Amid growing challenges, Joppa community leaders laud prospects of new peace deal

Women leaders in Joppa near Juba have added their voices to the many calling for stakeholders at all levels of society to pay special attention to fulfilling the needs of women and girls when the new peace accord is implemented.

We die from treatable diseases such as malaria fever, typhoid and diarrhea, yet there are no culverts and bridges across our streams for cars to intervene quickly during security or health emergencies, says Mary Matayo, a resident of Joppa, who nevertheless expressed her joy over the arrival of peace in her country.

Mary and her female friends said most that challenges facing women are compounded by ill-proclaimed cultural practices, beliefs and customs that put females at the lowest level of importance simply for being women.

Their call for women-specific concerns to be addressed was made at a peace forum organized by the Gender Affairs Unit of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), which brought together about 45 women leaders to explore ways of ending sexual and gender-based violence.

The session also helped pinpoint obstacles hindering the progress of women, including a hitherto failure to live up to the inclusion of 35 per cent women at all levels of government, as stipulated in the revitalized peace agreement.

Yet security seems to be at the top of the list of priorities.

We want to see lasting peace so that we can live together peacefully forever, so that we can sleep outside our houses in the hot season like this, and so that our children can go back to school, Mary Matayo says.

Another Joppa resident, Lili Abraham Duku, said it was the first time for her to understand the mandate of the UN peacekeeping mission in her country.

We were once in darkness, but your lessons have opened us up to the rest of the world. Not all of us are here, but we shall now go with our mouths open to help educate the rest on what we have acquired from this forum, she proclaimed. I have learnt that division is bad, and that unity is powerso from today onwards, we shall live as one community, one tribe and one nation.

She added that her community is yet to witness tangible fruits of the peace agreement, but is hopeful that this will change.

So is definitely Gladys Jambi, an UNMISS Gender Affairs Officer present at the knowledge-producing event, and she pointed her finger firmly at the male half of the population.

As women and girls are the most vulnerable members of any setting, bad men or institutions are exploiting their defenselessness night and day during war, at home and at the workplace to achieve their selfish desires, says Gladys Jambi, UNMISS Gender Affairs Officer, adding that not making the most of women’s abilities and skills, not least when it comes to the area of conflict resolution, will hold back the development of the country.

Listing some of the social ills making it difficult for women to realize their full potential, Ms. Jambi mentioned sexual violence, molestation, women trafficking, a lack of social and political representation, and alarming rates of domestic violence, including forced marital sex, which also constitutes rape.

Hellen Turkia, Director of the Lazor Women Development Organization, a partner of the peacekeeping body, asked women to be the ears and eyes in their communities. By fearlessly reporting, in a timely fashion, incidents of harmful cultural practices, Ms. Turkia believes they can contribute to ending these problems.

If not taken care of [reported], it can kill as the stigma [suffered by victims of sexual violence and harassment] affects those around it much more than if these cases are rightfully reported, Ms. Turkia said.

Pastor Paul Issa, who also spoke at the event, pointed out that most cases of domestic and sexual violence are perpetrated by people, especially close relatives, under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

It degrades human integrity, hampers progress in society, sours relationships and plants a bitter seed of division and hatred, he concluded.

Source: UN Mission in South Sudan