208595 Darfuri Women's Health and Exposure to Sexual Violence in Chad Refugee Camps

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Susannah Sirkin, MEd , Physicians for Human Rights, Cambridge, MA
Karen Hirschfeld, MIA , Physicians for Human Rights, Cambridge, MA
From October 27-November 28, 2008 a team of four (three physicians and a human rights researcher) conducted interviews with Darfuri women living in refugee camps in Chad. In-depth semi-structured interviews with 88 women and psychological histories of a smaller sample, the authors paint a grim picture from the attacks on their villages to their daily lives in today's camps. The PHR team faced obstacles including a volatile security situation which greatly restricted movement, reluctance of NGOs to grant unfettered access to the population, extremely limited lodging on the border and a dearth of interpreters with strong English skills and relevant tribal languages.

Results (publication in process): Women reported marked deterioration in their physical and mental health since they left Darfur due to psychological stress and/or weakness from insufficient food. Ten percent of the women interviewed reported having been raped in Darfur, and another 10% gave indications of having been raped. Another 13% of women had been raped since they came to the camps. These numbers likely represent under-reporting. Most of rapes occurred outside the camps when the women collected firewood or grasses for their livestock. Thus, a total of 39% of the women interviewed had likely been raped in either Darfur or Chad. Clinicians conducting psychological evaluations noted high levels of untreated Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and major depression among respondents. The majority of respondents said that they did not access the counseling services offered in the camps, and most rape victims said that they had not told anyone about the violation. Food insecurity was mentioned by nearly all respondents. Refugees said that the size of the rations was insufficient for their families. Many women reported being hungry most of the time, and being worried about not having any milk or meat to give to their children.

This research in an inhospitable environment has led to a deeper understanding and analysis enhancing advocacy for adequate protection, justice and appropriate assistance for Darfuri women refugees.

Learning Objectives:
1. Present in-depth research on women’s physical and psychological health in the Farchana camp near the Chad-Sudan border. 2. Describe findings on exposure to sexual violence, obstacles to obtaining adequate health care, and failures to protect these women. 3. Discuss needed humanitarian and human rights response to support the right to health of these refugee women.

Keywords: Sexual Assault, Refugees

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am Deputy Director of Physicians for Human Rights, have conducted or organized field investigations and advocacy for PHR for the past 22 years. Have authored or edited dozens of human rights reports including studies on rape in war in Bosnia, Sierra Leone, and PHR's report, Assault on Survival re: the Darfur genocide. I have presented at many APHA conferences and have written two chapters in Sidel/Levy, War and Public Health.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.