“Education liberates women.” – Roda Sube, Gender Affairs Officer, UNMISS.
WARRAP - Roda Wasuk Primo Sube wears many hats. She’s a mother to a daughter, a passionate advocate for women’s empowerment and a Gender Affairs Officer with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).
Roda holds a Bachelor’s degree in Science but working to uplift fellow women has always been her calling. In her first job, she was a supervisor for a training centre that built capacities among local women, following which she went on to become a women’s protection officer with Save the Children and then an associate in gender-based violence prevention with the UN Population Fund. Here, Roda talks about her unshakeable belief in equal rights for women in South Sudan and why she is committed to speaking up on their behalf.
Q: What made you gravitate towards becoming a Gender Affairs Officer? Why was it your chosen career option?
A: Let me share an anecdote from my childhood. We were an extended family and the women used to cook in shifts to feed everybody. Meat was a special treat and whenever it was my turn to cook, I’d make sure everybody, including the women, got an equal share. My father was my biggest advocate in this, though, surprisingly, my stepmother felt that we should reserve our meat for mostly the men in the family. The point I’m trying to make is simple: I’ve always believed in equality for women and men. It is an innate belief, not something I acquired through life experience or education. That is exactly why there’s quite a large disconnect from what I studied at university and what I do every day.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges faced by women and young girls in South Sudan?
A: Where do I even begin? We are, unfortunately, second-rate citizens in our country. There is a massive discrimination in the social, economic and political rights given to a man and a woman. Education is another area—young girls are often forced into marrying early, they are used as compensation during feuds among communities. Cultural practices such as dowry also minimize the rights of women. During past civil wars, it was the women and young girls who suffered the most—there was rape, sexual abuse, underage pregnancies, a massive disruption of education. Women are not commodities that can be traded. The price a society pays for such discrimination is crippling.
Q: How do you think the work you do every day helps in mitigating the issues faced by women here?
A: I am passionate about raising awareness on gender stereotypes, biases and deeply entrenched inequalities between men and women in our country. My job with UNMISS gives me the platform I need to drive long-term change in behaviors of not just women, but also men and boys. This cannot be achieved overnight; it’s a marathon and not a sprint. I believe our work as Gender Affairs Officers has won the minds and hearts of young women. They are slowly but surely beginning to own their rights and demand spaces where their voices can be heard.
More importantly, the men we speak to everyday are also embracing the need to uplift women, support them. In many of our focus groups, where we bring men and women together, I see increasing levels of gender sensitivity among the men. For example, in many such groups, men have pledged to abandon regressive cultural practices such as demanding dowry during marriages. This makes me so happy.
Q: Why is it important to ensure women are equally represented at all levels of politics, peacebuilding and decision-making in a society?
It’s simple. The more women in politics and leadership, the more gender responsiveness in legislation! The bedrock of democracy is equality and laws should work for everybody in society—the women, the men, the disabled, the marginalized. Only then can we have a truly developed nation where every citizen has a say, is heard and included. Women are 50 per cent of any society. They must have a seat at the table when decisions are being made on issues that impact them directly. Women are also natural peace makers; if they are meaningfully represented, I am sure a durable peace will prevail across our country.
Q: Tell us why the fight for gender equality, is so important for a young country like South Sudan?
South Sudan has a large female population. If they are left behind, in terms of education and empowerment, the country cannot progress. If equal opportunities are provided to both girls and boys, they will lift the entire nation and we will have true peace as well as progress. Lack of gender equality affects the development of our country and creates unwanted financial dependencies.
Q: Why do you feel that the annual 16 Days of Activism is so crucial?
A: The 16 Days of Activism is a great advocacy tool to combat gender-based violence, which is prevalent in South Sudan, as well as elsewhere in the world. It is an excellent way to raise awareness among different stakeholders and communities on different forms of violence that exist in society. It has the power to change mindsets and make entire societies rally around eliminating all forms of abuse against women and young girls by educating people from the grassroots to the highest levels. I work in Warrap and I have witnessed how successive years of advocacy under the 16 Days umbrella has broken the silence shrouding violence against women as well as their rights.
Q: What are some key moments in your career where you’ve contributed towards making a tangible difference to young women and girls in this country? Give us a few examples.
A: There are many examples I can give because I have worked in this field for a long time. A noteworthy one is when Warrap began open forums on peace, I supported women’s representatives to write a memo to the Governor requesting that they be fully included in all peacemaking efforts. The result: Women became Commissioners in the local administrations of Tonj and, later, Gogrial for the very first time. I also established gender focal points network who are now actively advocating for gender equality and women’s participation in leadership and decision-making. We are seeing much-improved representation of women in leadership positions across the state. Another thing I’m proud to have been part of is advocating for women to be included as judges in customary courts. This is an issue we are still working on and making progress. So yes, you could say I’ve seen very tangible results of my work and that is what keeps me motivated.
Q: Have you personally ever experienced bias because of your gender? Can you give us an example of how you overcame this?
A: In the community I belong to, women aren’t supposed to contribute their opinions in family discussions. One of my uncles asked me to stay silent during such a conversation. But immediately after the family consultations were over, he asked me to make a financial contribution to solve the problem. I was quite firm with him and said in no uncertain terms that till we In my community women are not suppose to talk on family issue or contribute in discussion or decisions, one day my uncle said your mouth in the meeting and after the meeting he asked for my financial contribution, I told him in no uncertain terms that we have to consider women and girls equally in our family. Now, women are always consulted within our larger family unit. You have to be forthright and have no fear to explain your point of view to someone else.
Q: If you had a message for the young women of South Sudan and the world, what would it be?
A: I urge mothers to always educate their daughters. Education liberates women and makes them economically independent. I request women across the world to stand up and speak up for other women. If we are united, nothing can stop us from creating a gender-equal world.