16 Days of Activism: “We must throw off the shackles of patriarchy for progress” - Teresina Peter, Upper Nile
MALAKAL - Teresina Peter is a 48-year-old mother to eight children. She lost her husband early in life but wasn’t defeated. Today, Teresina runs a small business which enables her to put food on the table for her family and ensure their education. In this interview, she speaks about hope, women and leading by example.
Q: Why, in your opinion, are more women not involved in politics, governance and decision-making in South Sudan?
A: The laws in our country say that women are equal to men. However, women in South Sudan must be given space and equal chances in all aspects of life if we are to make a difference and assume leadership roles across society. Where are these opportunities? So many of us have been devastated by conflict. Our women have been raped, our young girls deprived of their fathers and mothers, and, importantly, their education. If South Sudanese women are to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our men, we need to be educated and economically empowered. We must throw off the shackles of patriarchy for progress to happen. No one can do it for us. We, as women are obligated stand up for our rights and for our voices to resonate across this young nation. We do have accomplished women who can hold high ministerial and parliamentary positions. But the numbers are few. Let’s lift each other up.
Q: Could you tell us About some of the challenges you’ve faced, as a working woman? In general, could you also shed light on the issues of women face every day in this country?
A: South Sudanese women have always been in the backseat when it comes to public life. Traditionally, men here do not allow women to exercise their rights. We are suppressed, our innate power is leashed. Especially when it comes to politics, men see it as their birthright to take decisions on behalf of the country. By doing so they silence 50 per cent of this country’s population – women and girls. I have faced those same challenges and battle the same cultural stereotypes every day.
Q: Why do you feel women’s rights and human rights are important?
A. I’m a single mother. I do the job of both parents. Why am I not equal to a man? Having the same rights as men isn’t merely about equality, it’s about humanity. I believe that our government must prioritize education and access to economic opportunities for women. Only then can we step into the light, so to speak. We need support.
Q. South Sudan is currently traversing the long road towards building a sustainable peace. What role do you feel women have been playing in ending conflict in your community?
A: We women, we are the heart of the community. We do not want conflict; the consequences and trauma of civil wars continue to haunt us. Our role in conflict mitigation is critical—we are naturally inclined to build peace. However, because we aren’t empowered enough to speak with one voice and people aren’t hearing us, South Sudan continues to be plagued by violence. We aren’t seeing any tangible peace gains.
Q: What is the most important lesson you would want to pass down to the future generation, as a woman?
A: I have witnessed a lot during past crises here. I believe that youth and children must avoid guns at all cost. There is nothing to be gained from war except death and destruction. Our only weapon is education for all; this will give us a deeper understanding of values such as compassion, love and gratitude. This is the only way South Sudan can look forward to a bright future.
Q: If you could send a message to young girls and women across the country, what would it be?
A: Go to school. Learn everything with passion. Now, girls are slowly beginning to get the same opportunities as boys, so seize this moment and build a better tomorrow for everybody. I also appeal to parents with daughters—educate them and don’t marry them off when they are underage.