The Relationship between Environment and Gender

There is a close relationship between the disciplines of gender and of environment. Both environment and gender are new areas of investigation and still in the process of formulating a theoretical framework of analysis. Both disciplines call for the abolition of all forms of oppression and destruction. In the case of the environment it is liberation from depletion and destruction, in the case of gender it is the liberation of almost half of humanity from all forms of inequality, including the access to a fair share in enjoying the environment. Because of this common interest in liberation, both are disciplines of the future. There are, however, a number of theoretical misconceptions regarding the definition of gender and environment. One misconception concerns the definition of women – by some eco-feminists – as identical or synonymous with nature and, therefore, women are supposed to be most responsible for its preservation and management. Such a definition does not serve women and will add to their previous responsibilities as bearers of culture and the family. The environment is the responsibility of everybody who makes use of it. It is therefore important to broaden our understanding of environmental issues and to adopt a holistic approach regarding its sustainability. This broadening necessitates that women – as a social category – should not be studied outside social relations, i.e. as members of social classes as well as forming a social category of women. To focus on women as a separate category outside social relations only excludes other important groups such as children and the elderly. This will have a negative effect on both the social and the natural environment. A study of gender and environment should look at gender relations as a set of power relations operating at the level of the household, the economy, the society and its links with the outside world.

The second misconception is blaming women for the destruction of the environment through activities linked to their reproductive role and to their efforts to make a living for their families. To blame women for environmental damage means to shift the focus from those really responsible, mainly resource miners, power and business elites and multinationals. A good example is the Sudan in this connection. Since the first environmental studies in the Sudan in the early 1960s, there had been one way of looking at women and the natural environment. It had been a common understanding that the environment has little – if anything – to do with economic, social or even political relations. When the West created a linkage between environment and gender, heads of environment departments (all men) came running looking for females to start such studies. The advice given to the women involved was to go to the villages and collect data about how women destroy the forests and fail to sustain environmental resources! This is a telling example of how male environmentalists overlook the role of women in environmental management and preservation.

This paper will mainly focus on the forms of violence against women in the aftermath of war and conflict. Some notes on migration in Africa and in the Sudan from a historical perspective are necessary to understand the causes and consequences of people’s migration and the patterns of this process. The main thesis is that the process of people’s mobility has passed through different stages. Each stage has certain characteristics. The period which witnessed environmental degradation and war has changed the classical theoretical framework of analysis. Some of the push factors, for example persistent drought and brutal wars, have become unfathomable and beyond the comprehension of those most affected by them.

Migration in Africa

Patterns of migration in the Third World such as Africa are somewhat different from those in industrialized countries. The differences have mainly to do with dissimilar patterns of certain developments. Historically, these developments were induced by several factors, for example the different levels of capital accumulation. The West witnessed an industrial revolution followed by advanced capitalist expansion leading to colonialism and new forms of domination through multinational corporations and international loan agencies. In Africa, migration was caused by activities of merchant capital rather than industrial capital. The imposition of the colonial state apparatus on Africa was another cause of migration, attracting the rural population to the administrative cities and capitals established by colonial powers. Migration as a result of environmental degradation poses some difficulties for the traditional analysis of migration based mainly on economic push and pull factors.

Crises as a result of drought, conflict, war, floods etc. depend primarily on push factors rather than on the dynamics of pull and push factors together. Migrants from affected areas often find themselves in places they did not choose, such as camps for refugees and displaced people. Sometimes they migrate to urban areas simply because these areas are geographically handy. In fact, migration as a result of such calamities involves little choice – if any – despite the fact that some of these problems could be anticipated and accounted for before reaching the level of crisis. Besides environmental degradation and war, migration can take place as a result of religious, cultural, political or economic factors.

Patterns of Migration in Africa: Some Characteristics

1) As a way of life, pastoral communities migrate seasonally following pasture and water. When they move within their political boundaries, conflicts among pastoral communities often involve extended families or ethnic groups and are usually resolved within these communities. Conflicts across national boundaries mostly include governments.

