South Sudanese women urge UN-AU-IGAD delegation to promote their right to representation in armed forces and new government
Women and girls have borne the brunt of the six-year long conflict in South Sudan. Thousands have experienced the threat or reality of abduction, rape, deprivation, displacement and death.
Many were forced to flee their homes and are now supporting their families on their own. A peace deal signed last September offers fresh hope, but women say real action is needed from the country’s leaders and the international community to make the promise of peace a reality.
“Nobody is supporting the women of South Sudan and we are just looking to the world and saying, what is going on?” says Mary Akech Bior from the Women’s Bloc of South Sudan.
“People come to us and ask what are women of South Sudan saying? What are you doing? But we don’t have the support we need, for example to disseminate the peace agreement,” she says. “We need help to promote peace because we are the majority and the ones affected by war. We have no interest in war. Our interest is to have peace in the nation.”
Mary and fellow representatives from women’s groups shared their strong views on the peace process with a high-powered delegation from the United Nations, the African Union and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, which is on a flying visit to the country.
Their trip follows a decision to delay the formation of a new transitional government by six months in an attempt to resolve outstanding issues, including the unification of armed forces and formation of new states.
While the delegation acknowledges the need for the extension of time, it is urging the country’s political leaders to take concrete steps towards fully implementing the agreement.
“If nothing happens within the next six months, we will be in the same situation that we are in today,” the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, told the women’s groups.
“In fact, we think that if nothing happens, the situation will deteriorate six months’ from now, so it’s quite critical to really do our best. You can count on the AU, IGAD and UN’s commitment. We are absolutely determined to support peace and the implementation of the agreement.”
Jean-Pierre Lacroix said that the role of women in progressing the peace process was “absolutely critical” and would ensure that there was inclusivity in the new government.
Women’s groups are demanding that the political leaders live up to their commitment to implement a 35% quota for women in the armed forces and the government. Hon. Theresa Sericio, the chair of the Sanu National Party, says that the percentage of women in the armed forces is currently well below 10%.
“Women have suffered a lot and it’s good that South Sudanese women are very resilient. We really are trying to move on and overcome this conflict,” she says.
“Women suffer from sexual conflict, they suffer from traditional beliefs that don’t allow women to take up some professions because they are male dominated, like our armed forces. We really urge that women should get a better chance in terms of capacity-building because it is women who know what it is that hurts women and how to bring women alongside with men.”
The women’s groups also want to see justice for the crimes committed against them, particularly for perpetrators of sexual violence to be held accountable in court. The delegation is taking up their cause.
“During our interaction, specifically with the President but also with all stakeholders, the issue of empowering women, the issue of inclusivity, the issue of protecting women, the issue of gender-based violence is at the heart of our action,” Chergui Smail, the African Union Peace and Security Commissioner, told the women. “I can assure you that we in the African Union are taking these issues very seriously.”
The women are disappointed by the six-month delay in the political process but they remain optimistic that, if they are getting the opportunity to take the leadership roles they deserve, lasting peace will become a reality.