Rights of Aweil women not being respected, says local minister of social development
“We, the women in Aweil, are not having even one percent of our rights being respected,” says the local female minister of social development, Arek Ayii Deng.
Addressing participants at a one-day workshop on hate speech and freedom of opinion and expression organized by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), Ms. Ayii gave several examples of rights being ignored.
“Men do not give women a piece of land, because they say a woman has no right to acquire it. A woman cannot own a house because our men insist that she has no right to own one. Workshops like this one are always dominated by men as they do not want women to learn about our rights,” she lamented.
The gender composition of the attendees at this particular event would support the minister’s claim: only nine of the 42 participants – representing political parties, civil society organizations and journalists – were women.
Aweil is an area where traditional cultural norms are rigidly observed. Women cannot inherit properties, nor can they own them.
“I urge UNMISS to consider the participation of local chiefs next time, because they are the very people denying us our rights,” said Ms. Ayii.
Other workshop participants, notably men, seemed quite happy with the status quo.
One of them, Peter Bur, said that domestic issues are private and cultural practices and should not be used as a tool to divide opinions within families.
“Women are supposed to take care of the house and the children. They should stay at home and we men go to work,” he said and added: “It is a private matter, no human rights here.”
Santino Deng, another attendee, was quick to support the strong views of Mr. Bur.
“If a woman finds a job and she is working she will have relationships with other men and end up committing adultery,” Mr. Deng feared.
As the discussion became increasingly animated, Joseph Makak, a human rights officer representing the peacekeeping mission, reminded the verbal combatants to respect each other’s opinions.
“Everyone has the freedom to hold and express opinions without interference, and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any channel of communication,” said Mr. Makak, cool as a cucumber.
Journalist Abraham Agoth Yol blamed the authorities for the current state of affairs.
“Violations of human rights are mainly committed by the government. It stays like that because people keep quiet. They don’t express their views for fear of being intimidated, harassed or killed,” he said.
Stephen Ayaga, a representative of the country’s dominant political party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, maintained that he and his political peers are doing what they can to promote universal rights, and that this will be easier once the revitalized peace agreement has been fully implemented.
“We are telling the people of South Sudan that all human beings must be respected, in terms of health, social, economic and other rights,” he said.
Monica Mayuen, a member of the legislative assembly of Aweil, enjoyed having her rights duly respected at the workshop.
“Here we have been able to express ourselves freely, and we all call for peace and unity among the people of South Sudan.”