Power to Women in Peace Processes

Women's Organisations Cooperating in Realising Resolution 1325

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Rita Martin thinks that women should represent important national issues in the new South Sudan government.
FOTO: Anna Erlandson

Women Must Gain Real Influence in South Sudan Government

South Sudan has been an interesting and exciting place right from the year 2010 to date. We have witnessed the dynamic election process, the overwhelming and emotional referendum period, the declaration of the newest nation on earth and finally the announcement of the new government of South Sudan.

EVE Organization has been part of the whole process; we conducted civic education in both the elections and the referendum. We have also been part of observers’ rights until the new constitution was passed. Needless to say, throughout the election and referendum period, we have witnessed a huge representation of women in the whole process and I’d like to say: “Congratulations to all women in South Sudan for having led the country to where it is today.” 
 

Doubts about the new government
After the declaration of the new nation, it took a while before the new government was announced. It had finally become the talk of the town. Political parties wondering whether their parties would get more seats, different tribal communities not sure whether it would be a broad-based government or limited to specific tribes. Women civil society organizations wondering whether the 25 percent quota would be granted. 

Immediately after the announcement of the government, we at EVE became staticians, calculating the percentages of women in the government and “wow” we were excited with the outcome and I was thinking to myself: “YES WE CAN.”

5 women ministers which is 17 percent
10 deputies which is 37 percent
more than 95 women in the parliament.

But was it a victory?

But then to my surprise my colleague Lavina said: “This is not fair! Why are women not given core ministries? I had expected to see women appointed as Minister of Defense, Finance, Foreign Affairs or Interior Affairs!”

We all started laughing…

But then I remembered what one of the women MP:s told me in one of the meetings we had. “Women in the parliament are not there to represent women issues – but bigger national issues. We are not appointed to represent you, but we have a job to do.”

Will women be able to make a difference?

It then striked me what she had said. I started thinking what difference does it make if we have many women in the government, but only a few represent women? Whose agenda do they push? Can they all stand together to push for a national action plan for UNSCR 1325, 1820, and other women conventions? Can they stand up and outlaw early marriages, the hiking bridal prices that is one of the causes of conflicts or can they push for a free basic education for girls?

The question that I personally pose to myself and maybe other civil society organizations might also me wondering about is whether the 25 percent women representation quota really address women issues in South Sudan or if it is for the political parties to have an alibi.

There is already a gap between the ordinary women and the women at decision making positions in the government. The ordinary South Sudan woman does not think that appointing more women in the government makes a difference in her life. She still struggles to raise her kids, work hard to be able to send her kids to school and at the same time make ends meet. Some also struggle with the violence that men inflict on them and still they don’t have an idea of how to raise their cases. There are still women who are being raped, forced to marry and they do not see any light at the end of the tunnel. There are still women in South Sudan who commit suicide just to avoid forced or arranged marriages.

Link top politicians with grassroots

We, at EVE are advocating for a joint effort where the two categories could join efforts and push forward issues affecting women in South Sudan such as:

  • bridge the gap between grassroots and women at decision making positions
  • since South Sudan is now a member of the UN, push for a national action plan for  women conventions
  • address the issues of the increasing violence against women in South Sudan which in most cases is the cause of violence in some communities in South Sudan – women in South Sudan should not be taken as properties and used as a stimuli for conflict, but as agents of peace
  • reducing the illiteracy rate of women in South Sudan. To date women as young as 18 years are illiterate in both English and Arabic; this makes information flow difficult unless a third party is involved. These factors contribute to the increase of the illiteracy rate and should be identified and addressed.
  • carry out different socio-economic surveys on women to identify gaps and address them
  • organise an annual women conference to review progress achieved

We at EVE Organization are grateful to see well educated women at top positions. However, both women in top positions and the ordinary South Sudan woman needs the support of each other if we want to see change in South Sudan. Since this is a new dawn, a new beginning is also required. Otherwise, whatever number we might have in the government won’t serve the purpose of the 25 percent quota. It risks being about making the political parties look better, and not help women influence the state of affairs.

Rita Martin