Listening to the Women of Darfur

By Jim Wallis 06-10-2009

Few biblical figures stand out for their bravery as Esther does. Faced with a looming order for the systematic extermination of her people, she risked her life and broke the silence. She approached the king, knowing full well that to do so meant risking her own life, and spoke out against an unjust decree that threatened the very existence of the Jewish people. This act of bravery, her step forward to break the silence, stopped certain genocide.

Today, genocide is not a looming threat but a tragic and persistent reality. And, in the midst of this genocide, 88 women have stepped forward to break the silence about rape as a weapon of war. Eighty-eight women from Darfur forced from their homes and into camps along the border of Chad have spoken up for themselves about the violence and deprivation they experience every day.

A recent report published by Physicians for Human Rights details the reports of these Darfuri women in refugee camps in both Sudan and Chad. Many of the women reported being raped at least once, and many more said that fear of sexual assault was a regular part of life in the refugee camps. These rapes most often occur as women leave the relative safety of their camps to collect life-sustaining resources such as firewood and water.

Once outside the camp they make for vulnerable targets of the Janjaweed and other agents of the Khartoum government. Rape is used not just as an assault on an individual woman but as a way to dehumanize, humiliate, and tear apart the social fabric of remaining communities. The perpetrators know that without support and left unchecked, the physical and emotional damage they inflict upon these women will likely spread to all those around them.

The stories of these women are difficult to read, but their strength and bravery bring hope. In Darfur, we have missed the opportunity to stop this tragedy before it started, but we are under a moral obligation to end it as soon as possible. But 88 women, who tell the unspoken stories of thousands and thousands more, have broken their silence to take us one step closer to ending this genocide if only we will listen.

Jim Wallis is CEO of Sojourners.

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