Rural women in Eastern Equatoria call for an end to gender-based violence
Rural women in Ikotos and other communities near Torit in Eastern Equatoria have teamed up to advocate for an end to gender-based violence. The women believe the only way to protect themselves is by directly defending their rights.
As part of the 16 days of activism campaign against gender-based violence, the Gender Affairs Unit of the peacekeeping mission organized a two-day forum on the role of women in conflict prevention. Here, women reaffirmed their commitment to participate in peacebuilding through empowerment and by speaking up for what they are entitled to.
“Our communities are not respecting the rights of women. Men rape women and girls. Why should they rape us? There is a need to arrest perpetrators, even in cases concerning men forcing underage girls to marry,” appealed Victoria Sadiya, a women’s group leader in Ikotos.
“Rape cases are not handled according to the law. A girl was raped here at night while she was picking coconuts for food,” revealed Rose Dudu, a member of the community. “He was arrested by the police, only to be quickly released because he paid her dowry [bride price].”
Women have a crucial role to play in peacebuilding and development, yet they are far from being equally represented during decision-making processes in communities and institutions.
Gender-based violence is a persistent issue negatively affecting the lives of women and girls. Now more than ever, inclusion of women in healing and reconciliation efforts is needed.
“Rape cases and early marriage may be happening in the villages, but you women never report it. I don’t know what is happening in the communities and you don’t tell the authorities,” said Cirilo Akoyo Lowa, the Ikotos County Commissioner.
Although activism and advocacy by women has been marginal, communities are at least and at last reaping some dividends. There are more girls in schools than ever before, more women in paid employment and in senior roles in the private sector, academia, governance and in international organizations, including in the United Nations.
Gender equality is enshrined in countless South Sudanese laws. Harmful practices like female genital mutilation and child marriage have also been outlawed, but serious obstacles remain in enforcing these laws because of historic power imbalances that encourage discrimination and exploitation.