UNPOL officers train women officers from local police, prison services as well as women’s representatives on sexual- and gender-based violence
“We may already be too old to effect the changes we want in our own lives, but it’s not too late for our young women, so we need to train them on their rights,” said Mary Aloyo, a women’s representative from Eastern Equatoria.
Mary was speaking at a three-day workshop on sexual- and gender-based as well as conflict-related sexual violence for women officers from local police and prison services, and women’s group leaders drawn from local communities of the state.
The forum, organized by the United Nations Police (UNPOL) officers serving with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), sought to train women leaders on accepted referral procedures for cases of sexual violence and ensure that content of these sessions trickles down to women at the grassroots.
“We were interested in creating a common platform that enables women working in the organized forces such as the police and prison services to engage with women leaders from various communities,” revealed Sharmila Lata, an UNPOL Gender Officer based in Torit.
Sessions at the event dealt with proper handling of survivors of sexual violence, early and forced child marriage, and reproductive health for women as well as relevant legal provisions in place that cover such abuses.
”I think more awareness and sexual health training is needed because many women do not even know that they can be raped by their husbands. They think rape can only be committed by a stranger,” said Joyce Amito, Secretary, Torit Women’s Association.
Joyce had, of course, broached a taboo topic which is deeply rooted in cultural norms and makes it almost impossible for women to identify when they have been sexually violated.
“Our constitution does not recognise rape within the bounds of marriage but we find ways of protecting women who have been victimized,” says Betty Konyio, a gender officer at the Special Protection Unit of the local police service. “It is not just physical sexual violence that infringes on women’s rights. Unwanted, sexually-charged conversations are also violations,” she added.
Betty went on to cite a recent example of an early and forced marriage case from her local police station. She narrated that a young girl had been physically dragged by her father to marry a man against her will. The girl later escaped and reported her situation to the police, who followed up. Betty and her team succeeded in helping the father of the young girl understand why he had committed a crime. Today, the young girl has returned to school and is determined to build a brighter future for herself.
“Women’s empowerment cannot be achieved in a day; it’s a process,” said Major Gatete Marcelin, commander of UNMISS peacekeepers from Rwanda stationed in Eastern Equatoria. “But all of us must make sure young girls have the chance to finish their education and be economically empowered.”