Young women leaders share their hopes for peace with UN Envoy on Youth in South Sudan
Flavia Zisok’s weapon of choice is a combination of her pain and her pen.
The young writer has published many poems about the immense suffering caused by war and her hopes for lasting peace in conflict-affected South Sudan.
“I stand up to use my pain as a weapon to write poems that speak of peace,” says Flavia Zisok. “This is how I choose to fight against the conflict that is happening in this nation and to encourage many other young women to join me in writing and advocating for peace by using our talents.”
Flavia is one of dozens of South Sudanese young people who shared their experiences with the United Nations Envoy on Youth, Jayathma Wickramanayake, during the second day of her week-long visit to the country.
The focus for the day was the role of young women in the peace process.
“I’m here in solidarity with all of you. I’ve seen how in times of conflict and humanitarian situations, young people are the most vulnerable but also the most resilient and resourceful,” the Youth Envoy told those gathered at the launch of a peace-building project.
“Young people are not a problem to be solved but are a force to be reckoned with.”
South Sudan is the world’s newest country. More than 70 percent of its population are aged under 30 years old. These young people have suffered immense harm from the armed conflict. The signing of a peace deal in September 2018 has given them hope for a brighter future but, for that peace to last, they know their generation must lead the way.
Riya Yuyada is doing just that. She works for a local organization, Crown the Women, which has developed a new initiative called South Sudan Girls and Women are Born to Lead, focusing on mobilizing women and girls at the grassroots level to push for peace.
“This is the time for us young women to say we have to be included in the peace process,” says Riya Yuyada. “South Sudanese women have been championing peace at all levels from grassroots to national and yet we continue to confront obstacles.”
These obstacles include deliberate exclusion from leadership roles in peacebuilding and politics. However, one young activist says it’s up to women themselves to overcome those challenges.
“Change must start with us. Unless we change our attitude towards the contribution of women in this society, we are not moving anywhere,” Nyaboth Alfred told young women gathered at a meeting with the Youth Envoy.
“As women, we want to take up political spaces. Let’s utilize every available opportunity under the 35% quota established for women in the peace agreement. As for politics more generally, we must join the government or join opposition parties if we care about this country, that is how we can move forward.”
During her visit, the Youth Envoy launched a new UN-funded project to increase opportunities for young women to contribute to decision-making on peace and security in South Sudan. Managed by civil society organization, Search for Common Ground, the project provides training, community outreach and networking activities that bring young women together at a national and local level to promote the peace agreement.
Speaking at the event, Jayathma Wickramanayake urged the young women present to work together to build a strong movement for peace in South Sudan.
“Yes, we have the right to participate but, with that right, comes a responsibility to unite with other young people and push for common themes and solutions together as a generation,” she said. “We should also try to do that in partnership with the older generation.”
Her message about the power of collectivism particularly resonated with poet Flavia Zisok who is passionate about building a united South Sudan so that young people get the opportunities they deserve to reach their full potential.
“We are South Sudanese. When we fought for this nation, we fought to have our freedom. We fought to liberate ourselves from the suffering we were going through,” she says. “Now we must all come together – all tribes and all peoples – to make one nation and one peace.”