To state it crudely, rape is the “trademark” of the current genocide in Darfur, the western region of Sudan. Genocide historians have remarked that although sexual violence has been a brutal component of past genocides, the scope and magnitude of rape in Darfur is unparalleled. Pamela Shifman, a U.N. expert on sexual exploitation, commented that rape is being used to “terrorize individual women and girls…to terrorize their families and to terrorize entire communities. No woman or girl is safe.”
The majority of the sexual assaulters are part of the Janjawid militia, a tribe that the Sudanese government has enlisted to carry out the genocide. A Darfurian refugee from Mukjar confessed, “When we tried to escape they shot more children. They raped women; I saw many cases of Janjawid raping women and girls. They are happy when they rape. They sing when they rape and they tell that we are just slaves and that they can do with us how they wish.” In addition to frequently contracting HIV/AIDS and experiencing reproductive complications, women also endure societal ostracism after being raped.
It is clear that we must take action against sexual violence in Darfur. However, what sort of action will truly be effective and not just guilt-alleviation for those of us who are aware of the situation?
I believe that the most powerful solutions are the innovative ones that look beyond the problem itself and find solutions in unexpected ways. Solar Cookers Internationals is an organization that has creatively responded to this crisis by working with Jewish World Watch and the KoZon Foundation (a Dutch charity) to disseminate solar cookers to the Darfurian refugees living in Iridimi and Touloum refugee camps in Chad. With solar cookers, women and girls no longer need to leave the refugee camp to go out foraging for wood. The task of collecting firewood is physically exhausting, environmentally damaging, time-consuming and extremely dangerous. When women leave their refugee camp they face a high risk of being gang raped by the Janjawid and men risk murder. However, after completing a training workshop, Darfurian women and girls can acquire their own solar cookers to safely sterilize water and cook food without stepping foot outside the refugee camp, where the Janjawid and Sudanese soldiers roam and plan their next attack.
To ensure security for the 2.5 million Darfurian refugees, they ultimately need a robust international peacekeeping force. According to a recent agreement, the United Nations is planning on working with the African Union to provide a “hybrid” security force in Darfur. However, it is unclear when the United Nations troops will actually be deployed and the African Union is too under-funded and understaffed to deal with the crisis alone.
In the murky waters of failed international interventions, we must rely on the compassion, creativity and goodwill of individual groups. Thankfully, organizations such as Solar Cookers International have confronted the issue of sexual violence through their innovative solar cooker initiative, which has ensured that at least the women of Iridimi and Touloum refugee camps do not have to risk being raped merely to cook dinner.