UNMISS workshop seeks to end sexual and gender-based violence in South Sudan
Participants at a just-concluded two-day workshop have highlighted an urgent need for the prevention and mitigation of Sexual and Gender-based Violence (SGBV) in South Sudan, raising concerns over the alarming state of SGBV in the country.
“The issues of sexual and gender-based violence are at almost epidemic proportions,” says Maria Nakabiito a senior Gender Affairs Officer from the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). “They are very serious [and] they range from domestic ones, to institutionalised ones,” she said during the workshop, which brought together various partners including civil society organisations, UN agencies and funds, and UNMISS-sections from across the country.
Highlighting that there is a lack of access to justice for victims and social security for women, Nakabiito said domestic violence and early marriages are prevalent across South Sudan, and they prevent the participation for women and girls, hence leaving them behind in all areas of social development. This in turn leads to “a fragile society”.
Through the workshop, the peacekeeping mission is seeking ways to understand and strengthen the protection of civilians so as to effectively mitigate and prevent the incidence of SGBV in South Sudan.
“Real political will at the leadership level” to help curb the perpetuation of SGBV is important, according to Munir Maurice, a Reproductive Health Manager, from Impact Health. “Women’s rights [are] human rights”, he said in an interview, adding, “If there is a real political will, all these perpetrators will be brought to book.”
“The people working in legal aid, health services, delivery, in psychosocial support as counsellors,” Munir went on, “their lives [are] in danger, because the perpetrators harass them,” he said, highlighting one obstacle to tackling the crime, while providing some statistical context.
“I visited Juba Teaching Hospital two weeks ago. The minimum number of the gender-based violence cases being registered on a daily-basis is four… maximum is eight,” said Munir, stating that these cases were alarmingly high, and yet the figures were only specific to Juba Teaching Hospital.
“The only looser at the end of the day is South Sudan as a country,” said an emotional Munir.
“Because the country is unstable, we have been receiving a lot of abuses taking place around the country. It’s all over,” said Alokiir Malual, the chairperson for South Sudan Civil Society Alliance.
“The effect is too much, and the vulnerable groups of the community are affected. It can be physical, it can be sexual, it can be mental, emotional,” she said, calling for perpetrators to get the justice they deserve.
“Laws should be applied to everybody without any special consideration, or we will continue repeating ourselves,” she said. “If you took any advantage of any circumstances to do that [SGBV) you have to back off. We will not to leave you alone, and we are ready to see that laws get you to where you are, and you won’t use your strength [against] your vulnerable brothers and sisters around you,” she warned perpetrators.
Several participants also said SGBV has over the years, been part of the country’s cultural fabric, and that although South Sudan is a signatory to several national, regional and international protocols, some victims continue to come forward.
“When GBV is so normalized in a community - when people start to talk about so many people being raped, when they start to talk about so many girls being abducted, and it’s sort of so normalized even to talk about it, you know that this is a serious problem,” said Andrea Cullinan, from the United Nations Population Fund. “You know that this is clearly the tip of the iceberg as most survivors don’t talk about the issues – so if you’re hearing the volumes of talk, you know it belies a serious problem. It’s the number one protection problem in South Sudan,” she added.
“There is no national prevalence statistics in South Sudan, because in the situation of conflict we have not been able to do a national survey,” she said, adding that incidents are recorded when survivors come to seek help, and they say what problem brought them.
The United Nations Resolution 2406 authorizes UNMISS to use all necessary means to “deter and prevent sexual gender-based violence within its capacity and areas of deployment” and allows “coordination with police services, security and government institutions and civil society actors in relevant and protection-focused activities such as sensitization to issues of sexual and gender-based violence … in order to strengthen protection of civilians.”
“Going forward, we cannot do this alone, and we are not doing this alone. Gender inequalities as we saw is the root cause of SGBV,” said Patricia Njoroge, from the Gender Affairs Section of UNMISS. “A lot needs to be done within UNMISS [and] with our partners,” she said, adding, “SGBV has a lot of stigma, and some of the information may not reach us, but as we engage with the civil society, then we can say we are moving the needle when it comes to SGBV prevention and mitigation,” she said, referring to the two-day workshop.