Juba forum explores ways to advance the status of women in South Sudan
A two-day national advocacy forum on women, peace and security has concluded in Juba, with discussions having focused on ways to influence and achieve women’s effective participation in governance and the country’s peace process.
“It’s very crucial for us to have this working group, so that we can see and learn lessons from the women who came from Sierra Leone and Kenya, so that we can put it in action,” said Betty Sunday Ben Kute, from South Sudan’s Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO), underscoring the importance of the workshop.
Organized by the Political Affairs Division and the Gender Affairs Unit of the United Nation Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), the forum is a culmination of 35 workshops that have taken place across ten regions of South Sudan, with 10 representatives drawn from across the country.
“There’re a lot of things that need to be done in South Sudan, and we cannot do that alone. We need to come together as women in the region, continent, and as women of South Sudan, to work together for peaceful coexistence,” said Betty.
In the country’s revitalized peace agreement, signed in Addis Ababa in September 2018, women have been allotted 35% representation at all levels of governance through affirmative action.
The Juba forum has been looking at how women can take up duties and responsibilities in implementing and safeguarding that 35% participation.
“The Revitalized Agreement offers ample opportunities and I believe the time is now for the women of South Sudan to make the utmost use of this window to effect positive change,” said Moustapha Soumaré the deputy head of UNMISS in charge of political affairs.
Alokiir Malual, the chair of the South Sudan Civil Society Alliance was a signatory on behalf civil society organisations at the Addis Ababa accord. She spoke with pride and great cheer when considering how far South Sudanese women have come.
“We’re growing. I feel we’re doing well because we’ve really, smartly taken advantage of the peace process where we’ve made sure we’ve gained more for women. It was, according to the previous affirmative action, 25%. But now, it’s 35%, because we managed to unite as women and as groups, and came up with one position, and made one demand, and I think that was marvelous; it was well done by the women of South Sudan.”
Kenya’s Martha Karua, herself a lead player in her country’s political leadership, commended South Sudanese women for achieving the 35% representation in the revitalized peace agreement, noting that it was a feat that had surpassed what women had achieved in her own country.
“I want to congratulate you women of South Sudan, not for the 25% [contained in the 2011 transitional constitution], because you have since moved to 35% in the revitalized peace agreement,” she said, stressing the need to document women’s participation.
“I want you to note, that women’s participation is always minimized by not being documented; not being remembered. And we need those examples so that our young ones can see that it’s a normal thing for women to participate. So, now that you’re in the process, start documenting your experiences, your participation in the processes. Don’t forget that the 35% percent has come because women participated,” she said.
“This workshop is about the urgency of women’s agency in participating in the peace process. Because, even if the peace process is slowly rolling out, it’s important that women catch it from the beginning to the end,” said Maria Nakabiito from the UNMISS Gender Affairs Unit.
“It’s also important to bring the experiences of where others have been though a similar process, like in Kenya and Sierra Leone, to share beforehand what the women in South Sudan can do differently from what they have been doing to achieve better results,” Maria noted.
The forum explored ways to reach a possible Action Plan for achieving a genuine realization of the peace agreement’s affirmative action for women.
The action plan would entail advocacy to accelerate women’s effective participation in governance and the revitalized peace agreement, by identifying targets and allies for advocacy among men.
“Using this National Advocacy Forum, let us explore workable strategies and effective messaging to move forward our collective goals of advancing women’s access to the political space and their effective participation in the peace process,” noted Mr. Soumaré, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General, urging the group to discuss how to engage and influence men not only to support the advancement of women at all levels but also to become “champions” to promote and protect the cause of women.
“The only thing that I’ve seen is that we’re supposed to do, is not to hold such workshops for women alone; we also need our male partners to be there, so that they listen and see. We listen and share amongst ourselves, but we want them also to confirm that what happened there had been done by all of us, not women alone,” reiterated Ms. Alokiir Malual.
Dr. Bernadette Lahai, the current Minority Leader of the Parliament of Sierra Leone, was on hand to offer a word of caution to the women of South Sudan, urging them to pursue peace as a priority.
“In your peace process, you should not relent. You must organize and stay focused. For now, in South Sudan, the most important thing is peace, because without peace, there isn’t going to be any development,” she said, imploring them to shun war because women bear the brunt of war, with dire consequences.
The forum’s participants also looked at how to engage with civil society on a women’s agenda for peace and security.