2) Prior to political independence, centers of attraction or pull areas were the administrative centers or areas of economic investment.

3) Migration as part of commercial activities; many African and Arab traders migrated within and to Africa for trade purposes and many of them settled there and became nationals of the countries they had migrated to. In some countries, migrants were fully integrated, in a number of other African countries mixed communities exist who identify themselves as nationals of the country they live in, for example Sudanese of Nigerian origin, Egyptian of Sudanese origin, Sudanese of Egyptian origin etc.

4) Historically, African ports like ports all over the world attracted migrants from the same country and from surrounding states.

5) Post-colonial independence witnessed a substantial development of the national African business classes that led to the emergence of many business centers and industrial towns which in turn attracted a wave of migrants from rural areas.

6) As a result of the growth of urban centers, the allocation of services between rural and urban areas changed drastically in favor of urban centers.

7) In many cases, certain ethnic groups are encouraged to migrate (usually temporarily) to large-scale agriculture. These migrants are expected to return to their original areas after the harvest or the picking season is over.

8) Another characteristic of African migration is the high ratio (4:1) of internally displaced people in Africa to cross-border refugees.

9) Before environmental degradation in Africa worsened and wars spread migrants were mainly men who left their families behind, hence the phenomenon of women-headed households. Migration as a result of environmental degradation and war is generally a community migration, with whole families and communities on the move looking for food or security.

Most of these characteristics of migration in Africa are applicable to the Sudanese case. However, some specifically Sudanese characteristics need to be highlighted.

Migration in the Sudan

Politically Motivated Migration

The migration of large groups of people from various parts of the Sudan mainly to Khartoum and Omdurman took place during the Mahdi War against the Turkish rule. Khartoum, the capital, attracted many people, especially from West Sudan. During the Khalifa Abdullahi rule, which followed that of Almahdi, the capital was moved to Omdurman and Khalifa Abdullahi brought many members of his tribe from West Sudan to serve in the army and work in the administration.

Another forced migration was the relocation of the Nubian people from Northern Sudan to Khashm Algirba in Central East Sudan. This forced relocation was a result of an agreement between President Aboud of the first military regime (1958-1964) and the Egyptian government – whereby the Sudan government agreed to the request of the Egyptians to build the Aswan Dam, which subsequently drowned the Wadi Haifa region, the homeland of the Nubian people. In both cases, people moved from their native environment to a significantly different one. Adapting to the new environment and to a totally different way of living was a long and sometimes painful process.

Commercialization and Urbanization

The oldest Sudanese towns such as Alfashir, Dongola, Elobied, Omdurman, Shendi, Suakin and subsequently Port-Sudan emerged as centers of commercial activities because of their location as production centers or as ports. Commercial activities in these centers encouraged handicraft production. Additional attractions of these urban centers were access to educational institutions and hospitals.

Colonial Expansion and Migration

Besides the emergence of administrative centers after the British occupation of the Sudan (1899-1956), migration patterns in colonial Sudan followed the process of exploitation of the country’s resources in agriculture and mining. Especially important in this respect is the country’s seasonal migration to agricultural centers such as the Gezira scheme and the mechanized schemes of Central and West Sudan. During the colonial period and after, Greater Khartoum continued to receive and is still receiving the highest proportion of migrants from the rest of Sudan.

Post-Independent Sudan and Migration (1956-1983)

Patterns of migration in the Sudan in this period were not different from those of the colonial period. It witnessed the establishment of a number of medium- and small-scale industrial enterprises and the expansion of commercial and insurance corporations. Especially important was the substantial expansion of large-scale mechanized farming leading to additional migration from areas with pastoral and subsistence agriculture to the new centers of agricultural production. In this period also falls the arrival of large numbers of refugees from Zaire, Chad, Uganda, Ethiopia and Eritrea as well as the migration of Southern Sudanese to the North as a result of the prolonged war in the South which began in 1955. The migration of Southerners slowed down after the end of the civil war in 1972. The war, however, started again in 1983 and this time a huge wave of Southerners moved to the Northern towns in search of physical safety and food security. Almost two million Southerners now reside in the North.

