South Sudanese women call for more empowerment

8 Mar 2013

South Sudanese women call for more empowerment

8 March 2013 - Singing and dancing in praise of women's roles in society, thousands of South Sudanese gathered across the country today, rallying a common cry for greater empowerment.

At national celebrations held in the Jonglei State capital Bor, South Sudan Minister of Social welfare and Gender Agnes Lasuba Kwaje noted that 72 per cent of girls aged 15 years were illiterate.

"This is a big challenge," she said. "... We need to stop child marriage and forced marriage, and give (girls their) right to education."

Jonglei Governor Kual Manyang Juuk said it was unacceptable for any man to beat or abuse his wife or sister.

Presidential Advisor on Gender and Human Rights Rebecca Nyanding de Mabior represented President Salva Kiir at the celebrations.

Reading a message from the president, Ms. Mabior revealed that the South Sudanese government had decided to raise women's representation from 25% to 35% at both state and national levels.

In the Warrap State capital Kuajok, Deputy Governor Akech Tong said his state was unique because it had a woman governor. "Education is the first step towards women's empowerment."

Addressing some 4,000 people who thronged Freedom Square, Mr. Tong called on citizens to send all their children to school to create a "better place for women".

Following the main event, UNMISS staff visited Kuajok Central Prison and launched a literacy class for inmates. They also distributed soap and footwear to women in the prison.

UNMISS State Coordinator Abraham Onifade said the classes would equip women with skills to help them reintegrate into society after their release.

In neighbouring Lakes State, celebrations at the Bishop Mozzolari Foundation Compound in Rumbek were held under the theme, "Empower a Woman for a Better Nation".

Women's representatives from the state's eight counties called on the government to prioritize women's empowerment in education, capacity building and employment, and to ensure their inclusion in decision making.

Daniel Chol Koknyin, caretaker minister of the Ministry of Social Development, called on women to begin empowering themselves by acquiring skills and taking adult literacy classes.

"We need to organize ourselves ... from parliament level to the grassroots to make sure that our rights are not exploited," said Deputy Chairperson of the Gender Committee in the State Assembly Priscilla Ayor Paul.

Western Bahr El-Ghazal State Minister of Gender Affairs Viola Philip, while addressing the crowd attending a commemoration in the state capital Wau, said that "full empowerment of women is not possible without addressing the discrimination (they) faced".

"All should be done to (combat) violence against women in society," said UNMISS State Coordinator Winnie Babihuga.

Celebrations in Unity State kicked off on 7 March when UNMISS Human Rights section hosted over 50 women, including state ministers, advisors and parliamentarians, to discuss challenges they face.

During celebrations today, women presented a petition to Deputy State Governor Michael Chieng Geay. The petition called on national and state governments to "enact laws that will prevent and stop all forms of violence against women in South Sudan, including early marriage".

"All your rights will be included in our permanent constitution..." said Mr. Geay. "Your contribution made our independence possible. We (could not have done) this without you."

In Northern Bahr El-Ghazal, Acting Governor Madut Dut Yel pledged that the state government would work to increase the number of women in future leadership, urging women and girls to educate themselves to prepare for this.

UNMISS Gender Unit in the state also hosted a round table discussion. Participants, who included government officials as well as members of the State Legislative Assembly and civil society organizations, discussed the UN theme for the day, "A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women".

Upper Nile State's celebrations were jointly organized by the State Ministry of Gender, Social Welfare and Religious Affairs, UNMISS Human Rights Unit and the American Refugee Council.

Representing Governor Simon Kun Pouch, Cabinet Affairs Minister Yiey Pouch Lur said that both men and women had equal rights.

"We declare that we will prosecute crimes against women. We will never allow women to be subjected to abuses," said UNMISS Acting State Coordinator Welmoet Wels, who read the UN Secretary-General's message.