Everyday Violence, Sexual Agency and Survival for Internally Displaced Women and Girls in South Sudan

Alicia Luedke, The Unmentionables Director. Alicia is currently based in South Sudan conducting research on sexual and gender-based violence in fragile and conflict-affected environments.

Having worked in East Africa over the past more than half a decade I have seen the continued impact of conflict on women and girls and the various ways in which war extends into the everyday lives of female populations in conflict-affected environments. Nowhere is this more true than in South Sudan where I have been working on-and-off since 2012. Despite increased attention to wartime rape and other-related offenses by armed actors against women and girls in the country since the outbreak of the current civil war in December 2013, more often than not the sexual and gender-based violence security concerns of families and communities in different parts of the country tend to reflect everyday forms of sexualized and gendered violence, including domestic and intimate partner violence and forced and/or early marriages.[1] This is especially true in the camps for the internally displaced throughout the country. Women who experience sexual violence during fighting, or flight reach refuge at internally displaced people (IDP) camps in South Sudan only to find themselves subject to these more quotidian forms of sexual and gender-based violence. Additionally, women and girls often face greater vulnerabilities in camp settings without spaces for privacy, which are “compounded” by the fact “that women and girls in IDP areas lack sufficient clothing, undergarments and sanitary materials.”[2]

Along these lines, women’s protection in South Sudan is often intimately linked with their access to resources and support. As is the case in many parts of the world, South Sudanese women are responsible for maintaining the food security of the household. What this means in a context like South Sudan, however, is that they are often forced to make the harrowing choice between their own physical security and being able to provide for their families. As has been highlighted time and again, many women leave settlements for the internally displaced in search of food, or other items to support their families knowing that they risk rape, but aware that if they don’t, their children may starve. The resultant situation is one in which women’s sexual agency has become increasingly limited by their inability to access resources and the kinds of support they need to meet their basic needs.[3]

The work The Unmentionables', providing underwear, sanitary products and sexual health products, is vital for the protection and security of displaced women and girls around the world.  Join us on International Women's Day, March 8th, to provide displaced women and girls with access to underwear and bras to help protect them against sexual and gender-based violence, disease, and infection.

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[1] Alicia Luedke, “Violence begets violence: Justice and accountability for sexual and gender-based offenses in South Sudan,” Draft report by Justice Africa in partnership with CEPO and SSWLA (May 2016), 5.

[2] CARE, “ ‘THE GIRL HAS NO RIGHTS’: Gender-Based Violence in South Sudan,” Report (May 2014).

[3] See also, Jennie E. Burnet, "Situating sexual violence in Rwanda (1990–2001): sexual agency, sexual consent, and the political economy of war," African Studies Review 55, no. 02 (2012): 97-118.