"I would go to my parents, but they would return me to my abusive husband."
This is what Semira, a 25-year-old from Sudan, recalls from her marriage. For millions of women around the world, gender-based violence is a daily, ugly reality.
With EU humanitarian funding, the United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA) established centres providing shelter and support to girls and women like Semira – including those fleeing conflict in other parts of Sudan.
Semira, 25, has been married for 12 years and had her first child when she was 14.
Semira and her family fled armed clashes in her hometown in East Jebel Marra in 2020 and have been living in the Otash camp for internally displaced people ever since.
Protecting 5 children and surviving the lack of livelihood were not Semira's only concerns. She spent long nights dreaming with her eyes wide open of life in a better place - free from distress over her husband's beatings. Semira would frequently wake up to sorrow and despair and fret over what her husband might do to her in the morning.
One day, Semira's friend visited her and noticed her foot was burnt. Semira broke down in tears, telling her friend about how her husband abused her to the extent that he had burnt her foot with cooking oil.
"The violence never stopped; I simply became accustomed to it,” she tells us.
The next day, Semira's friend took her to the UNFPA Women's Centre in the camp, where Aisha, the Centre’s social worker, recognised Semira's trauma signs and referred her to the UNFPA-supported confidential corner in Nyala Hospital for treatment.
After receiving immediate treatment for her foot, Semira and her assigned case worker developed a case management plan which included weekly follow-up sessions over the next 3 months to aid Semira in her recovery from trauma.
The Women's Centre is a safe space where women and girls can connect and access psychosocial support, referrals to advanced care, dignity kits, awareness-raising and recreational activities. The centre is run by a Women Committee made up of women and girls from the community who participate in designing and scheduling the activities.
"Here, women and girls have tea as they freely share their stories. I felt encouraged to visit the place often for support and my psychological well-being,” says Semira.
"For thousands of women and girls in Sudan, hope is the only thing they have left. We are here to turn this hope into a reality where they can thrive in a safe environment, fulfil their dreams, and unleash their potential," says Mr Mohamed Lemine, UNFPA Representative in Sudan.
Semira felt motivated to participate in vocational training activities. These life skills activities enhance women's resilience, mitigate risks of gender-based violence and ensure immediate needs are met.
She trained in soap-making and soon after began to train fellow women at the camp and refer them to the Women's Centre. Semira could purchase soap-making materials and set up a small business in Otash camp.
Semira is one of 2.7 million women and girls in Sudan who need gender-based violence protection, mitigation and response services.
In 2021, EU humanitarian funding enabled UNFPA to establish 5 Women’s Centres in Gedaref, South Darfur and North Darfur and to reach over 26,000 of the most vulnerable women and girls with coordinated quality protection services.
Story and photos by UNFPA.
Publication date: 25/11/2022