Environmental Degradation, Conflict, War and Migration 1983 to Date

Since 1967, the Sahel zone has received less than half of its average annual rainfall. It also experienced two major periods of drought (1972-1974, 1982-1984):

“The flux of environmental refugees and displaced people that followed the last drought was the largest ever witnessed in Africa. By early 1984 more than 150 million people in 24 African countries were affected and more than ten million of them had to abandon their homelands in search of food and water.”1

1 Mohamed Suliman: The Predicament of Displaced People Inside the Sudan; Environmental Degradation and Migration in Africa, in: G Bler (ed.): Environmental Refugees; A Potential of Future Conflicts? M 1994, p. 118.

This environmental crisis coupled with the renewal of the war in South Sudan made the phenomenon of large-scale displacement apparent. People displaced by war and drought, the so-called Naziheen, exceeded by far the number of traditional cross-border refugees (4:1).

The introduction of the term Naziheen was a reflection of a new pattern of migration following an environmental crisis. Earlier, migrants had been referred to as Igleemiyeen (rural people) which did not indicate a relationship between the term and the cause of migration, its nature or its length. The term Naziheen has more specific connotations – firstly, it means migration of whole communities, secondly, the settlement of these communities in a different habitat and, thirdly, it reflects that the future of these migrants in their new environment is unknown or unsettled. The term Naziheen also differentiates between migrants and refugees: when a person is a Nazih, he or she is moving within national boundaries while the word lagi for refugee refers to a person who left his or her country to seek refuge (Logoo) in another country. The term Naziheen is so specific for people displaced by drought that even people displaced by war from South Sudan are not referred to as Naziheen. They are simply called Southerners. This reference reflects the ethnic dimension regarding migrants from the South, on the one hand, and implies, on the other hand, that migration of Southerners to the North is a process that started before the onset of the drought, which reached its peak in 1982/84.

Umbada2 gave an estimate of two million people displaced by war and 1,8 million drought Naziheen, while El-Fahal3 estimated the total number of displaced at 3’527’500, distributed as follows:









Central provinces


Northern province


Eastern provinces


Upper Nile province


Bahr Algazal province


Equatorial province


2 Siddig Umbada: The Naziheen; Drought and Civil War Victims in the Sudan, Second Study Group on Population Displacement and Resettlement in the Middle East, Yarmouk University, Irbed (Jordan), March 1991.

3 Taysser Ibrahim El-Fahal: Displaced Women and Children in the Sudan, Vienna, July 1990.

Of this total number, more than 80% are women and children. Besides these Naziheen, there are 942’000 refugees living in the Sudan today (the number might have decreased after the independence of Eritrea). Most refugees receive assistance from UNHCR while theNaziheen are not entitled to official help from the Sudanese government or UNHCR. And a substantial part of the support offered by relief organizations is confiscated by government officials before it reaches the Naziheen.

Khartoum Province and Displaced People

Khartoum Province alone received 1’617’500 displaced. This was to be expected since Khartoum is the capital and the second largest city in the Sudan, and Khartoum North and Omdurman are also in Khartoum Province. The attraction of Khartoum is understandable since it has the best hospitals of the country, 60% of all specialized doctors, 70% of all private clinics, 85% of all business establishments, 80% of the industry as well as the lion’s share of educational institutions and other facilities such as water and electricity.4

4 A Study of the Displaced, Ministry of Health 1990.

In Khartoum Province the displaced people live in poor conditions in slums or camps that are far away from the city center and lack such facilities as water, electricity, medical services, public transport and educational institutions. The displaced live in shacks constructed of old garments, cardboard boxes and whatever suitable waste materials they can lay their hands on. In Khartoum Province, there are 49 camps of displaced people. 19 of them are in Khartoum, 20 in Omdurman and 10 in Khartoum North. The inhabitants of these camps are grouped according to the areas they come from. Those who are displaced as a result of the war in the South live together according to their ethnic or tribal origin. The same goes for those who migrated from the West as a result of the drought. The influx of the displaced to towns has caused several conflicts, some manifest, others latent. Especially the urban populations of Khartoum, Omdurman and Khartoum North are divided between sympathy and fear of the sudden influx of hundreds of thousands of displaced people.

