Women took center stage yesterday at Crisis in Darfur, a breakfast panel at the National Press Club, both as speakers and as figures in the peace process. The event was co-hosted by PHR and the Nobel Women's Initiative. Karen Hirschfeld, PHR's Darfur Survival Campaign Director, was one of several experts on Darfur who addressed the roomful of journalists and human rights activists.
"There is deterioration of the physical and psychological health of women in refugee camps," she said.
Karen presented data from an upcoming PHR report on sexual violence in Darfuri refugee camps in Chad. She was one of four members of a PHR delegation that interviewed 88 women in the Farchana refugee camp last November. Out of 88 women, Karen said, 15 were raped in Chad. 90% of the rapes occurred while the women were collecting firewood outside of the camp.
Security is a major concern for women, according to Carla Koppell, Director of the Institute for Inclusive Security. She urged Western and African governments and policymakers to include women in peace talks. According to Koppell, when Darfuri women were asked what their first priorities were, they responded: security on the ground and protection for civilians. These priorities differed radically from men's priorities, which concerned mostly power-sharing. Koppell added that including women in peace talks would be beneficial as it changes the incentive structure.
Jody Williams, who shared the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize with PHR, co-hosted the panel. She discussed the media's responsibility to accurately communicate what is happening to Darfurians, especially to women. This is not happening, she said, because the "official" story is always given more weight. Media reports usually focus on the oppressors, who have easily identifiable names such as "Omar al-Bashir," rather than on the oppressed—the nameless, unidentified, overwhelming masses.
Perhaps the most haunting words came from Emira Woods, a native Darfurian who works at the Institute for Policy Studies. Quoting a Darfuri woman, she said:
They are not allowing us to die with dignity… [This is] Stone Age slavery.
A stark reminder of the horrible conditions in which Darfuri women live every day.