"Displaced women and girls in Darfur are a priority"

17 November, 2016
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Crises are not gender neutral, and this year’s displacement crisis in Darfur is no exception. This latest emergency, triggered by conflict in the mountainous Jebel Marra region, has disproportionately affected women and girls, including the thousands taking refuge next to Tawilla, an isolated small town in North Darfur. Tawilla is about 65 km from the state capital, El Fasher, and up to three days’ walk from many villages in the Jebel Marra area.

Tawilla is used to hosting internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Darfur; people fleeing conflict have been arriving here for over a decade. Today, the small town is generously providing sanctuary to nearly 80,000 men, women, boys and girls, 25,000 of whom arrived this year alone. But this is a fraction of the 2 million IDPs in need in Darfur today.


During his visit to Sudan, John Ging listened to the concerns voiced by women displaced from Darfur's Jebel Marra area during 2016. These women now live in Tawilla IDP site near Tawilla town, North Darfur. Credit: OCHA/S.Newport

The daily task of providing humanitarian aid to these thousands of people who fled their homes is daunting. But the Government, the United Nations and non-governmental organizations are working together to respond to the plethora of needs that range from food, shelter and medicine, to water and children’s education. For example, a primary health-care centre in Tawilla, run by the state Ministry of Health and Médecins Sans Frontières, averages 480 consultations per day. It has just finished constructing a maternity ward that will provide vital services to hundreds of people.

John Ging, OCHA Director of Operations, visited Tawilla in November and spoke with humanitarian organizations. He said: “Women and girls are a top priority for the humanitarian community, and we, at OCHA, have a single mission here in Sudan. That mission is to help the people of Sudan, with women and girls at the heart of humanitarian response, and to make sure they are not forgotten.”

Evidence shows that better targeting of women and girls strengthens the impact of humanitarian action and may also help to reverse existing gender discrimination. In addition, for humanitarian action to truly deliver relief and recovery for all, women’s different needs must be met, for example, by ensuring they have specific sanitation facilities.


Marion Hussein Abdallah, a 60-year-old midwife with nine children, fled Kora village in Jebel Marra in January. She described the challenges facing displaced women living in an IDP site in Tawilla, North Darfur. Credit: OCHA/S.Newport

During his visit to Tawilla, Mr. Ging met a group of about 50 women. All of them fled to Tawilla from several villages in the Jebel Marra area earlier this year after the conflict began. Marion Hussein Abdallah, a 60-year-old midwife with nine children, left Kora village in Jebel Marra in January. She and others explained to Mr. Ging that despite the ongoing work of the humanitarian organizations, all the women needed more support for their families, such as blankets, clothes, and basic food items, such as sugar and oil.

Education also remains a major concern. It is desperately needed in order to provide a better future for children, but the number of schools for all the children is insufficient. This is largely because the newly displaced people have not returned to their Jebel Marra villages. People say they still do not feel safe, and Tawilla’s farming opportunities, thanks to the wadi (seasonal stream), are another reason to stay.

Local officials in Tawilla and the sheikhs (male community leaders who represent the displaced people) also expressed frustration at the lack of schools for the thousands of displaced girls and boys. At present, there are 16 Government schools that are attended by almost 16,000 displaced and host-community children. But an estimated 1,500 displaced children are out of school in Tawilla. UNICEF plans to build two more schools. 


Temporary shelters for newly displaced people from Darfur’s Jebel Marra region (Tawilla, North Darfur). Credit: OCHA/S.Newport

Some US$10 million has been allocated through the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to provide emergency assistance to the newly displaced people from Jebel Marra in Tawilla and in Sortony—another site in North Darfur that is hosting IDPs from Jebel Marra in 2016. Funds through the Sudan Humanitarian Fund have also been allocated to support the emergency response targeting new IDPs in Tawilla.

However, Sudan’s annual humanitarian appeal of $950 million is only 44 per cent funded so far. This major funding gap deprives people of protection, food, life-saving medicine, clean water and a chance to learn. Humanitarian agencies need donors to scale up their funding. In 2016, the world pledged, through the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Agenda for Humanity, that no one will be left behind and no group will be neglected. The women and girls in Tawilla are counting on these pledges for their future.