In Sudan's Wad Madani, women fear sexual violence as RSF takes control
In Sudan, as Rapid Support Forces (RSF) captured Wad Madani, Sudan's second largest city, women in the area reportedly started immediately seeking contraceptive and abortion pills, fearing the paramilitary's horrific history of sexual violence and using rape as revenge.
"We are not afraid of death. (...) we are afraid of rape," Khaira, a 24-year-old woman in Wad Madani whose name was changed for safety reasons, said to The New Arab.
On 18 December, Khaira woke up to the sounds of celebratory gunfire as RSF seized Wad Madani, which also hosts hundreds of thousands of refugees from the country's capital, Khartoum.
The fall of Wad Madani is forcing many Sudanese to search for safety in a North African state in which nowhere is safe anymore.
As fighting in Sudan’s conflict extends to Wad Madani, many thousands of civilians have fled amid fear and panic. We urge the warring parties to protect civilians and ensure safe passage for those wanting to leave areas affected by violence. #KeepEyesOnSudan pic.twitter.com/UJyHYfG8Ha— Amnesty International (@amnesty) December 19, 2023
After four days of intense clashes, the Sudanese army withdrew from the city, leaving 700,000 people under the control of its rival armed force, RSF.
The paramilitary's triumph in the city poses various risks. However, residents of Wad Madani say they are mainly terrified of one type of danger: sexual violence.
When RSF captured Darfur, a western city, earlier this year, the members of the paramilitary raped several dozen women and girls, according to UNHCR.
The Sudanese Organisation for Research and Development (SORD) said the recorded cases are likely less than 3% of actual figures.
Women and girls were reportedly being kept by their abusers for days following the assault so that they could not access medical care and were forced to carry pregnancies.
The assaults targeted mainly non-Arab women "to change the non-Arab portion within the Sudanese blood," according to survivors.
Now, in Wad Madani, residents are fearing a similar scenario. Several women in the city took to social media asking for abortion and contraceptive pills to prepare for an "unavoidable fate."
"We know who they are. If they find a woman, they will assault her," said Khaira. "They do it to take revenge on men, to break them," added Khaira, who said rumours of reported assault cases in the city have already started circulating.
Sudanese activist Wini Omer told TNA that most women's groups could not verify the information from Wad Madani amid the current situation, especially due to networking issues in the captured city.
In a country where abortion is illegal, the options for survivors are limited. In many cases, the social stigma has driven survivors to struggle with the trauma, leading to depression and worse silently.
Throughout history, military forces have employed sexual assault as a tool of warfare, often targeting local women. In some cases, it served as a deliberate strategy to instil fear and humiliation, while at other times, it emerged as a consequence of security breakdowns exploited by men. Frequently, it involved a combination of both factors.
The RSF has said it has zero tolerance for sexual and gender-based violence, but rape cases are still reported from cities under their control.
The resistance committee in Wad Madani are reportedly buying fuel on the black market to help evacuate women, children and men, as many families have already evacuated once or twice in the past months to arrive in Wad Madani, and they cannot afford a third relocation. So far, 300,000 people fled the city to nearby towns.
However, escaping RSF's terror became riskier as the paramilitary forces were reportedly robbing money and cars from civilians and stopping them from leaving the city.
Sudan has been ravaged by clashes between the army and the RSF since mid-April.
Nearly 9,000 civilians have been killed, and more than 5.7 million people have been forcibly displaced in the last seven months, according to the UN.