Equality is essential, the time has come for South Sudanese women to take a leading role in their communities. According to Nyakun Diu, she said “Believe me, if women are given the opportunities we deserve, we will live in a peaceful country.”
That was the passionate and meaningful message from Nyakun Diu, the leader of a women’s group in Bentiu, who was speaking at a special forum organized by UNMISS to promote the global 16 Days of Activism campaign against gender-based violence.
She urged political leaders to increase women’s participation in the government and all decision-making processes.
“South Sudan did not achieve its independence without women’s participation. We have supported the liberation struggle with our all resources. Our husbands have also sacrificed their souls for this country. For these reasons, we deserve the same opportunities as men,” she said.
“All the county commissioners in Unity state are male. This means there is no equality in the government of South Sudan. This is a serious violation of women’s rights, and the situation needs to be improved.”
At least 100 women leaders, community and traditional leaders, and youth representatives participated in the dialogue designed to encourage people to speak up and take action against gender-based violence.
The deputy chairperson of a camp for displaced people in Bentiu, Mary Nyalony Nguen, also had a strong message for community and political leaders, calling on them to enact new laws to provide stronger protection for women and girls.
“The women of Unity have suffered a lot during conflict,” she said. “Many have been raped but nobody is talking about this. We want the leadership of this country to hold the perpetrators of sexual and gender-based violence accountable.”
A traditional chief in Bentiu, Gatdet Koryom, pledged his commitment to work with the state leadership to end all forms of violence against women and girls.
“You have identified domestic violence as well as early and forced marriage as the issues that are affecting women here,” he said. “We will work hard together to end these issues.”
He also shared the knowledge he gained during a visit to Rwanda in 2016 for discussions on how to prevent communal conflict and gender-based violence.
“We realized that every member of the society has a role to play in ending all forms of violence,” he said. “All of us have the responsibility to speak up about issues affecting women and girls in our community and we should always advocate for women’s rights wherever we go.”
Gender-based violence is another challenge women in South Sudan face. An estimated 475,000 women and girls in the country are at risk of violence. Additionally, over half of women aged 15 to 24 have endured gender-based violence.
South Sudanese women who have experienced violence also tend to be impacted by stigma, which is a barrier to receiving proper care.
The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) aims to work with the South Sudan government, along with the Global Fund and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to support women by targeting gender based-violence through support programs.
Awareness of women’s rights issues in South Sudan is a step toward improving the overall quality of life of women in the country. Gender disparity affects many aspects of women’s lives in South Sudan, including education, health and risks of violence.
Therefore, addressing issues disproportionately affecting women in South Sudan is imperative.