Protecting women and girls focus of discussions to mark Women’s Day in Aweil
NORTHERN BAHR EL GHAZAL – Unceasing conflict and a traditionally patriarchal society has massively impacted women and girls across South Sudan, the world’s newest country.
However, there is a renewed push from women themselves to speak up for equal rights.
In Northern Bahr El Ghazal, at a recent forum held on the margins of this week’s International Women’s Day, women have called for stronger laws against perpetrators of sexually motivated violence as well as underaged or forced marriages.
These spirited discussions were kicked off following a presentation by Alight, an international organization on instances of sexual and gender-based violence across the state as well as powerful survivor testimonies.
For Lily Anguil, a local gynecologist, the presentation echoed her professional experiences. “This year alone, from January to March, we have treated four cases of rape, physical assault and emotional abuse,” she revealed. “Apart from necessary physical treatments, we also counsel women who have endured such horrific acts. It is hard to hear their stories and not be affected.”
The other important topic discussed by participants: Ending forced or early marriages and allowing young girls to complete their education.
“When I was a young girl, I was left to handle domestic chores while my brother went to school,” recounted 22-year-old Maria Angelo. “My tale isn’t unique; thousands of girls in our country will narrate a similar version of their lives, if they are asked,” she continued.
Maria added that it was only by being determined and speaking up for herself that she was able to gain control over her life. She now represents Northern Bahr El Ghazal as a youth ambassador for peace. “We have no choice but to be forthright and be the change we want ourselves, though society may frown upon us,” she stated passionately.
For Aguak Kwack, also 22, women and girls are key contributors to building a peaceful, prosperous future. “We must educate ourselves on our political rights and we must aspire to lead. There can be no progress in South Sudan unless women are fully included in peace processes and involved in making decisions on issues that impact us directly,” she averred.
Another key takeaway: The need to facilitate similar fora in rural areas, where women and girls often have no access to education.
“Our sisters in remote villages have the same rights as we do. However, many of them are ignorant about gender equality. We must make every effort to sensitize them,” said Achol Deng Yor, another participant. “I request the United Nations Mission in South Sudan to make this a priority,” she added.
For her part, Ma Inecita Montero, Civil Affairs Team Leader with the UN Peacekeeping mission in the state, acknowledged all the feedback.
“One of our core goals at UNMISS is to prevent, monitor and report on any violations of women’s rights, including incidents of sexual violence. No woman or girl should ever suffer such abuse and we will continue to support the Government of South Sudan in their efforts to establish a gender-equal, safe environment for all women,” she stated.
The event concluded with display of local handicrafts and a cultural programme.