“The violence never stopped,” Sudanese woman says – but neither did her hope

Semira after a long day of work, Nyala, Sudan. © UNFPA/Sufian Abdulmouty
  • 05 December 2022

OTASH CAMP, Sudan – "I would go to my parents, but they would return me to my abusive husband." This is what Semira,* a 25-year-old from Sudan, recalls from her marriage, which started when she was just a child. She became a mother at 14 years old.

"The violence never stopped; I simply became accustomed to it,” she told UNFPA.

The situation worsened in 2020 when armed clashes spread to her hometown of East Jebel Marra. The family fled to the Otash camp for internally displaced people, where they have been living ever since, and where Semira’s hardships have only multiplied.

She had five children to look after, yet she could barely sleep, waking constantly in fear of what her husband might do to her in the morning.

A chance for recovery

One day, Semira's friend visited and noticed her foot was burned. Semira broke down in tears, explaining that her husband, in a rage, had scalded her foot with cooking oil.

The friend knew exactly what to do. The next day, she brought Semira to the UNFPA-supported women's centre in the camp. A social worker named Aisha recognized that Semira was suffering from trauma and referred her to another UNFPA-supported programme, a support service called the “confidential corner” at the Nyala Hospital.

The hospital treated her foot, and a case worker began to meet with Semira regularly.

Empowering women

The women's centres are safe spaces where women and girls can connect and access psychosocial support, referrals to advanced care as well as dignity kits containing hygiene and menstrual supplies. The centres also hold awareness-raising sessions about important issues, arrange educational and recreational activities, and offer referrals to legal assistance for survivors of violence.

To ensure the centre meets the specific needs of women in the community, it is run by a committee made up of community members themselves, who participate in designing and scheduling the activities.

Semira soon became a regular at the centre. "Here, women and girls have tea as they freely share their stories. I felt encouraged to visit the place often for support and my psychological well-being,” she said.

With her caseworker and supportive community, Semira began to consider her options. She decided against leaving her husband or engaging with legal services because of the stigma and hardships that single mothers face. Instead, she sought to find ways to strengthen her position within the family and community.

She began to take part in vocational training activities like soap-making – and she excelled. Today, she runs a small soap-making business in the camp, earning enough to care for her parents and in-laws. Now that she has gained an income, community support and confidence, tensions at home have eased. Semira reports that her husband is more respectful and less violent. He even assists her business on occasion.

She has even become skilled enough to train other women at the camp, and she refers other women in the community to the centre so they, too, can receive support.

One of millions

Semira is one of an estimated 2.7 million women and girls in Sudan in need of protection, prevention, mitigation and response services for gender-based violence.

In response to this overwhelming need, UNFPA has established five women’s centres with humanitarian funding from the European Union. Located in Gedaref, North Darfur and South Darfur, the centres offer services to over 26,000 of the most vulnerable women and girls.

"For thousands of women and girls in Sudan, hope is the only thing they have left. We are here to turn this hope into a reality where they can thrive in a safe environment, fulfil their dreams, and unleash their potential," said Mohamed Lemine, UNFPA’s Representative in Sudan.

*Name changed for protection and privacy

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