Abandoned house in Khartoum. (Photo: Liv Tønnessen)

Life stopped for the women of Khartoum as they were woken up by the sound of heavy artillery on April 15. This is the story of the women who have been displaced by war.


We knew that the RSF were moving with heavy artillery to Merwai, but we had not expected them to bomb Khartoum”.
I was on my way to the market when the bombing started in Nyala. I was expecting it as since the beginning of April the RSF were moving artillery to Khartoum and then around Nyala”.

Amna and Nahla’s immediate responses were to call family members who had left home urging them to come back. Then they started calling friends and relatives asking about their safety. Amna noted: “I called my friend, she was in the university, I told her that the bridges were closed, and she would not be able to get to her home. I insisted that she must come to my home which was near her university.”    

The sound of artillery spread and a startling realization struck them:  the men fighting each other with guns and weapons would soon go against the civilians.  It didn’t take long before the fighters in Khartoum and Darfur started moving into the neighborhoods.  

Nada from Khartoum noted: “We stayed the first week of war at home and suffered a few days without water and electricity, we bought expensive water bottles for drinking and water from tankers for most essentials needs. Sometimes you are hot all day but cannot take a bath as water is reserved for flushing toilets”.

Nura said: “We must go early to the nearby market to get food before RSF starts to move in the neighborhood”.

Displaced women: Hardships and tolerance  
Ever since the war broke out, the fighting parties have used women's bodies as battlefields. This ia a continuity of the practices of the previous wars/conflicts in South Sudan, Darfur, and later in Eastern Sudan.  The very real threat of sexual violence has forced many families to let their women move to safe areas within the state or to other states to join extended families or to seek safe shelter.

The majority of people with limited resources had to rely on public transport when fleeing from Khartoum. Many lost their savings paying high transport costs or upon arriving in a new place, having to pay unsuitably high house rent to live somewhere safer.

Many also had their savings and valuables, including their private vehicles, taken by RSF soldiers upon fleeing from Khartoum. Being stopped by the soldiers at makeshift checkpoints, many also lost something even more valuable. When stopped by the RSF, some of the men who accompanied their families tried to stand up against the soldiers because they harassed their female family members. And when there is a fight to preserve masculinity, the guns win. Thus, some women also had to endure the loss of their family members.  

Displaced women: Loss of private spaces
This war has witnessed unprecedented violence against women, perpetrated by the warring parties. They have confiscated properties and forced families out of their houses, vandalizing and looting. This is a destruction of women’s private space/lives, their memories, belongings, and long years of effort. These are losses that cannot be recovered or regained.   

This is a destruction of women’s private space/lives, their memories, belongings, and long years of effort.

The displaced women have also seen their families be separated, being forced to head for different states. A young woman said: “I have seen my father only once since the start of the war and have not seen my brothers”.  Laila noted: “I left Khartoum and came to my family in the White Nile, my 17 years son refused to come with me, I heard that he is working to live but I have no contact with him.”. 

Women of host families: Shrinking private spaces
The war has also had dramatic consequences for the private space of women in families that are now hosting women and girls from their extended family who have been displaced by the war. Their private space has shrank significantly.  Fatma from the Blue Nile left her house and went to live with her son, giving up her house to her two daughters and their families who were displaced from Khartoum. Thus, Fatma had to give up her private space.

With the arrival of displaced guests, men in hosting households move to the men's section and rarely come to the women’s section which is crowded by women guests.  Zakia from Khartoum complained: "My children and I rarely see my husband because he resides in the male quarters of the home”. Thus, displacement and its consequences are a challenge in the household multicultural environment.

Displaced women with extended families: Limitations on freedoms
With the outbreak of war, the women of Khartoum have not only lost their private space and their feeling of safety: They have also lost their freedom. Some of the displaced young women from Khartoum are now living with their extended families in conservative communities, with very strict patriarchal cultures and structures. 

With the outbreak of war, the women of Khartoum have not only lost their private space and their feeling of safety: They have also lost their freedom.

Some men in the extended families have put restrictions on the newcomer women's movement and way of dressing, and the displaced women have no choice but to comply with the restrictions in order to show respect for the communities’ cultures. They have been forbidden to go to the local neighborhood markets, and they have to dress according to the local dress code, meaning no trousers and covering their heads with scarves.

One of these women is a middle-aged woman from Eastern Sudan who lived for years in Khartoum where she was working, economically independent, and living with no restrictions. She was pregnant, and when the war broke out, she had to go back to her family’s home to give birth there. She is now facing great challenges as she finds it very hard to deal with the new restrictions on her freedom, specifically covering her face. 

Amal is another of these women: She was single, economically independent, and living alone in her separate flat in Khartoum. She lost her job after the war and had to move with her family to one of the states. She is now depending on her father for her economic needs, and she has to do all the domestic chores for her brothers who trying to restrict her movement outside the house. She has lost her economic independence and freedom.  

More seriously, the restriction of the movement of the displaced young women and girls inside and outside shelters is taken as the main measure of protection and safety imposed by their family women and shelter committees.

Thus, displaced women have not only lost their private spaces, and safety. They are robbed of their lives and their neighborhoods. They have nothing left. Yet, they have to continue their struggle as the war is escalating and spreads to other states. Soon, even more of them will have other experiences and stories, and they will continue to sing the post-war song:

 “Our closed home,….. do not forget that war forced us out,….. we left our homes and neighbourhoods, our home ……be resilient to bombing.”    



This Sudan blog post is written by Samia al-Nagar, independent researcher. 

The views expressed in this post are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the SNAC project or CMI.