“Sudanese people are just forgotten” Q&A with Ilham Ibrahim

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“ The international community doesn’t really talk about what’s happening here,” says Ilham Ibrahim, head of Inter Pares counterpart SORD. Credit: Courtesy of Ilham Ibrahim

The war in Sudan has been particularly vicious to women. To better understand the war’s impacts on women, we spoke with Ilham Ibrahim, executive director of the Sudanese Organization for Research and Development (SORD), Inter Pares’ longtime counterpart. Ilham spoke to us from Uganda.

  • How has your work changed since the war began?

Our office in Khartoum was looted and staff have relocated outside Sudan or to our eastern Sudan offices in Kassala. We shifted our programs to respond to this emergency and started distributing food and hygiene kits, supporting women's shelters. We can’t even meet the demand. Even inside the reception camps we documented cases of violence—so women that were displaced seeking safety in other states are now facing the same conditions.

These are areas of work we are not familiar with... Normally, SORD is a research-based organization involved in documenting gender-based violence cases and providing counselling services for survivors. But under such conditions we cannot operate normally and produce information about gender-based violence and distribute pamphlets. It’s more about the day-to-day experiences of women and how we can reduce their vulnerability and their risk of exposure to violence by distributing whistles and flashlights, for example.

  • What key challenges is SORD facing ?

There are so many challenges. It’s very hard to organize properly because no one knows the dynamics of this war and what will happen after. Whether it will result in a ceasefire or not, whether they will reach an agreement and if it will be sustainable. We don’t know if those who were displaced will ever be able to go back to Khartoum because the city has been destroyed: hospitals, universities, schools, roads, bridges... How many will be able to go back and have a normal life? Especially because of the very high level of insecurity regarding weapons and gangs, there’s a lot of uncertainty about the future.

But the hardest challenge is we feel that Sudanese people are just forgotten, our war is forgotten. The international community doesn't really talk about what’s happening here. And our government has a role to play in this because they are making it even more complicated for international actors to reach those who are in need, with lengthy procedures, mismanagement of aid, biases in distribution of that aid, and because of the very high level of corruption.

  • How is the conflict impacting Sudanese women?

Sudanese women’s bodies have been used as a weapon of war. There is forced labour, forced prostitution, human trafficking, kidnapping and economic exploitation. We do pay the price of the war and with all its forms of violence against women.

On top of that, women's needs are totally absent from peace negotiations because the parties at war are 100 per cent men and they will never talk about women's agendas.

  • What is the role of Sudanese women in this war?

Sudanese women proved themselves to be very strong. Wherever you go, you will find women resisting despite all these difficulties. Regardless of the war and the very high cost women have paid, they’re the ones supporting other women, providing necessities, counselling and legal aid, helping pregnant women and victims of rape get medical services.

Women also organize themselves in so many groups using social media to stand against war. They are trying to stop the war at the practical level and convince people not to join the war, even against the government’s militarization campaign.

Even before the war, it was youth and women who led the 2019 revolution. But when it came to the representation, men were there in their beautiful suits, talking about the revolution that we led, using our efforts for their own benefit. Because masculinity is very strong in Sudan and it’s hard to convince people that women have equal rights. For us, it's a daily battle, but we will continue.

  • What is the state of the feminist movement in Sudan today?

The feminist movements are going strong in Sudan regardless of the war, but we still we have our limitations. We haven’t yet come to a common agenda. We are trying to do so.

There are so many women-led organizations, and feminist organizations in Sudan, but they are not coming together with unified voices, because there are so many different perceptions across region, ethnicity, age.

I meet so many people saying “We are not supposed to have one voice. No one is asking men to have one voice” and I keep saying “Men have one voice, which is against us.” They have their own common agenda, and we must come to this common agenda as Sudanese women, regardless of our differences, otherwise we will never win.

  • What can the international community do to support the people of Sudan right now?

The international community should put more pressure on the warring parties and foreign partners who are negotiating for a permanent ceasefire. We must open safe corridors for humanitarian aid to reach people in need and take all measures possible to stop gender-based violence.

This interview was edited for length and clarity. 


The hardest challenge is we feel that Sudanese people are just forgotten. The international community doesn't really talk about what’s happening here.

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