Well-known Sudanese singers and actors have an important role to play in teaching internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the western Sudanese region of Darfur about the harmful consequences of gender-based violence (GBV), aid workers say.
"As a poet, music composer and singer, I profoundly know influence of arts upon human beings and that human life is not sustained by bread alone," said Abdel Karim el Kabli, an internationally renowned Sudanese singer, after a recent concert in Otash IDP camp near Nyala, the capital of South Darfur.
Kabli, along with singers Samira Dunia and Abdel Gadir Salim, entertained thousands of IDPs as part of the 16 Days of Activism for Violence Against Women campaign, which linked 25 November, the International Day Against Violence Against Women and 10 December, International Human Rights Day.
Thousands of IDPs living in Otash and surrounding areas gathered to listen to Kabli as he sang, "Please do not cry but tell all mothers in the neighbourhood that my passing away was due to the ugly, primitive and dangerous circumcision. Tell all the women the real causes of fistula; also that my death was due to my early marriage and child pregnancy and I could not tolerate the pains of delivery."
Kabli’s lyrics speak for thousands of women and girls in Sudan who are victims of gender-based violence, which is often perpetrated in the name of custom or tradition.
Between each song, members of the Tarab comedy group, which frequently appears on Sudanese television, took to the stage and performed comedic skits about GBV.
"These issues are very difficult to discuss in Sudan, so we thought it best to address them in a way that would make the people laugh but also make them think," explained Izeldin Ahmed Omda, an actor from Tarab.
In one of the skits, a man sat at home all day while his wife worked long hours selling tea to pay the bills. When she was late returning home from work one night, her husband beat her for her tardiness.
"We made the man appear silly for treating the woman this way and then asked, Why are you beating this woman when you will not get up and work yourself? The woman does this work for you," Omda said.
The performances, which were supported by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), are part of a GBV prevention and treatment initiative in Darfur. They were organised not only to educate Sudanese about these issues, but also to give the IDPs a chance to enjoy themselves.
"[A] distinctive aspect of life of refugees and displaced persons is [the] lack of access to cultural activities such as music, dance, poetry and drama. That contributes to their sense of isolation from the rest of society," said Pamela Delargy, chief of humanitarian response for UNFPA in Sudan.
"Bringing some of Sudan's most renowned artists and musicians to the camp itself is a message that the displaced in Darfur are not forgotten in their own society and the recognition that music and art is a very important part of life," she said.
Delargy added that greater effort needed to be made to protect women and girls living in IDP camps.
"Women and girls in conflict situations all over the world face problems of GBV. It comes as a direct result of war but also because during displacement ... support systems of community and protection are lost," she said.
During group discussions organised by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in May, women and girls said that sexual violence and abuse is a serious concern in Darfur. Most sexual assaults occurred outside the camps, usually while the women and girls were collecting grass or firewood.
These disclosures followed a report in March by the international NGO Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which has provided emergency aid and healthcare in Sudan for more than 20 years. The organisation reported that between October 2004 and mid-February 2005, MSF doctors in numerous locations in South and West Darfur treated almost 500 women and girls who had been raped.
Almost one-third of the victims had been raped more than once by a single or multiple perpetrators, and 81 percent reported being attacked by armed militia. MSF believed that these statistics reflected only a fraction of the total number of victims because many women and girls were reluctant to report the crime or seek treatment.
The Sudanese government refuted the findings.
UNFPA is currently helping authorities establish procedures that will ensure protection and confidentiality for victims of GBV. It is also working with the UN mission in Sudan and the Sudanese government to provide timely treatment for rape victims.
Future projects include training security, police and peacekeeping troops on GBV issues so that they can adequately protect women and girls; informing medical personnel on how to deal appropriately with victims of physical and sexual violence; and providing victims with psychological support.
According to Delargy, it is important that communities work together to promote the message that this kind of violence is no longer acceptable in Sudanese culture. All members of communities - most importantly the perpetrators - must be educated about the harmful consequences of GBV.
"Some of the skits and songs [in the concert in Otash camp] discussed GBV, and at first it appeared to be a surprise to some of the people to have a concert in the middle of this camp based on GBV. But in the end the women listened carefully, and even more importantly the men listened carefully," Delargy said.