the support of survivors from law enforcement entities.
  3. Customary Justice: Transform harmful social and gender norms in customary justice spaces.
  4. Educational System: Transform gender norms through education systems.
  5. Women’s Economic Empowerment: Promote women’s independence and autonomy by increasing their economic capacities. 

Read the Report

    Voluntas would like to thank all who contributed to this study. The American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) team has been responsive and supportive throughout this research. The participants were very engaged and open to sharing their insights, especially during the panel discussions for the findings to be as meaningful as possible. We believe this is also a testament to their commitment to making a positive change in Sudan despite current challenges.

    The statements and analysis contained in the report “Access to Justice and Holistic Services for Women and Girl Survivors of GBV 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.