7 January 2013

Sudan: U.S. Pledges Support of Women's Issues in Darfur


Washington — On 20 December 2012, Radio Dabanga interviewed Ambassador Verveer, who is the United States Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues since April 2009. The Office of Global Women's Issues works to promote stability, peace, and development by empowering women politically, socially, and economically around the world.

When asked about the situation of women in Sudan, Ambassador Verveer stated that 'women play an essential role in the well-being of Darfur and Sudan [...] and in tackling the problems and being part of the solution on both the local and national levels.' About the role the US is playing in fighting the violence in Darfur, she said ' the US is doing a great deal and obviously wants to see the violence prevented [...]'.

The ambassador added that one of the problems with UNAMID's mandate in Sudan is that the government of Sudan is not cooperating as much as they should to ensure that the UN peace keepers can protect civilians in the way that they should and would like [...].'

Additionally, the Ambassador continued, if women would have access to clean cook stoves, for example, it would mitigate against their need to go out and to be exposed in ways that makes them more vulnerable. 'Through our development agency USAID, we have been working on gender based violence prevention programs, ways to respond and then deal with some of the basic needs that women confront [...]' she added.

'Raise the voice of women'

Later on in the interview, the ambassador stated that the US is working 'at the highest level to raise the voice of women so that they are part of the ongoing effort to implement the peace agreement and at the local level we are working on training them and building their capacity so that their voices can be effective'.

Her special message to the women of Darfur included:'I want the women to know that they are not alone, we are doing everything we can and we stand with them and will continue to support them. It is important for the women to know that their voices matter and are vital to a better future in Darfur'.

She added: 'I say to the women of Darfur; there will be no sustainable peace and no potential for it if your voices are not fully engaged in the process [...].

Read the complete interview with Ambassador Verveer:

Radio Dabanga: Welcome to Radio Dabanga

Ambassador Verveer: Thank you so much, I'm very happy to speak to the women of Darfur on this radio station.

RD: How do you see and evaluate the situation of women in all areas in Sudan in general and Darfur in particular?

Ambassador Verveer: Well, first of all women are absolutely essential to the well-being of Sudan, Darfur, to the world. They comprise half the population and no place can get ahead if it leaves women and girls behind. We also know that in a place like Sudan and Darfur, where there is a conflict situation and where there have been extreme difficulties, that women play a very critical role in tackling those problems and being a part of the solution and that is both at the local level, where they lead their lives every day, and certainly at the national level, where women are participating, not as much as they should be, in government positions, in civil society positions. Here in the US State Department, Secretary Clinton gave a 'women of courage' award earlier this year to Hawa Saleh from Darfur and in many ways the award was for all the women because they represent so much of the hard work that is being done every day to keep families together and to really work together to try to figure out how to bring about local solutions at the community level that will eventually buckle up to creating a larger sense of peace and possibility.

RD: Women in Darfur face various forms of violence and sexual violence, rape, in particular. What role could the US play in fighting the violence against women in Darfur?

Ambassador Verveer: Well, the US is doing a great deal and obviously we do want to see the violence prevented and we want to see that the women who have been victims of this violence getting the kind of protection they need and dealing with the effects of that violence on their lives. First of all, UNAMID's role in protecting civilians in terms of police centers in the camps in terms of the kind of protective force they can be is one that we support with hundreds of millions of dollars every year to them to be that kind of source of civilian protection that they need to be. Now, one of the problems with them is that the Sudanese government isn't cooperating as much as they should be to ensure that the UN peace keepers can protect civilians in the way that they should and would like to and in fact are putting obstacles all too often in their place. So clearly the militias need to be disarmed and the UN peace keepers need to able to do their job.

One of the big sources of concern for us has been that these centers for the displaced people have been set up to monitor what is happening to rehabilitate those affected by gender based violence in particular and, as you know and the women know, they were mostly closed and many of the organizations that did excellent work up to a couple of years ago were expelled. Now, some of those services with great international pressure, pressure from the US, have been re instituted, but many of the previously provided services are not adequately replaced and I hear from human organizations every week, telling me about the fact that women particularly need to have psycho-social needs addressed, need to be able to deal with some of the critical impacts this violence has on them and that was previously addressed by some of the organizations that were involved there.

Additionally we have been supporting in getting clean cook stoves into these areas. Women, we know are very vulnerable, for example, when they go and collect firewood. If these women have access to clean cook stoves it would mitigate against their need to go out and to be exposed in ways that makes them more vulnerable. We have also been working through our development agency USAID on gender based violence prevention programs, ways to respond and then deal with some of the basic needs that women confront from food to sanitation to ensuring safety through police training, other kinds of law enforcements. In order to address the violence women experience we need many intervention points we are really working even though the need is great and it is far from fully adequate to what needs to be done to address that and also to ensure that the UN peacekeepers are doing more from protecting civilians generally to specifically having firewood patrols for example. But I can say all this but on top of all of this you have the reality of the hostilities and of course that exacerbates the problem and makes it much more difficult for everyone and the women in particular.

RD: We discussed many different issues, such as the closure of the centers and rehabilitation of victims in Darfur. What is your initiative here?

Ambassador Verveer: As I tried to explain our initiatives are taking place on many fronts. As you know for example the special envoy, Princeton Lyman, who is a man of great experience over many years and deeply committed to finding a solution in Darfur, has been working on the international and national level to try to ensure that the political situation can be addressed. And you know as well as the women who are listening know that the situation in many ways is deteriorating. He and ambassador Dane Smith are really working to get the full implementation of the peace agreement, which everybody has not signed on to, that's been a problem....

RD: Women in Darfur complain they are excluded from the peace process and the negotiations while they are the main victims, so they should be involved. What could the US do to help?

