Emergency Efforts are Giving Displaced Women More Options in Darfur

22 July 2005
Author: UNFPA

SOUTH DARFUR, Sudan—When she fled from violence a year ago, Fatima Hashem Ali had little idea that she would soon regain part of her previous life. She and her family were forced to leave their home village of Jabal Marra in South Darfur because of the fighting and ethnic conflict. Sereif Camp, ten kilometres north of Nyala, has become the home and refuge to 52-year-old Fatima, her family and over 12,000 other Sudanese internally displaced persons (IDPs). It has also become a place where Fatima can improve and practise her midwifery skills.

At the camp clinic, run by CARE and supported by UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, a reproductive health centre provides family planning services, ante- and post-natal care and health education. All rape cases from within and outside the camp are referred to the clinic too. The clinic also serves host communities around the camp.

Fatima, a midwife by training, was discovered by the camp religious leaders, who, along with CARE and UNFPA, were searching for women with midwifery skills to be retrained to assist at the camp clinic. Fatima gladly volunteered, was retrained at the UNFPA-supported midwifery school in Nyala, and started assisting with the deliveries in the spring of 2004. By December of that year, she was officially recruited by CARE because of her outstanding skills.

Fatima now works as a midwife, side by side with other midwives, medical assistants, social workers and the only general practitioner at the camp, Dr. Hisham Abdullah from West Darfur. She delivers on average 30 babies per month and assists in the ante- and post-natal care of these women. She earns approximately $100 per month to provide for her family and hopes to earn more in the future.

On average, the camp doctor treats 35 women per day, and the medical assistants see up to 50 patients per day. UNFPA provides all necessary medical equipment, as well as delivery and post-rape kits, to ensure adequate services to these women and their newborn babies. The rate of maternal mortality among IDPs at the camp has dropped considerably since these interventions started, according to Dr. Abdullah.

The Sereif Camp clinic does not have an HIV testing unit because the camp structure lacks essential elements to accommodate a laboratory. Suspected HIV cases are referred to the main Nyala Teaching Hospital. Dr. Abdullah hopes that one day funds can become available to build and equip a complete medical laboratory that includes HIV testing.

Women are receptive to medical instructions given by the staff, said Nadia Abdel Ishac, the family planning unit's senior social assistant. Senior reproductive health officer, Mohammed Ali Ahmed, points out that the close and effective coordination between CARE and UNFPA, is reflected in the quality of services provided. "However, there is a growing need for antibiotics and oral contraceptive,” he said, and noted also that more and more men are visiting the camp's clinic to request condoms.

A short walk from the clinic stands UNFPA’s women’s centre, which is helping displaced women to develop their technical skills to generated much-needed income. Many of the women have been trained in making pottery making and are selling it to help support their families. The centre offers literacy classes and gender-based violence awareness in addition to training and skills development.

Fatima Mohammad, a 35-year-old mother of three, is now one of the volunteer pottery trainers at the centre. She produces around 50 pots weekly and sells them to the camp's host communities for about $2 each. Fatima is very proud of her achievement and determined to succeed. “I started my training nine month ago. The team at the centre has given me hope and strength to go on, and a means to provide for my family. I am a volunteer trainer because I would like to give something back to the centre, help the other women and show them that they can do something for themselves and their children.”

At the camp eight religious leaders, seven men and a woman, known as the Sheikhs and the Sheikha, have been working closely with CARE and UNFPA to raise awareness on health issues and services available to the IDPs at the clinic and women's centre. They praised the centre’s achievements and expressed their desire to receive additional training.

Sheikh Ibrahim, one of the leaders, said, “We believe that if we receive more training in HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted infections, family planning, and gender-based violence, this will assist us in increasing the awareness among our fellow men and women in the camp, and will lower everyone’s risk and make the medical team’s work easier.” Seizing the moment, he adds, smiling, “And while we’re at it, can we have 2,000 blue plastic covers for our tents to protect the families living here from the winter season’s cold?”

The women's centre is planning to expand its training sessions to include additional skills development, such as mat-weaving and sewing classes. These expenditures require supplementary funds for equipment and materials, which UNFPA seeks to secure from the generosity of its donors.

The situation of internally displaced persons in Darfur is complex and critical. Those who managed to find refuge in IDP camps or host communities often refused to return to their villages for fear of further attacks. The impact of the violence is exacerbated by the fact that women and their families depended on the collection of firewood for their livelihood and survival. In most of the cases, it was the women and girls who went outside the camps to search for firewood and water, since they had a better chance to survive attacks than the men and boys who risked being killed. Rape and other forms of sexual abuse are widely reported from both outside and inside camps, leaving displaced women and girls at risk of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

UNFPA emergency intervention efforts are providing displaced women and girls with more choices and alternative solutions to lead a safer, healthier and more dignified life. With offices in the three Darfur states, UNFPA emergency intervention programme is implementing its comprehensive plan of interventions to improve reproductive health services, raise awareness and provide counseling on reproductive health related issues including gender- based violence.

Contact Information:

Henrietta Aswad, tel: +9626 5517040 ext 32; e-mail:

the Sudan
Population : 43.8 mil
Fertility rate
Maternal Mortality Ratio
Contraceptives prevalence rate
Population aged 10-24
Youth secondary school enrollment
Boys 32%
Girls 31%

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