Local women traders in Juba share challenges and concerns in UNMISS forum
As South Sudan starts recovering from civil wars and COVID-19, this young nation stands on the cusp of establishing itself as a true democracy by beginning to draft its permanent constitution and looking forward to eventual elections.
Given the context, the need for women’s voices to be heard and included in building peace from the ground up is more cogent than ever.
This week, therefore, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) partnered with OneAid Africa to organize a two-day advocacy forum for local women traders in the capital city, Juba.
The main aim: To bring female traders from markets in four main payams [administrative divisions] together to have a free and frank conversation about the issues and challenges they face; spread peace messages; and sensitize them on the UN Peacekeeping mission’s mandate.
“We have been working as traders to feed our children for years,” said Rebecca Nyoka, a representative from the popular Jebel Market. “However, before we attended this forum, we weren’t included in any discussions about our own country and issues that impact us directly.”
Rebecca’s words were echoed by Christina Ayii Akol, Secretary-General, Chamber of Commerce. “Ever since we gained independence a decade ago, a combination of cultural stereotypes and an information vacuum have kept South Sudanese women in the background. We must be heard; we need to be heard; and we have a right to be heard. Without the full participation of women, no country can build a sustainable peace.”
For the first time ever, women in business were presented with the opportunity to dialogue in-person with city council members.
“We are plagued with different taxes and much of our profits seem to disappear. We have children to look after,” averred Mary Kiden, a charcoal vendor from Gudele Market.
For Saga Osman, who was representing the Munuki Market, the surprise package was learning about human rights. “As female small business owners, we often feel that we have no back-up or support when it comes to our trade. I urge our government to help us financially so that we are able to be as economically empowered as our male counterparts,” she stated passionately.
For his part, Stephen Wani, Chair of the Central Equatorian Chamber of Commerce, applauded all participants for their candor and immense grit.
“I salute the work you have been doing, despite countless challenges. Meeting all of you is inspirational,” said Mr. Wani. “Women across South Sudan are breadwinners and peacemakers. You provide essential services to communities, you keep our local economy steady. We will do everything in our power to ensure your concerns are addressed and you can look forward to a peaceful, prosperous future.
The existing lacunae in ensuring that 50 per cent of society—women and young girls—have their voices reflected in all levels of decision-making is what UNMISS seeks to address through such outreach activities.