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South Sudan’s women in the spotlight [part 2]

MiCT The Niles
‘Sibu ana, sibu ana’ (‘leave me, leave me’): Survivors of sexual violence in South Sudan.
10.09.2012  |  Juba

On the way coming back to our home, we missed the bus to Lologo because it was after 8pm. We were walking. Usually the road is busy, but also, we were two and I never knew what can happen. We saw some men sitting and talking and we passed them. They were many. I don’t know how many -- many. Then from nowhere they ran to us and started to push us. I started to talk to them slowly. My friend said, I am your mother; please let us alone”. I said ‘sibu ana, sibu ana’ (leave me, leave me). They did not stop; in fact they started to beat us, one of them started to call us ‘sharamuta’ (prostitute). We began to say ‘ma ta dugu ana’ (don’t beat me), but they did not stop. They slapped, hit us, kicked us and then they raped us. Four of them raped me, and they were also raping my friend. I could smell blood and alcohol.” (Focus Group Interview)

This is not an unusual story. Many thousands of women were raped and sexually assaulted during South Sudan’s brutal civil wars. In the long years of war, when violence was a common feature of everyday life, sexual violence became pervasive, perpetrated against women from all sectors of the population by soldiers and civilians alike. The attacks were often brutal, cruel and sadistic. Sexual violence became another layer of insecurity that plagued the lives of South Sudan’s women. Most of the South Sudanese women interviewed for a chapter on female survivors of sexual violence in South Sudan reported that during the war they had either experienced rape themselves, or had family members and close acquaintances who had been raped.

Sadly, the current picture is not vastly different from the one described above by author Anyieth D’Awol. In South Sudan’s highly militarised and patriarchal society where guns and force are equated with entitlement and power, women remain at risk both inside and outside of their homes.

Rape as a weapon of war and its increasing use around the world

Throughout the ages and in every corner of the globe, where there has been war there has been rape. However, in recent years it has become increasingly clear that sexual violence is used in an intentional, widespread and systematic manner. Put differently, rape is being used as a weapon of war.

Other resources that focus on gender in South Sudan:

Small Arms Survey’s Human Security Baseline Assessment for Sudan and South Sudan
UNICEF in South Sudan

United States Institute for Peace

Women for Women in South Sudan

UNDP in South Sudan
When John Garang formed the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in 1983, he prohibited rape and enforced a code of conduct among troops. The punishment for members of the SPLA found guilty of rape was death by firing squad. Despite this policy, there are reports of rape being perpetrated by all of the different armed factions, including the SPLA, over the course of the war and the Sudan Human Security Baseline assessment reports that many armed groups intentionally and routinely used rape as a tactic during the war.

At a certain point in the war, John Garang and the SPLA decreed that women should ‘keep up the reproductive front’ of the war by actively procreating to repopulate the society and make up for the millions of lives that were being lost. With reproduction understood as a contribution to the war effort, sex was soon seen in this way too. This left women sexually vulnerable to both enemy troops and their own husbands. During the decades of conflict and trauma that define South Sudan’s history, this was exacerbated as militarised conceptions of masculinity developed and masculinity became equated with the use of violence.

A key example of the ways in which the war impacted on traditional gender dynamics relates to the great value South Sudanese culture places on the ability to perpetuate one’s lineage. Before the wars, men’s protection of women and children, who were seen as ‘the pillars on which the ancestral line is built and maintained’ was of paramount importance. While this was reinforced during the early stages of conflict, these later became twisted into justifications for targeting these vulnerable groups within ‘enemy’ populations. This violence spiralled to still further extremes when the protectors later began to turn on their own women and children in an effort to prevent them from being impregnated or killed by enemy troops.
How women cope

When women were asked how they cope with sexual violence, many replied that they cope because ‘there is nothing else we can do’. Sexual violence is so common and is experienced by such a large majority of women that women think less of why they face the abuse and focus more on surviving from day-to-day, caring for their children and fulfilling their many daily responsibilities.

A mammoth task ahead

Download the bibliography: ‘Sibu ana, sibu ana’ (‘leave me, leave me’): Survivors of sexual violence in
South Sudan
In the new South Sudan, government institutions that will play a crucial role in the promotion of women’s rights have been established and significant steps are being taken by local and international stakeholders to put gender equality and gender based violence firmly on the national planning agenda. But the task ahead remains a major one: the basic assumptions that govern healthy and democratic gender relations must be tackled as soon as possible. Until each person, and in particular each woman, is safe from all forms of violence, true peace remains a distant illusion for this nascent state.

Adapted by Cara Meintjes, from Anyieth D’Awol’s chapter, ‘Sibu ana, sibu ana’ (‘leave me, leave me’) Survivors of Sexual Violence in South Sudan” in Hope, Pain and Patience: The Lives of Women in South Sudan. Edited by Friederike Bubenzer and Orly Stern. Photographs by Irene Abdou and Jenn Warren. A Publication of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation. ISBN Number: 978-1-920196-36-3. Published by Jacana Media. Available from