A number of research projects was conducted to survey and analyze the problems of the displaced population in the Sudan. Obviously, most of them have dealt with the displaced in Greater Khartoum. None of these studies was gender-specific and very few dealt with women and their living conditions. But without studying these conditions and all relevant gender aspects in the communities under investigation, policy-makers will not make adequate recommendations. Their policies will suffer severe shortcomings and will be of little help to at least half of the communities under survey.

Displaced Sudanese Women and Postwar Problems

In the aftermath of environmental degradation and war, nearly four million Sudanese women, men, children and elderly were displaced. This involves a host of problems for family structures and the division of power between the sexes. As far as women are concerned, this often results in violence inflicted by male members of the household, especially husbands. Traditional forms of marriage begin to dissolve and the women experience social harassment and rape outside their homes, at their places of work and in prisons.

The Disintegration of the Family

In her study of the displaced in greater Khartoum, Suhair Khalil5 reported a considerable degree of family disintegration. Some family members move to Khartoum from the South, while other members join the refugee camps in Kenya or Uganda. Some people reported that they had no news from the rest of the family. There is also a remarkable increase in deserted and widowed women. Khalil also reported a high rate of divorce among the Naziheen families. The following table sums up some of her findings concerning the status of displaced women:

Marital Status












5 Suhair El-Sayed Khalil: The Socio-Economic and Political Implications of the Environmental Refugees in the Vicinity of Omdurman, Environmental Monograph Series, No. 6, Institute of Environmental Studies, University of Khartoum, 1987.

The organization of production in society in general and in the household as a unit of production and consumption in particular changes dramatically. The former division of labor within subsistence and pastoral production societies turns into open competition between all members of a group for whatever work opportunities are available, especially in the informal sector where no particular formal skills or training are necessary. The single-mother families, the widowed and the divorced make up 41% of the families. This is a high proportion indeed. If we also consider single women who are unable to trace their families or have left their families behind the picture becomes even more gloomy. The divorce rate is comparatively high, almost ten times higher than the average divorce rate in the Sudan. This reflects the threat posed to marriage and family relations in the new social set-up of the family.

Arriving in a predominantly Islamic territory (Northern Sudan) displaced families, especially from the South and the Nuba Mountains who are mostly non-Muslims, confront a brutal fundamentalist state which exercises a number of measures which hasten the disintegration of the family. One of these measures is the so-called Kasha, a rounding-up of displaced people, especially Southerners and Nuba, by the police who are randomly arrested and sent to prison. Arrested children are sent to camps where they are trained for military service under hard conditions during which they are subjected to maltreatment, abuse and rape by the police and supervising personnel. African Rights6 traced seven of these camps where mainly boys were arrested and sent to military training. African Rights was able to collect information about five of these camps. The number of children reported was 2’661. The families of these children are never informed of their whereabouts – and at times – not even of their arrest (usually without charge). The children never know where they will be taken. Women and men are also forcibly relocated in the same fashion, mainly to agricultural areas to serve as cheap agricultural workers. They are not paid wages and are forced to live and work under poor living conditions and subjected to harsh treatment. During the 1994 harvest and as part of the so-called government repatriation scheme, Sudanese Radio announced:

“A train carrying about 2’000 migrants is expected to leave Khartoum for Renk in Upper Nile State to take part in the harvest campaign there. For the same purpose, some 7’000 migrants will be transported to Kordofan in the coming few days.”7

6 African Rights Report: Sudan’s Invisible Citizens, London 1995.

7 Ibid.

Judging by this official radio announcement, families are broken up by the thousands every time cheap labor is needed. The disappearance of family members is common among the displaced. In most cases, there is no pretense that those relocated for cheap labor will ever return home.

