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Women urged to have a louder voice in public affairs

Peter Lokale
While South Sudan makes slow progress towards peace, some argue it is essential for the country’s women to take a larger role in public affairs.
9.05.2016  |  Torit, South Sudan
An elderly woman displaced by conflict in South Sudan. (photo: The Niles | Beate Mueller-Grunewald)
An elderly woman displaced by conflict in South Sudan. (photo: The Niles | Beate Mueller-Grunewald)

Investing in women’s empowerment is crucial.

The United Nation’s Gender Specialist Jeanne N. Bushayija argued that women often face the brunt of politics, but have little sway over politics. “They are always the first to become vulnerable to conflicts, wars and economic crises,” she said during a workshop on gender in April. “Investing in women’s empowerment by promoting them to actively get involved in public affairs, especially both leadership and decision making, is crucial.”

Speaking on Friday April 15, to conclude a five-day workshop sponsored by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), she said the training was a great opportunity for sharing experiences and for her to learn from South Sudanese women.

Disan Dina, who heads the Women and Youth organisation in Eastern Equatoria, said mothers are vital to training future generations, as they impart values to their children. “We need to show young South Sudanese ladies how best they could overcome many challenges they usually face in regard to participation in public affairs and decision making.”

A more than two-year conflict in South Sudan has caused havoc across the country. Following a peace deal signed in August 2015, a transitional government was formed on April 29, involving President Salva Kiir and his political rival Riek Machar.

Rose Akech, a mother of four from Eastern Equatoria, has urged her fellow women to make their voices heard: “I strongly welcome the effort to wake up South Sudanese women to stand up and to work hand in hand with men to address issues of concerns […]. We shouldn’t wait until it’s too late,” said Akech, who lost her husband during South Sudan’s civil war.

We shouldn’t wait until it’s too late.

Following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005, subsequent to the 2011 referendum which led to South Sudan’s independence in July of that same year, the government amended its Interim Constitution to include a 25 percent power sharing quota for women, but conflict has interfered.

The current head of the Civil Society Network in Eastern Equatoria, comments that there is a great need to boost awareness on gender discrimination, women’s marginalisation and oppression.

South Sudanese activists say that women’s emancipation in then southern Sudan started in the 1970s. They say women’s political and social representation practically came into existent during the Sudanese President Jafar Mohamed Nimeri’s regime when his ruling party, the Sudan Socialist Union, encouraged women to participate in public and political affairs.

In 1974, six Southern Sudanese women were appointed as Members of Parliament. Two women each from the former three greater states; Equatoria, Bahr El Ghazal and Upper Nile were represented in the national parliament in Khartoum and the regional parliament of Southern Sudan.

As the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) uprising escalated against the Sudanese government in 1983, women joined the frontline, some fighting alongside men and others treating the wounded. Others lobbied for an end to violence.

South Sudanese leaders have recognised women’s role as forming a vital backbone during all of South Sudan’s recent struggles. South Sudanese men, however, have been divided, with some refusing to give recognition to women for what they have demonstrated after the 2005 peace deal.

Today South Sudan still has the world’s worst record on female literacy in the world, with women more likely to die giving birth than to complete primary school. An estimated 90 percent of women are illiterate, compared to 75 percent of men.

Government officials from the Education, Gender and Social Welfare Ministry, said they are working closely with international partners like UNICEF, UNESCO and Plan International to develop a suitable education programme that aims at promoting girls’ education.

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