Brutality toward women in war-torn Darfur

The world watches silently as sexual brutality is used as a weapon of war in Sudan.

Published November 22, 2005 4:42PM (EST)

For the past four years, New York Times Op-Ed writer Nicholas Kristof has used his column inches to highlight the plight of women in the developing world, for whom profound brutality and suffering are still facts of everyday life. He has traveled in Iraq, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and sub-Saharan Africa -- into the villages and lives of young women -- and returned with amazing, unflinching stories that demand not only our attention but our action.

Today's dispatch (subscription required) comes from Kalma Camp, a huge refugee center in southern Darfur, Sudan. It chronicles with heartbreaking candor the story of Noura Moussa, a 22-year-old who was recently gang-raped by a group of Arab men in military uniforms while she was cutting grass she hoped to sell to feed her siblings. Her attackers told her: "We cannot let black people live in this land."

Before her brutalization, Moussa was planning to be married. Now, neighbors say, she will be lucky to find a husband who will accept her -- let alone provide her with the traditional dowry of 30 cows.

Moussa's tale is tragically commonplace in Darfur -- as Kristof writes, gang rape "appears to be a deliberate Sudanese government policy to break the spirit of several African tribes" because the "exceptional stigma of rape ... often silences victims even as it terrorizes the entire population."

President Bush, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and other world leaders in a position to help women like Moussa have so far shown little courage or conviction in the face of what could indeed be the "first genocide of the 21st century." If they are in need of inspiration, perhaps they should look to the Sudanese women themselves, who, despite their humiliation, have slowly begun to speak out about their attacks. Kristof writes:

"In just one of eight sectors in Kalma, I found three women who acknowledged on the record that they had been gang-raped this month within a few days of each other.

"Arifa Muhammad, 25, told of being caught by 10 men as she planted okra to have a little more food for her three children. One of the men said, 'I know you are Zaghawa, so we will rape you.' Afterward, they beat her with the butts of their guns. The very next day, Saida Abdukarim, also 25, was tending her vegetables when three men with guns seized her. She pleaded with them, pointing out that she is eight months' pregnant.

"To me, Ms. Noura, Ms. Arifa and Ms. Saida are among the heroes of Darfur. There is no shame in being raped, but plenty of stigma should attach to those who ignore crimes against humanity. In my book, it's the politicians who don't consider genocide a priority who aren't worth a single cow."

We at Broadsheet couldn't agree more. For more on how you can help women like these, click here.

By Sarah Karnasiewicz

Sarah Karnasiewicz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Brooklyn, N.Y. Until recently, she was senior editor at Saveur magazine; prior to that she was deputy Life editor at Salon. She has contributed to the New York Times, the New York Observer and Rolling Stone, among other publications. For more of her work, visit and Signs and Wonders.

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