Displaced Women, Harassment, Violence and Rape

Violence against displaced women takes various forms: abuse and violence during the demolition of squatter areas by the state police, sexual harassment, abuse and rape in the street and at places of work, harassment and rape in prisons and the imposition of the Islamic dress in an attempt to force non-Muslim women to abandon their traditional way of dressing.

Housing Demolition, Abuse and Harassment

Under the 1990 Act, the present Islamic fundamentalist government carried out a plan recommended by the “Squatter Resettlement Committee” which proposed two types of relocation sites: transit sites for the displaced and resettlement camps known as peace sites for squatters. This reflects racist overtones in the distinction between the displaced and the squatters. Squatters are generally those who squatted prior to the arrival of the displaced in the 1980s and 1990s. Many squatters are of Arab origin while the displaced are mainly Southerners and Westerners who immigrated to Khartoum Province as a result of environmental degradation and war. These are mainly people from Kordofan, Darfur and the Nuba Mountains. However, squatters are not exclusively Northerners. A considerable number of them are Southerners, who came to Khartoum as early as the first civil war (1953/72), In 1992, there were an estimated 527’000 displaced people and 873’000 squatters.

The demolition policy affects displaced women and children in a number of ways. Firstly, the large number of female-headed households (41%) means that they are the ones who encounter the police. In this process, abuse, harassment and rape take place. In one such demolition operation in Omdurman (1994), reports estimated the death toll between seven and fourteen and the number arrested about ninety. Secondly, children and the elderly usually accompany the mothers who face the responsibility of feeding and finding alternative shelter for them. Thirdly, when the police arrives the family members present are usually women and children. The anticipation of a raid at any time puts the women under severe psychological stress. Single women are also badly affected as they face greater problems in finding a place to live when they become homeless. Landlords are reluctant to rent to them because they prefer to deal with men rather than women, especially if they are unmarried.

The Compulsory Islamic Dress

According to the present law, women must wear the Islamic dress. A committee of eight men designed such a dress which is long, loose and opaque so that the woman’s body cannot be discerned. The dress must cover the whole body and the head. This law is enforced on all public employees and female students regardless of their age, cultural background or religious affiliation. This law hits both settled and displaced women. Traditional dresses are no longer allowed. Those women who wear them anyway are subjected to harassment and flogging. Displaced women are not used to cover themselves totally. Putting on an Islamic dress is a hardship because it is strange to them and very different from their traditional dresses. To argue with members of the People’s Police can lead to flogging or imprisonment. An educated Southern women, who lives in Khartoum, described her experience as follows:

“Finishing the University, I found myself forced to work in Khartoum, as the security situation in the South had deteriorated. Luckily, I was able to find a job with a very progressive institution. My problem started after the 1989 coup. The government recruited young men into the People’s Police with instructions to stop any women they consider to be indecently dressed. One day, I was on my way to work and had reached the market (Souk al Arabi), when I was stopped by a young member of the People’s Police, who accused me of being indecently dressed. I was dressed in long baggy trousers and a long-sleeved blouse, but he maintained that I had not covered my head. I argued that as non-Moslem, I was not obliged to do so, and that I had neither orders from my employers nor seen notices in the streets to tell me that it is now compulsory to do so. I asked them to let me go as I had classes to teach, but they refused. As a result, I missed my class, and was left feeling angry and nervous for the rest of the day. Similar incidents meant that my journey to and from work had become a daily ordeal.”8

