Invisible Women: Poets Participating in Hostilities

  • Lucy Anna Mathieson

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Al-Hakamat (loosely translating as "Judge"), found in contemporary times within Darfur and Kordofan, are women who in their customary tradition as poets/singers have a functional role in calling for intertribal conflict. Research on these women, along with United Nations Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR)programming, has misinterpreted al-Hakamat's role(s) and function, which has resulted in their reductive categorisation within DDR programming. The reference to "Invisible Women" within the title of this thesis, in this regard, emphasises the need to challenge al-Hakamat's DDR categorisation as Women Associated with Armed Forces/Groups (WAAFGs).

In order to be open to alternate narratives around these women's roles, this thesis has utilised an interdisciplinary critical theoretical frame, making possible more culturally nuanced interpretations of legal categories within the Principle of Distinction. From a methodological positioning, "critical story-telling" as a method for setting out alternate narratives is juxtaposed beside the normative and universal legal interpretations of functions in conflict from the Jurisprudence of the Ad Hoc Tribunals, the International Criminal Court, along with the ICRC Interpretive Guidance on Direct Participation in Hostilities. In doing so this thesis' discussion develops a complex bio-political theoretical narrative around al-Hakamat's ritual performative instigation and ordering of attacks against civilians (including sexual violence in conflict).

The use of such a framework demonstrates, including within it critical theory, postfeminist theory, ethnographic research, performative analysis and expert legal opinions and jurisprudence, the inherent need for the development of culturally contextualised sexual violence prevention and response programmes within conflict, to understand how command and control connect to co-perpetration within complex ritualised intertribal contexts. Whilst analysis is based upon the particular cultural context within Sudan, such findings will also be of interest for those involved in examinations of allegations of attacks against civilians within complex intertribal contexts, where what would normatively be deemed a form of incitement, can merge less visibly with command and control. Al-Hakamat's role and function, as such, is representative of a unique case study that provides an example of a culturally distinct nexus between attacks against civilians, the functions of folklore in calling for violence, command and control, and the recognition of co-perpetration within international criminal law.
Date of Award2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Glasgow Caledonian University
SupervisorBill Hughes (Supervisor) & Andrew Tickell (Supervisor)

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