Women share stories of hardship during year of war in Sudan


On 15 April 2023, war broke out in Sudan in between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). In the year that followed, some 8.2 million people have fled their homes, and an estimated 24.8 million are projected to need humanitarian assistance in 2024. 

As the conflict reaches its one-year mark, women and children are bearing the brunt of the crisis, with 19 million school-age children out of the classroom and more than 100 reports of sexual violence.

Women throughout the country recently shared their stories of survival and endurance during the year of war. Their names have been changed to protect their safety.

Aziza Ibrahim (right) is seen with with her daughters Amal (middle) and Eman (left). Aziza is now lives at the Abo Zaid Ahmed school, which was converted to a shelter to host displaced people from Khartoum, Sudan. Photo: OCHA/Ala Kheir
Aziza Ibrahim (right) is seen with with her daughters Amal (middle) and Eman (left). Aziza is now lives at the Abo Zaid Ahmed school, which was converted to a shelter to host displaced people from Khartoum, Sudan. Photo: OCHA/Ala Kheir

Fatima’s story

“At my worst moment, I could not have imagined that I would be in this painful situation as now”, said Fatima, a woman in her 40s.

“At the beginning of the war, we were all frightened by the sounds of the blows and the frontlines near us”, she said, noting that her home in the village of Al-Assal, in the southern state of Khartoum, was nearby an RSF camp. 

Fatima and her family fled the area and made a harrowing drive towards safety.

“I expected the worst to happen to us on the way”, she said, describing how her family drove past bodies on the road, heard constant sounds of fighting, and ran dangerously low on money.

When her family finally arrived at an airport, authorities told Fatima that Sudanese nationals were not allowed to board flights out of the area for at least two months. While her children and her husband hold foreign passports, Fatima does not.

“At that moment, my children started crying hysterically and they refused to travel”, she said. An official encouraged Fatima to allow her children to accompany her husband on the flight, saying “that they would find a better situation away from the war”.

Amid tears, Fatima bade farewell to her family and hoped to see them in a few short months. She found refuge in an internally displaced person (IDP) shelter, and awaited her reunion with her family.

But as of early 2024, nearly a year had passed since Fatima last saw her children. She is still in contact with them, but fears for their lives abroad, where only one of her daughters, at age eight, has been able to find a place in a local school, while the others in their teens and twenties have taken jobs.

She feels like “what happened is a kind abduction of my children”, Amid said.

“They are now collecting money to get passports so that they can come back again to Sudan”, even while the war continues, she said. 

While staying at the IDP facility, Fatima is working with the Women Awareness Organization (AWOON), a local organization and UN Women partner, to help other refugees find shelter while continuing to advocate for her own case.

“I complain about my affair to God”, she said. “My children are mine, and I have hope of living with them soon.”

Kawther’s story

“We left our house in August last year [2023] after we were told that armed people were asking for us, as my husband works as an officer in the army”, said Kawther, a mother of five.

Kawther and her family fled their home on foot and were repeatedly stopped at checkpoints.

At one checkpoint, a soldier approached Kawther and started touching her body inappropriately while trying to confiscate golden bracelets tied around her waist, she said. 

Kawther stopped the search and said she would voluntarily hand over the bracelets, her 13-year-old son attempted to defend her. 

“The soldier held the gun to his head to threaten him”, she said. “I was afraid for my son and begged him, screaming that my son is still a child and does not understand what he is saying.”

The soldier searched the family’s documents, claimed that foreign visas in her son’s passport were illegal, and placed her son under arrest. Kawther spent the rest of the day desperately seeking her son’s release, seeking reprieve from soldiers nearby.

“After an exhausting and dangerous search trip, I found my son at eight o’clock in the evening in one of the RSF camps”, she said. “He was in a very bad condition, especially as he had diabetes.”

The family was detained together at that camp, where Kawther described poor treatment and daily beatings. After 15 days, the chaos of nearby military clashes allowed the family to escape, and they eventually found their way to an IDP shelter.

When she arrived at the shelter, “I broke down psychologically” due to the stress of the previous weeks, Kawther said, adding that her humiliation in front of her children had caused her to have suicidal thoughts and had damaged her son’s mental health.

“I suffered and still suffer a lot from the effects of the beatings on my body and from exhaustion”, she said. “But I found great support from my husband, who is also wounded in a military hospital. He calls me every day and talks to our son to explain to him what happened to him... and that I am not to blame for what happened.”

Mariam’s story 

Mariam, a mother of three, often buys household goods and provides occasional help for a woman in her neighbourhood whose husband recently died.

One day while walking to her neighbour’s home, two soldiers stopped Mariam on the street. 

A soldier “asked me to come to where he was standing, held my hand tightly and asked me to give him the money and if I was wearing gold”, she said. “Then he asked me to remove my veil so that he could search me.”

Mariam told the soldier that she was not carrying any gold, but the man retorted, “You are a woman, and you cannot run like a man, so it's better for you to tell the truth.”

The other soldier then added, “We will take you with us. What do you think?”

“And here a real terror came over me”, Mariam said. “I thought of my children and what would happen to them.”

Mariam pleaded for the soldiers to release her, and they eventually did so after finding that she was not carrying money or valuables. A young man from her neighbourhood met Mariam in the street after she was released and offered to walk her home to safety.

“I refused for fear of those who would harm him”, she said. “But they saw him standing near me from afar.”

“In the evening, we got the news that this young man had been killed”, Mariam continued. “It hurt me so much that I cried a lot and asked myself: Am I the reason why he was killed? Is it because they saw him with me? How painful and sad what happened to him and to us…”