8 Ibid.

Harassment in the Street and Violence at Work

Displaced women can easily be distinguished because of their looks, style and standard of dress and their Arabic accent. Northern men single them out for verbal and sexual abuse. Displaced women are expected to be available to them. Harassment usually takes place where it is crowded, i.e. on the street, at the market place and at transport centers. Many of the women work as servants for middle class and rich North Sudanese households where they might get raped or sexually abused by the male members of the family, relatives or neighbors. Employers exploit displaced women by making them work a lot for little money. The women are denied leave or days off, even when their children are sick. A testimony of a former servant describes such a case:

“I came to the North in order to take my sick father to Khartoum for treatment. As this treatment took ages, I decided to work as a house-maid for an Arab woman. When my employer wanted to take me abroad with her, I did not mind as everyone told me it was a good idea for me to go and send foreign currency back to my sick father. I went abroad with my employer, but then she turned nasty towards me. I was forced to manage the whole house and look after the children. When I was paid, I found she had deducted sums from my wages. I complained to her husband but he referred me back to her. I felt like a prisoner, trapped inside, with no knowledge of the city where I was living. When I demanded to leave them they wouldn’t let me go, and held on to my passport. Later I found that this is not the first time they had done this, as when we moved houses I came across the passports of two former employees.”9

9 Ibid.

One of the consequences of this kind of work is the dramatic change of power relations between husband and wife. Husbands are jealous because their wives are mixing with strange town men. This often causes quarrels, divorce or desertion. Moreover, these women are serving other women and children while their own children are left behind to roam the streets since there is nobody to look after them. Displacement disintegrates or weakens former extended family structures and inter-family solidarity. Many of the unattended children, left to their fate, become thieves and beggars, susceptible to the Kasha and police raids.

Another type of work of displaced women is beer-brewing and alcohol distillation, albeit now for commercial purposes. This is one of the major crimes non-Arab displaced women are charged with. But brewing has also a lot to do with traditional customs. Beer plays an important role in traditional ceremonies such as harvest, cooperation in building, funerals, blessing of children etc. And beer is considered an integral part of food in the traditional Sudanese societies. Women involved in brewing are now faced with police raids, the confiscation of their equipment and finally prison where they might be sexually abused and in many cases raped by police officers. Some policemen raid households and threaten the women with imprisonment unless they pay them some money even though they did not find any alcohol.

Sexual Abuse and “Prostitution” Charges

I refrain from using the term prostitution and prefer the term sexual exploitation because the former is loaded with negative moral judgment. Many displaced women are driven to prostitution by the desperate need of money, others are charged without evidence. According to the Sudanese penal code, “they shall be deemed to commit the offense of prostitution whoever is found in place of prostitution so that it is likely they may exercise sex or earn therefrom”. A place of prostitution is described as “a place designated for the meeting of men and women who are not in a marital relationship or persons with whom no legal marriage can take place in circumstances in which the exercise of sexual acts is likely to occur”. As the term “likely” is very vague, a subjective definition by the police or the judge is the norm. As a rule, every woman found in a place arbitrarily designated as “likely” to be a potential place of prostitution can automatically be assumed to be guilty of prostitution. The unlimited authority of the police and the nature of the courts, composed of judges with prejudices against displaced women, has resulted in numerous unfair convictions. Batole Musa, a seventeen years old Nuba, convicted of prostitution said:

“…a police man alleged that she was dressed in trousers which he described indecent and unacceptable as a woman’s dress. But to her, the fact of the matter was that she refused the policeman’s demand for sex.”10

10 Ibid.

The definition of prostitution allows wide interpretation and enables the police to frame a case of prostitution against anyone they wish. Language difficulties, ignorance of the law and the general use of unregistered testimonies give the police the possibility to frame cases. The ignorance of the police and the members of the People’s Police about the cultural differences between non-Arabs and Arabs with regard to the relationship between men and women exposes the displaced women to unfounded prostitution charges. This vulnerability is further intensified by the fact that displaced women hardly find defense lawyers which makes it easy for the police to win the cases against them. Non-Arab migrant women are the main victims of this prostitution law.

