Opinion | East Africa’s path to peace and economic stability requires the perspectives and empowerment of South Sudanese Women

South Sudan's First Female presidential Hopeful, Hon. Suzanne Jambo/photo suppliedSouth Sudan's First Female presidential Hopeful, Hon. Suzanne Jambo/photo supplied

Suzanne Jambo

Leader and Presidential Aspirant, Steps, South Sudan

Below is a brief note I presented in a gender equality zoom conference toward pro women’s policies in the East Africa region on 29th June 2021. A discussion under the auspices of the African Development Bank on East Africa region—I was the main discussant on “women in politics and voices” as a way to empower women in East Africa by highlighting South Sudanese women’s plights, perspectives, and empowerment.

“From Data to Policy Action: Tackling Gender-Based Discrimination in Social Institutions in East Africa,” I wrote the above article for:

This is an apt theme and urgently needed in East and entire Africa for that matter. From the outset and very briefly, East African nations may be broadly categorized along; fledgling democracies as Kenya, Tanzania, and recently Ethiopia, hopefully soon will be Sudan upon the ousting of former military ruler Bashir. While nations as Uganda are ruled by a one-party system of military nature, similarly is Eritrea, both are post-conflict. As for South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation is a country embroiled in conflicts, so is Somalia.

So, I’ll begin with; “empowering women in all levels; socio-culturally, in health, economically, politically and constitutionally will restore women’s rightful place in the society, side by side men building nations and contributing both privately and publicly as men.”

Equally, in East Africa, regardless of fledgling democratic nations, military-ruled nations, or war-stricken nations as South Sudan, there’s a common denominator of all; the old adage story that won’t go away; stereotype and negative attitudes against women remain a huge obstacle in the face of women’s progress and advancement. In Kenya, for example, the progress on the women’s agenda although has been seen, it has been rather slow. In contrast, is Tanzania’s political leadership commitment to women has made significant improvement from 2016 onwards. As well, post-Genocide Rwanda is making huge progress vis women, so is Ethiopia recently, Sudan—this is hugely attributed to the presence of the political will of these nations top political (male) leadership commitment to the women’s agenda. As such, the presence of the political will to alleviate women and achieve their advancement lies hugely on sound political leadership that is committed to women. Such highly willed political determination to empower women by top leaders is also vital in breaking through anti-women stereotypes and attitudes.

It is worthy to note, this was present during the South Sudanese liberation struggle under the late Dr. John Garang whose leadership was highly committed to Women’s advancement. In 1998 the then political leadership ensured Women were granted 25% Affirmative Action. This significantly paved way for/toward a mindset shift in South Sudan generally! “Overnight” men, traditional chiefs included became aware of Women’s equality with men! Such political steps facilitate the fast-tracking of women’s equality. Sadly, South Sudan relapsed back into war by 2013 to date. It is also worth noting that international NGOs as UNICEF did also hugely in creating awareness on the girl-child. By contrast, the current leadership across the divides lacks a genuine commitment to justice, let alone social justice. A combination of the culture of wars, violence, and militarism remains a serious blockade in the face of normalcy and stability in this young nation and critically in endless suffering, more so for women and girls.

Women suffer the most from these senseless wars; violence against women and girls is “limitless…unending…” Women not only suffer from common anti-women attitudes as in most Africa, but they are worst as they are treated less than human beings, not deserving to live, let alone totally lacking personal safety and security. The culture of impunity, the absence of rule of law, and constitutionalism in South Sudan have rendered Women objects. Women and girls make up to 65% of the population, it only makes sense South Sudanese Women are fully empowered to restore peace and build Africa’s youngest nation.

Specifically, since the birth of the country in 2011, women in politics,

regardless of their education, experiences, and commitment, time and again, militarized men only recognize women alongside them in politics mainly when they are their wives or family members. Nepotism is a very noticeable practice in recent government and political appointments. It is worth noting that since independence, South Sudan only formed governments based on peace talks facilitated by IGAD nations. As such these nepotistic government formations are conducted with the “blessing” of IGAD nations. As for inclusivity in peace talks, women who make it there are equally close associates or relatives to the warring groups’ leaders.

The majority of women are victims of wars! Totally excluded from anything, save for being violated culturally, violently, thereby denied access to any meaningful human living standards. South Sudan is believed to be 90% illiterate, women form the bulk majority of this percentage, and the list goes on.  This is why I decided to resign from “male-driven” political parties and established Steps in 2017, the 1st peace-based political party founded by a woman in South Sudan. We are tired of endless killings, (ethnic) violence, militarism, and endless senseless wars. Women must make their stand clear on peace, unity of the people, and stability at all levels. We know this way we shall also achieve equality and justice for women in South Sudan.

In conclusion, serious dire efforts must be exerted to put an end to the deliberate exclusion of women in politics in South Sudan, witnessed by IGAD nations. This is a must action to be taken up regionally and continentally. It is the collective duty and responsibility of African nations and organizations to empower South Sudanese women, if not, who will?!

For as long as there’s no effective participation of South Sudanese women in peace and post-conflict strategies, there shall be no peace! East Africa will continue to witness the spillover of wars into their respective nations. A vicious cycle indeed! Only South Sudanese women have the key to stop wars and violence for they bear the brunt of these senseless wars the most!

In essence, policies how continentally or regionally beautiful they may be, we must push for a political will in South Sudan that is ready to emancipate women in all levels; socio-culturally, in health, economically, educationally, and politically! Ending wars through peace talks by, for instance, IGAD while ensuring women’s effective participation in peace and post-conflict go together in order to achieve real peace, women’s empowerment in South Sudan, security, and economic stability in East Africa.

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