UNMISS chief celebrates International Women’s Day by hailing women’s role as agents for peace
A jam-packed Nyakuron Cultural Centre in Juba enjoyed a colourful celebration of the International Women’s Day. Attendees were treated to a parade and an assortment of empowering cultural performances, but were also reminded of the urgent need for durable peace, and the dire reality still facing most South Sudanese women.
“It is the girls and women of this country who bear the greatest burden in conflict,” said David Shearer, head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, listing the loss of lives, sexual and other forms of violence, displacement and the lack of adequate access to food, clean water, health care and educational opportunities as examples of their predicaments.
A venue filled with various government representatives, including First Vice President Taban Deng Gai, school children and women from all walks of life listened attentively as Mr. Shearer referred to the national theme of this year’s International Women’s Day, “Press for Progress to transform rural women’s and girls’ lives”. In this context, the UNMISS head emphasized the proven transformational power of women have exercised in many countries plagued by conflicts.
“Wherever I have worked in conflict zones around the world I have found that women are pivotal to ending war and building durable peace,”, he said, singling out Liberia, soon to be free of the presence of UN peacekeepers, as a particularly inspiring example of what women can achieve.
The head of the peacekeeping mission recounted the brutality and the prevailing sense of hopelessness – “people genuinely felt that peace wouldn’t ever be possible” - in the West African country and its subsequent arduous struggle towards its current state of peace and development.
“It is a wonderful example of what can be done. And the critical force behind it? Women. Activists on the ground and finally even a woman president. They are the leading voices of reconciliation, of unity, of hope and progress towards enduring peace.”
On his part, the First Vice President observed that one day a year dedicated to women is not enough.
“Women are everything, especially in South Sudan. Every day of the year should be a women’s day,” said Taban Deng, recognizing the plight of rural women in particular:
“South Sudanese women are the marginalized among the marginalized, and rural women in South Sudan, unfortunately, lie at the bottom at that food chain. This year, in 2018, it is our primary responsibility and challenge to reverse that trend. We should ponder how women’s role can be enhanced in the peace making process of our country.”
Using the International Women’s Day event as a suitable platform, Mr. Shearer also officially launched an UNMISS nationwide essay competition on the topic “How can women contribute to durable peace in South Sudan?” for secondary school students (more detailed information about the competition to follow).
Expressing his hopes of identifying “young people to lead us all” while reading the essays to be submitted, the top UN official in South Sudan affirmed that today [International Women’s Day] is about peace, “but also about progress.”
“The women and girls of this country are strong, resilient, and proud. They are the backbone of the country and deserve all the opportunities that life can and should give them.”