Life in Khartoum: Probing Forced Migration and Cultural Change Among War-Displaced Southern Sudanese Women
Author(s)Abusharaf, Rogaia Mustafa
This report is based on ethnographic data that I gathered in 2001-2003 to document the adjustment experiences of Southern Sudanese displaced women in one of the major shantytowns in the capital city, Khartoum. These women represent the majority of the 1.8 million internally displaced persons (henceforth IDPs) who arrived in Greater Khartoum after the reactivation of the civil war in 1983, and of whom 260,000 were resettled in government-designated camps (UN 2000). The objective of this project was to examine the factors influencing the recent adoption of the practice of female circumcision (FC) by a group of these war-displaced women after their arrival in the camps. Before these women were forced to flee, FC was unheard of in their home communities in Southern Sudan. However, the practice is prevalent in Northern Sudan; 91 percent of the population adheres to it (SDH 1995). Using qualitative ethnographic methods, I examined the prevalence of the practice among the displaced, the extent to which Southern women may have experienced coercion, and whether these women began to accept various Northern justifications for the practice such as restoring virginity and sexual integrity. The views of those who did not adopt the practice are also incorporated for further comparisons. An analysis of the findings demonstrated a strong link between war-displacement and the adoption of FC. In addition to expanding the anthropological and demographic literature on the practice of female circumcision, and that on displacement, this study explored the phenomenon of cultural responses in times of human trauma and suffering. In this respect, the study addressed new areas of research by exploring the social world of IDPs in host communities and the incidence of cultural change in the context of social fragmentation and political violence. In writing this report, I hope to provide a new way of explaining cultural responses during times of pervasive violence and to look at the attempts of a displaced population to gain security and a sense of belonging after experiencing violence. This study reveals that most of the practices that were adopted by Southern women were part of a creative process of adjusting to a new environment and of an attempt by a forced migrant population to create familiarity and interpersonal links in a harsh urban environment. These findings are firmly located within the wider political context of human responses to state-sanctioned violence. For this reason, the study located these cultural responses within the broader milieu of economic, social and cultural change and coping mechanisms.
Inter-University Committee on International Migration
Rosemarie Rogers Working Paper Series;30