Imprisoned Displaced Women

Many displaced women end up in prison. Approximately 80% of the women imprisoned are between 17 and 43 years old, half of them between 14 and 35. They are convicted mainly for the following offenses:

- brewing beer, which constitutes the majority of the cases;
- rounding-up displaced people (Kasha); the majority are young females;
- prostitution with or without evidence;
- theft and bribery;
- resistance to home demolition.

The prison conditions are very poor and the treatment is harsh and cruel. There is no medical care, neither for the women nor for their children. Children are not provided with food, they have to share the food with their mothers. Rape in prison is an everyday occurrence. An account by a female doctor, jailed for political reasons, confirms this. She gave the following account of sexual abuse and rape in Omdurman prison:

“Life in Omdurman prison had opened my eyes to the abuses against women in the Sudan. I used to hear about rape but I did not take it seriously. In prison, I have been told by inmates that several women had been raped in their cells by policemen while awaiting trial; others were either raped or coerced into sexual intercourse by wardens in exchange for a visit by relatives or for such small things like a piece of soap. One women told me about her experience when she knew that I am a doctor. She asked me to examine her to find out if she was pregnant. She told me that she had been raped in the police cell awaiting trial. She mentioned that she was raped by several men but how many she could not tell, because the attacks happened at night when the lights had been turned off. Other attacks had taken place while the lights were on.”11

11 Ibid.

It is clear from this account that rape and violence against displaced women are not confined to times of conflict. These crimes have to stop. In my opinion, research on this topic should not begin with the biological and genetic composition of men with the conclusion that this genetic make-up leads to restlessness, excitability, irritability and violence. I would rather resort to the fundamental roots that cause wars and conflicts. War does not stem from the genetic make-up of men, it is rather dictated by a host of factors of internal and external origin: economic, environmental, political, ethnic, social etc. Although wars are generally engineered and lead by males, the biological composition of men is not enough to explain why wars take place.

In contrast to Susan Brownmiller’s12 account wars in Africa have not been the preoccupation of men only. African women were involved in both ancient and contemporary history of the continent. In ancient African history, women worriers and rulers lead wars, sometimes they were victorious and sometimes defeated. In contemporary history and during the liberation wars, African women fought alongside men, for example in Algeria, Zimbabwe and South Africa. At least one third of the Eritrean Liberation Army was composed of women. The genetic composition does not explain the participation of the sexes in war. Women who share in liberation wars are not less womanly and more manly. They fought because they shared with the rest of society the desire to fight against oppression.

12 See the contribution of Susan Brownmiller in this book.

Displaced women, however, do encounter violence in war and in peace. Women who become displaced in a culturally different set-up face violence, abuse and rape partly because they seem to be culturally and ethnically inferior as well as defenseless and partly because they are poor. Most of the crimes are committed against them by men in positions of power: employers, prison and security staff, men in the households where they work as servants etc. In the Sudan, the root causes of displacement are economic disparities between regions, environmental degradation in the North and the nature of the political regime. These factors have changed over time and are interrelated.

At present, the war in the South continues and the Islamic fundamentalist program of Islamization and Arabization is extended to other areas such as the Nuban Mountains, where a complete ethnic cleansing program is going on. This program is based on racism, violence against women and the exploitation of the displaced as cheap labor in agricultural plantations and of children as child soldiers. One of the preconditions of peace in the Sudan is the toppling of the present regime and its replacement by a democratic one. International pressure is not enough to bring down the Khartoum regime. This is primarily the responsibility of the Sudanese opposition which includes political parties and NGOs.

Women organizations, Sudanese and non-Sudanese, have to campaign for peace and against all forms of violence against women in times of war and times of peace alike and to make these crimes punishable by local and international law. Western women, organizations and scholars usually stress violence against women in war. But violence against women, especially poor and displaced women, in times of peace is also very important. In Africa, rape and violence against women are as serious crimes as those that take place during wars and conflicts.