Rumbek Women Rally against Sexual & Gender-Based Violence at Workshop
“They should not suffer in silence.”
That is the message for women who suffered harassment, intimidation, rape and other violence from the Minister for Information and Telecommunication in the Lakes region of South Sudan.
Speaking at a workshop organized by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, Shadrach Bol Machok urged victims of rape to fight the fear of stigma, seek medical attention and report the crime against them to the police. If they did not receive an adequate response from the police, they should escalate the matter to the State Prosecutor or Public Attorney, he said.
“They’ve been suffering all this while in silence, not speaking out.”
However, the Minister said, as well as the workshop, a colourful musical concert in the evening provided women with a much-needed opportunity to voice their opposition to all forms of abuse. At the concert, group and solo performances of songs and drama promoted messages of peace and raised awareness about the abuses suffered by women and girls in their communities.
“The objective was to empower women by getting them to know and advocate for their rights; to know what to do in cases of violence and abuse,” said Adwoa Ohenewaa Owoo, UNMISS Women’s Protection Advisor.
“In terms of the law, we already have a good legal framework, but the challenge lies with implementation.”
Adwoa Ohenewaa Owoo pointed out that it was important for women themselves to advocate for the enforcement of the laws of South Sudan as well as international instruments binding on the country.
“But until you know your rights, you cannot advocate for them,” she said. “You need to know your right to education, your right to property, your right to land, your right to health and, most importantly, how the law protects you from sexual violence.”
State Minister Shadrach Bol Machok said that gross abuse, especially rape, should be prosecuted within the conventional justice system.
“Rape cases should not be settled in a traditional or customary court,” he cautioned.
However, he noted that many victims shy away from regular prosecution for fear of going public and being stigmatized.
Shadrach Bol Machok encouraged UNMISS and other stakeholders to carry on with programmes to raise awareness in the communities. “Change can only come through such workshops and seminars for women,” he said.
The Minister indicated his readiness to champion any initiative designed to empower the women of South Sudan, or to change the way they are perceived in traditional society.
“We’re in a society that tends to negate and undermine the efforts of women, but at this point we’re trying to make a U-turn to ensure that women are brought closer to men; so that they can be equal in society and in serving the nation,” he said.
The Minister also encouraged women to take the lead in restoring peace in the country.