With a 24-month extension in its ongoing transitional period, communities and leaders in South Sudan are drafting this young nation’s permanent constitution and gearing up to head to the polls for elections next year.
Both these vital steps need the full and equal participation of women.
While the Revitalized Peace Agreement makes provisions for 35 per cent affirmative action to include women in decision-making, much remains to be done to ensure they are fully represented in the public life of the country.
For its part, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) is making all efforts to support this push for gender equality.
In Malakal, the UN Peacekeeping mission teamed up with state authorities to hold a two-day awareness raising session on human rights, with a particular focus on displaced women.
The impact on female participants was tangible.
“Till recently, my entire existence was about surviving conflict. It has been a struggle that’s left room for little else,” revealed Josephine James, a women’s representative residing at the UN Protection Site here.
“Once I started residing at the Protection of Civilians site, I met many women who had suffered as much as I had and we formed our own group which dealt with our specific concerns as displaced women,” she continued.
“Thanks to this training now I have learnt about my right to be represented in government and inherit property. I am sure there are many women across South Sudan like me who are in the dark about their rights. With the knowledge I have gained I will stand strong when it comes to my rights and also trickle down what I have learned to support other women and girls,” she added passionately.
Josephina’s role as a displaced women’s advocate is to make sure that she also raises awareness on key issues such as upholding the rule of law, especially with surging conflict in Upper Nile.
“Rule of law and security is key for women across South Sudan because often conflict affects us disproportionately. For women to fully exercise their rights, peace and security must prevail,” she explained.
Nyanuer William Nyuon, state Minister for Local Government and Law Enforcement agreed.
“Our focus, as state authorities, is to ensure we can provide a stable security environment for all civilians, especially women, persons with disabilities and other marginalized groups. As a woman in government, I stand by the need to ensure gender parity in leadership roles. Women constitute 50 per cent of South Sudanese society and our voices must be included in taking decisions on issues that impact us directly,” stated Minister Nyuon.
For his part, Christian Mikala, Acting Head of the UNMISS Field Office in Upper Nile, said he was encouraged by the spirited discussions and engagements by all participants.
“It is my hope that everybody gathered here has found these conversations to be productive and will go on to advocate for yourself and others for the right to participate in the political and economic life of Upper Nile and South Sudan,” said Mr Mikala at the forum’s conclusion.
The workshop brought together 50 participants, including women, youth, community leaders and displaced people. Similar events are being planned in Renk, Bunj, Kodok and Maiwut.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).