Women lead in Eastern Equatoria peace forum, initiate changes in traditional customs that harm girls
“I will accept herds of cattle but not a girl child,” said Lina Ibira, mother of a 35-year-old man who was killed in Burung village last April.
Lina was speaking about an established cultural practice in South Sudan which views young girls as recompense for bereaved families when their sons are killed during cattle raids or intercommunal clashes at a three-day peace dialogue in Otuho, Eastern Equatoria.
“I cannot deprive any young woman of her right to choose. Compensation for a dead family member by tearing apart another person’s family must stop. It hurts to see children being bartered to save the lives of people who resort to violence,” she continued.
Otuho, like many other parts of South Sudan, has witnessed violent conflict last year fueled by cattle rustling and subsequent revenge attacks.
UNMISS, therefore, teamed up with the Otuho Peace Task Force, to fund this necessary conference which brought together women, young people, traditional leaders and politicians from numerous villages including Lobira, Loguruny, Oyoro, Woroworo, Burung, Lolianga and Hiriafit. The dialogue took place at Isohe Catholic Parish in Ikotos and women took the lead to call for an impartial resolution to recurring violence.
“As women, we are usually confined whenever there is conflict. We want this cycle of violence to stop so that we can be free to interaction with fellow women in neighbouring villages,” stated Gina Ibore, a women’s representative from Loguruny village.
Some of the resolutions reached include compensating families of victims of cattle raids, returning stolen cattle to their original owners in addition to paid interest, and, for the Otuho Peace Taskforce to oversee implementation of these resolutions.
Most importantly, powerful testimonies from Lina and other mothers who have been similarly bereaved led to a revision of the resolution on compensation to honour mothers who refuse to accept the custom of using a girl child as compensation for sons killed during a raid, opting for a handover of livestock instead.
While many youth known to be involved in last year’s clashes here did not attend the meeting for fear of being arrested if the dialogue failed to reach an amicable resolution, they conveyed their acknowledgement and support for the dialogue through envoys.
“Many young people who were active participants in the conflict have sent representatives, relatives and chiefs to convey messages of their intent to comply with the resolutions of the dialogue,” said Jacob Atari, the chairperson of the Otuho Peace Taskforce.
“They have accepted that they need to pay compensation for the harm they have inflicted on families. We are hopeful that this will usher in much-needed peace and stability in Otuho."