22. The Women of Farchana Refugee Camp

The night of Thursday 5 June 2008, seven Sudanese refugee women and girls were tied-up, beaten with whips and sticks, and publicly humiliated by a group of refugee men.

The event was heard and seen by many of the refugees in Farchana camp, some of whom reported the incident to MSF expats the following morning, using the word “torture” unprompted.  Note well: this word has never before been used by MSF staff describing domestic or other violence in Farchana camp.  The beaten women, aged 13-30 years, were accused of prostitution.  The victims have been “fined”; some money and goods have been seized from them and their families; several have had their or their family’s World Food Programme ration cards forcibly removed.  The victims have been threatened with further violence if they do not pay the remainder of the fine.

Despite having been instructed not go to MSF health services, the victims presented themselves to MSF, some coming on their own to the Farchana camp health centre, and others brought by local police.

The women were all visibly seriously injured, including several suspected fractured arms.  It is alleged that all of the victims had their arms damaged or broken in order to prevent them from working for a time.  All of the women fear further violence, including reprisals for speaking out about their abuse.



MSF takes as one of its primary principles that of temoignage.  It means that we bear witness to events like this and then advocate for change.  Further, though, we strive to give those oppressed their own voice.  The right to be heard.

The women were all tended to medically, body and mind, and are still under our care and close watch.  We also sounded a near-deafening alarm, one that has not stopped ringing in the ears of many of those responsible.

Shortly after this event, a respected Sudanese refugee approached MSF and asked for help “to be heard: to ask those responsible for the freedom of women.”  We then suggested she strike up a group and write what needed be said.  The eight women—whose names are not mentioned because they could be penalized for taking voice—wrote the following.  First in Arabic, and then translated into English and French by MSF.

When I read it, I see their faces, and I hear their voices.  Moreover, I hear the thunder, and feel an unspeakable sadness for the world in which I live.



Dialogue theme: Women’s Liberties in Farchana Refugee Camp


We, the women of Farchana Camp, have many worries and difficulties concerning the “deprivation of our liberties and absence of freedom of expression.”


Nevertheless, we relate them to you, one by one:


1)    Deprivation of freedom of expression: women have no voice.

2)    It is forbidden for women to look for work or to better their living conditions.  If a woman works in an organisation or in simple private employment, she must still see to all her responsibilities, such as caring for the sick, household management, being responsible for the children; the husband’s role is non-existent.

3)    Lack of equality between the different wives if a man has multiple wives (injustice).

4)    Women cannot freely decide how to manage their own property such as money, gold, domestic objects, and cattle.

5)    Restrictions over external communications, for example: visiting neighbours, family, friends and especially long distance travel.  If a woman is allowed to travel long distances, she will not receive any money and will have to make do.

6)    Lack or refusal of access to higher education, such as university, for women.

7)    Girls are discouraged from attending school; responsibilities fall back on the mothers.

8)    When a girl becomes pregnant, her mother is held accountable and must take responsibility; the mother is therefore held accountable, which can bring negative reactions from her husband and lead to divorce.

9)    Hard labour is done by women: carrying firewood, collecting grass for cattle, water transportation, shelter construction; all physically gruelling work is the responsibility of women.

10) Lack of trust in women: a woman cannot leave her home without her husband’s approval or knowledge, otherwise she will immediately be accused of having left in order to prostitute herself.

11) Worthlessness of women: a woman has no value, except for sexual pleasure.  Men want to have many children, but do not think of their future.

12) Forced and/or precocious weddings are encouraged.

13) Even during NGO meetings, women’s voices are not being taken seriously; only the men are being heard.

14) Women have no recourse for their grievances and preoccupations.  The space or organisation that will take into account their concerns does not exist.


We thank you and hope that women’s liberties and worth will become an important matter in the world.


On this day, Tuesday, June the 10th 2008


The Women of Farchana Refugee Camp




Liberté de la Femme au Camp de Farchana


Nous, les femmes du camp de Farchana, avons plusieurs sortes de soucis et difficultés concernant le « manque de liberté et privation de liberté d’expression. »

C’est pourquoi nous vous les relatons, point par point :


1)    Privation de liberté d’expression : le manque de voix de la femme.

2)    Privation de recherche d’emploi et de mieux-vivre.  Si la femme travaille dans un organisme ou a un simple emploi privé, toutes les responsabilités lui reviennent de tout gérer, tel que : maladie, gestion du foyer, responsabilité des enfants (entretien); le rôle (la contribution au ménage) du mari est donc inexistant.

3)    Privation concernant l’égalité entre les femmes si le mari a 2 ou 3 femmes : injustice.

4)    Privation de la liberté de la femme sur ses propres biens tels que : argent, ors, machines domestiques, bétails.

5)    Privation de la femme par rapport à la communication extérieure avec sa famille telle que : visite des voisins, de famille, amies, et surtout stricte interdiction de voyages lointains.  Si oui, elle n’a aucune opportunité d’avoir de l’argent de voyage; elle doit donc se débrouiller.

6)    Non-acceptation et manque d’accès aux études supérieures telles que l’université pour assurer son avenir.

7)    Le non-encouragement des filles à l’école, et responsabilité laissée aux mères.

8)    En cas de grossesse d’une fille, c’est la mère qui est responsable et doit endosser la responsabilité; la femme (mère) est donc accusée; peut parfois même susciter des réactions (négatives du mari) et engendrer le divorce.

9)    Travaux pénibles tels que : fagots, recherche d’eau, construction des abris, herbes des animaux; bref, toutes tâches qui engendrent les souffrances physiques sont la responsabilité de la femme.

10) Le manque de confiance envers les femmes; par exemple, la femme ne peut en aucun cas sortir à l’insu du mari, sinon elle est directement accusée d’être sortie pour se prostituer…

11) Dévalorisation de la femme, sauf lorsqu’elle donne le plaisir sexuel; les hommes veulent (faire) beaucoup d’enfants, mais ne pensent pas à leur éducation.

12) Incitation aux mariages précoces et mariages forcés.

13) Même lors des réunions avec les ONGs, la voix de la femme n’est pas prise au sérieux; seuls les hommes sont entendus.

14) La femme n’a aucun recours pour porter plainte par rapport à ses préoccupations.  L’espace ou organisme qui tiendra comptes les doléances des femmes n’existe pas.


Merci, et nous espérons que la valorisation de la liberté des femmes sera un point d’importance dans le monde.


Ce jour, mardi le 10 juin 2008


Les Femmes

Camp de Réfugiés de Farchana, Tchad


Arabic original

arabic manifesto