Ambassador Verveer: I agree with that and the women are right to complain about that. President Obama here led a process to ensure that the US was a leader on women's peace and security understanding as the UN has adapted many years ago that there cannot be a full peace if women are silenced or marginalized in that process nor can the kind of violence that is directed at women be addressed if women aren't protected and part of the solution. So what the US is doing, certainly through the efforts of our envoy and ambassador, is to push in every way to have women more engaged in this process and many of our training programs for example are focused on women at the local level, the community level so they can work to be effective leaders to address the need for local solutions, what those solutions are for example.

In places like the Blue Nile state we're training women facilitators organizing them through community meetings so that women can empower themselves better to be [better] contributors at addressing and particularly resolving these conflicts. But at the highest level we are attempting to raise the voice of women so that they are part of the ongoing effort to implement the peace agreement and at the most local level we're working to train them and build their capacity so that their voices can be effective. And we constantly want to hear from the women to understand what they need most in order to elevate their voices so they can have the impact they are supposed to have.

RD: To avoid certain forms of violence, women can be helped by providing modernized stoves for example.

Ambassador Verveer: yes, absolutely that is why I mentioned the cook stoves. We are trying, the women are absolutely right, we are trying to get as many of the cook stoves that don't require the wood that women go out to get and make themselves exposes to danger as a result. If we can get these cook stoves both into the camps and the villages they will be less vulnerable. The women are absolutely right and we have a very big program to get those stoves to the women so that they don't have to go out and collect firewood. And in those places where they are still vulnerable, where they are still going to get the firewood, we have been working with the UN peacekeepers because their mandate part of their mandate is to have firewood patrols to protect the women when they are out there.

But the stoves, you are very right sir; the stoves are a very big part of the solution. And we've been listening to the women because they have told our people on the ground what you just told me and that is a very big part of our investment.

RD: Also, the women mentioned that implementation of small projects to stimulate women could be part of the solution. What's your take on this?

Ambassador Verveer: there are several things you are saying there, and I think you are exactly right. One issue is the stoves and another area we are working is building their capacity so that they can have livelihood skills and activities that then don't require them to walk these long long distances from the safety of their communities where they are more vulnerable so that is another part of the solution and another big part of our investment. We have been listening to the women and the women have told us sir what you have just said they need these stoves so they do not depend on firewood fuel and they need to have additional livelihood skills and resources available to them so that they can find alternative ways to stay safe and yet to generate the kind of income and meet the needs of their families that they need to do.

RD: The women also speak about justice. First justice should prevail; perpetrators should be taken to justice to the ICC, without there is no peace and no security..

Ambassador Verveer: And the women again are absolutely right, this cannot be addressed what is happening in Darfur, cannot be addressed unless justice is provided and those who are responsible for the genocide who are responsible for the crimes against humanity that have been committed have to be dealt with in a justice system and we are putting a big emphasis on the transitional justice that needs to take place there. So for example on a case by case basis we are working with the International Criminal Court to see how we can be of assistance to them in their efforts we are also urging other states not to provide financial resources to President Bashir and others who are subject to ICC arrest warrants and working additionally to bring diplomatic pressure to there so that others don't provide the kind of resources or allow the kind of travel that enables the criminals to be at large even though there are arrest warrants for them and to be able to travel. But we know that this kind of situation will only be addressed if those who perpetrated these crimes pay a price for perpetrating these crimes. And that means that they have to be dealt with in the justice system. And all of the people who have been subject to the terrible violence that has gone on and in particular the women because they have born the heaviest price they need to be guaranteed that every effort is being made to deal through efforts that can be brought to bear on the ground and in the larger international court to deal with the perpetrators of this violence.

So women have to be guaranteed that a transitional justice system is going to be working for them and that is something with which we have been struggling over many years to ensure is the case.

RD: Lastly, what is your message to all the women in Darfur?

Ambassador Verveer: First of all, my message is for them to know that they are not alone. That we think about them we know about them and we are working through so many different levels of our government through civil society through international organizations, we know what they are going through and we are doing everything possible in the various ways that we have been talking in the last several minutes about meeting their needs, whether it is transitional justice, whether it is cook stoves, whether it is support to have them engaged fully in peace negotiations and in bringing an end to the conflict. So I want each and every one of them to know that they are not alone, and that we are doing everything we can and that we stand with them and will continue to support them.

Secondly, I would encourage them and we are trying to do this through some of our support programs, to create local solutions because we all do best where we live our lives, in the community in which we find ourselves and so we have been working to provide training to women, community leaders, so that they in turn can work more broadly in the community to help empower the women to help ferret out the solutions, to ensure that the solutions are guaranteed getting addressed and that the conflict ultimately can be resolved. But we are very concerned about the well-being of the women, the displacement they have suffered the toll of the conflict on them and know that they are a big part of the solution and whether the impact has to do with the violence that is targeted to women or whether it has to do with meeting their health needs and needs of their families whether it is child protection or maternal health or whether it has to do with sanitation needs.

These are all avenues that we are supporting to try and make a difference but I think most importantly, as important as all of that is, it is important for the women to know that their voices matter that their voices are vital to a better future in Darfur and that we want to continue to work with them to help them lift their voices so that they can make the kind of change they want to see happen in their community. They are absolutely essential, so I say to the women of Darfur: There will be no sustainable peace no potential for that if your voices aren't fully engaged in the process, if you are not in the middle of everything that is going on because the women have the experience they know what needs to be done, and those recommendations those solutions need to be factored into the work that everybody else is doing on many levels. So we, the US, will continue to work through our representatives there, to work through all of the support programs and those who are providing them there and the efforts that we continue to make, recognizing fundamentally that the women of Darfur have a very important role to play.

RD: Thank you Ambassador Verveer

Ambassador Verveer: You're very welcome and please give everybody my best

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