Zahara's story illustrates the devastating effect of violence on women's lives. Two years ago, when she was seven months pregnant with her third son, attackers in Darfur's civil war raided her village and killed her husband. "I came here without anything, just my children," she recalled, as her toddler fumbled at her breast to be fed. "They took everything, and then they burned the whole village."
In the camp village of Manawashi, a teapot now hangs from the straw roof of Zahara's hut, near a low fire that adds to the stifling heat, and a woven bench serves as both table and bed for the family. Zahara dug the clay to make bricks herself for this hut. When she went into labour, the scar from her traditional genital cutting had to be sliced open to allow the delivery. "I had no other options" than to submit to the genital cutting as a young girl, she said. "I suffered."
Last April, to supplement the food aid she received as an internally displaced person, Zahara joined other women to search for animal fodder to sell in the market. About two hours away from the camp, she and seven other women were attacked by men on camels.
"They tried to rape me, but I fought hard," she said. Then one man kicked her. "He took the butt of his gun and hit me in the kidney. It was very painful and I lost consciousness. . . still I am suffering. I cannot do hard work, I cannot go long distances."
Curbing violence against women is among the many cost-effective investments governments can make that will improve women's health and boost their creativity. To help in this, the South Darfur office of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, supports a forum on gender-based violence that brings together men, women and young people from area camps and communities to discuss local problems. "Women need to be able to gather firewood to sell to feed their children," said Gladys Atinga, a UNFPA programme officer.
The agency also provides clinics with kits for post-rape care, including protection from HIV/AIDS infection, along with other maternal and reproductive health services, because young women who become pregnant from rape may otherwise use extreme and dangerous methods to end the pregnancy. "We want to make sure these women can earn their livelihoods in safety," Atinga said.
Zahara now weaves a few straw mats to earn a meager living, making one mat a week and selling them for $2 each. "That is nothing," she said. "I want to go back to my village, cultivate my land and live in peace . . . but I don't think it will happen soon."