November 17, 2004

Refugee Describes Effects of War on Sudanese Women

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Drawing upon her experience as a refugee and activist, Dr. Julia Duany, research associate at Indiana University, discussed women’s peace-building initiatives in war-ravaged Sudan yesterday in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations’ conference center. The talk, entitled “African Women’s Voices: Effects of War on Sudanese Women,” was the second lecture in the “Gender, War, Violence, Peace and Displacement” series.

Duany focused her talk on the importance of women’s involvement in the peace process. “Women have the most to gain from keeping plans for peace alive because they suffer the most from war,” she said.

Reflecting on peace building and conflict resolution, Duany cited five areas as the most significant obstacles to peace that women face. The institutional arrangement of Sudan, including religious differences and varying economic conditions in the northern and southern regions, must first be resolved.

She also stressed the importance of offering humanitarian protection to those most affected by war.

“The refugee camps I have been to have no protection for women and children,” she said. “Sex abuse has become a weapon of war and children are the subject of militarization. Eight-year-olds know how to shoot a gun before they can hold a spoon. As a mother, this is a concern to me.”

In addition, Duany said that women should continue to promote awareness of African issues, such as the genocide in Sudan and Rwanda, and try to integrate them into mainstream society.

Security concerns and the proliferation of small arms also present a problem, Duany said. “In south Sudan it is cheaper to buy a gun than it is to buy anti-malaria [medication]. No one talks about how to stop the spread of small arms,” she said.

The last area of concern that women face, according to Duany, is the seeming lack of a solution to the war in Sudan.

“We must continue to ask the question, ‘What can women do to change the situation?'” she said.

A brutal civil war has raged in Sudan for over 20 years, as the predominately Islamic north has attempted to convert the largely Christian south. Since fighting began in 1983, over 2.5 million people have died and 4 million people have been displaced in refugee camps throughout Africa. Although religion is one of the primary reasons for the war, racial, cultural and regional differences also play key roles.

Duany advocates grass-roots activism to achieve peace-making. After escaping from Sudan in 1983, Duany received her Ph.D. in higher education from Indiana University. But after returning to Sudan and seeing her country destroyed by war, Duany knew that she could not turn her back on her people.

“I thought, ‘Who should be the voice of these people?’ It was me,” she said.

In 1994, Duany started collecting packages of seeds to distribute to southern Sudanese women, leading to the creation of “Women Working Together,” a part of the South Sudan Friends International, an organization founded by Duany which supports grass-roots peace efforts.

In 2000, Duany and 200 other women took part in the “Women as Partners for Peace” conference in Kigali, Rwanda to discuss women-led peace initiatives.

“We want equal rights for victims and seats at the peace table,” she said. “We are seeking nothing but peace. Peace is not only the absence of war, but a total way of life.”

Cornell NAACP President Sarah Elliot ’06, who attended the lecture, said she enjoyed Duany’s talk, as she learned about an issue that she ordinarily would not have known about.

“[Duany] shed light on issues I wouldn’t otherwise be aware of. The discussion also had more meaning coming from someone who has experienced [the events in Sudan], as opposed to just reading about it in a textbook.”

The event was organized by the program on Gender and Global Change and was co-sponsored by the Institute for African Development, the Peace Studies Program, the Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program and the Center for Religion, Ethics and Social Policy.

Archived article by Olivia Oran
Sun Staff Writer