Women’s representatives vow to strengthen their collective voice at a forum in Yambio
“As a woman, I am sure of one thing—if I don’t speak up, my voice shall never be heard. How can anybody be included if they aren’t heard?” asked Laetitia Benito, a participant at a women’s networking forum for durable peace held in Yambio, Western Equatoria.
“Coming together with other likeminded women today, I understand fully why we must network, connect and convene with each other,” she continued. “In Western Equatoria, we have managed to contribute hugely to relative stability by talking to our sons, our husbands, our fathers, our uncles. These days, we rarely hear random gunshots,” she added.
This day-long forum, organized by the UNMISS Gender Unit in partnership with the state ministry for Gender, Children and Social Welfare, drew some 50 participants from civil society organisations, faith-based groups, local politicians and community members. The objective: To strengthen women’s voices and consolidate their efforts to be heard and considered in decision-making within the political and social spectrum of the state.
“We’ve discovered that, more often than not, we become victims of tokenism,” revealed Laetitia. “We are given apparent leadership positions but aren’t given the freedom to express ourselves, exercise our rights to the fullest or truly be changemakers.”
Laetitia also said that the provision for 35 per cent representation of women in cabinet positions hasn’t been implemented across Western Equatoria. “Political representation of women across the state is very low; in certain counties, local administration is actually still 100 per cent male-centric”
According to Margret Modong, a Gender Affairs Officer with the UN peacekeeping mission, connecting women across the state across party lines or political affiliations is crucial to achieving their full and equal participation in the ongoing push for peace in this young nation.
“We are making every effort possible to sensitize women on their rights and international legal frameworks that support them by promoting a gender-equal socio-political agenda,” she stated. “Our job as Gender Affairs Officers is to empower women’s networks, bring them together and we use a myriad resources to do so, be it through fora like this one or through the local radio stations, which reach a large audience.”
“Most importantly, we involve men in this fight for women’s equality. Given the deeply entrenched patriarchy in South Sudan, when men stand up for women’s rights, the community listens. Feminism isn’t limited by gender,” she added.
For her part, Stella Abayomi, Acting Head, UNMISS Yambio, believes that collective action is vital to address conflict, right iniquities and build a stable democracy.
“A lot remains to be done to help South Sudanese women to amplify their voices and empower them to have a say in issues that impact them directly, both at the local and national levels,” states Ms. Abayomi.
“As a mission, we commit ourselves to ensuring that we will always support women and help them organize themselves into a collective voice that cannot be ignored. I hope this forum inspires and enables all participants to share experiences, build relationships and become each other’s support system,” she added.
The event concluded with the recommendation of sustaining a monthly meeting that also brings in women from the grassroots and leaves no one behind in the struggle for gender equality.