Noor El Sham, "It is not okay for a man to abuse me"

Nyala, 28 October 2010 (IRIN) - Survivors of sexual and gender-based violence in Darfur not only suffer the psychological consequences but also have to contend with a weak judicial system. A culture of impunity means survivors are reluctant to speak out and can find themselves ostracized from their communities.

There is little access to medical and psycho-social support following the expulsion of international NGOs in early 2009. A State Committee on Sexual and Gender-based Violence has also done little to provide care because of a lack of funds, and numbers of female police are inadequate.

Noor El Sham, 25, from El Fir Dos village east of the South Darfur capital, Nyala, was subjected to domestic violence and jailed after killing her husband in self-defence. El Sham shared her experience with IRIN:

"I was 14 when I got married and did not know much of what I was getting myself into; my family decided who I was to marry.

"My husband was a lot older than me and from the start of our relationship he used to beat me, often for no reason, or none strong enough to justify how brutal he was. I tried speaking to my family about my husband’s abuse but was told to stop complaining, to consider myself lucky for having a husband.

"Divorcing him was not an option. If I had gone to court or if I had reported him to the police, no-one would have believed me anyway. They would have said I was probably either a bad wife or worse, guilty of adultery.

"Two years after we got married, when I was only 16, he tried to strangle me. I stabbed him to death with a knife defending myself. I hated him for what he had done to me but I did not want to kill him.

"I was sentenced to jail but could have been released after paying a 5,000 SDG [US$2,112] fine but I had no money.

"I was in jail for about seven years and had no doubt I would have been there for the rest of my life. But one day I received visitors from UNICEF [the UN Children's Fund] and the Ministry of Information and Culture. I did not know who they were but they had heard about me and wanted to hear my story.

"After some time they came to see me again and told me they wanted to help me. They had started collecting money to pay the bail and soon I would be out of prison.

"When I first got out of jail I was happy but lost. I did not know what to do with my life and there was no one to take care of me.

"UNICEF and the Ministry of Health officials offered me an opportunity to attend one of the midwifery schools they support. I was registered at the school in Nyala in June 2009 and graduated in July 2010.

"Before, I had never thought I would need to learn something; I learnt how to read and write in jail.

"Providing me with an education was not a priority for my family. We are girls, why do we need to go to school if all we need to do is get married, have children and take care of the house?

"Now, I can have a job with which I can make myself useful to other people and provide for myself.

"I thought a woman should accept everything from a man because without them we are nothing. I did not know better but now I understand how wrong this is.

"I was lucky to be given a second chance and will now prove to myself and others it is okay to take care of myself and it is not okay for a man to abuse me."