Women in Bahr el Ghazal call for proper representation in government

Women leaders representing four administrative areas in the Bahr el Ghazal region are demanding full implementation of the 35% affirmative action provided for in the revitalized peace agreement, saying they are currently marginalised and under-represented at all levels of government.

The women from Aweil, Tonj, Twic and Gogrial voiced their demands at a two-day interactive forum in Kuajock, where they discussed their challenges and role in the peace process.

A woman representative from Gogrial decried the fact that women in her area hold only one position in a cabinet of 12 ministers.

Women of Gogrial are not happy about this. The number should be increased to be equal, or at least we should have three and, in each ministry, we should have a director, said Elizabeth Awal Akok, Chairlady for Gogrial State Women’s Union.

Organised by the UNMISS Civil Affairs Division, the forum created a platform for women to discuss and network among themselves; sharing experiences from the five-year conflict and its negative impacts; their role in conflict and peace processes, and participation in leadership and decision-making, including in public life

Unlike her Gogrial counterpart who sought equality in governance, Adhel Majok Athuai was more interested in advancing the role of women in the peace process.

What we are interested in as women is peace. We are not fighting but when our children are killed, we feel as if we are the ones who were killed, she said, citing the heavy toll conflict takes on women and children.

Traditional cultural practices were cited as curtailing women’s opportunities and participation in leadership. Apart from that, low education, poverty, lack of freedom of choice, limited access to resources, and differences in access to capacity building for rural and urban women, were also highlighted as factors limiting women’s effective involvement in leadership.

The chairlady of the Twic Women’s Association, Veronica Nyan-nut Valerio cited, as an example, that women in her area were for a long time restricted from sitting on the bench in traditional courts and from taking part in judicial processes.

With more awareness about women’s abilities and contribution, the Twic area government has now provided for 12 places for women to participate in the judiciary, with each county represented by two women, despite men protesting that level of women’s participation.

All these men refused. I am not happy because those seats were given to us as 35% affirmative action. Men in the counties are not at all convinced by the 35% seats given to us.

Ms. Angelina Thiep, a women’s activist from Aweil, said low levels of self-confidence cultivated by harmful traditional beliefs had eroded women’s ability to participate fully in leadership.

[Some] women don’t have self-confidence. Some women might be willing to participate but they are not 100% sure that they want to express their feelings, she said.

Participants at the forum noted that there was need to explore possible mechanisms that would ensure reforms in South Sudan, and bring to an end practices that have held back generations of women from effectively participating in important public domains, including the ongoing peace process.

The Gogrial area gender advisor, Achol Abraham, applauded the UN for organizing the interactive forum, saying it had enabled the sharing of a wealth of experience among South Sudanese women.

I thank UNMISS for a job well done. This sitting alone reflected peace. This interactive forum has provided experience for each woman to adopt positive advocacy towards women’s success in this country, she said, calling on women to remain steadfast in their fight for equality and equal representation.

No woman should give up on fighting for equal rights of women in this region; we are born equal as human beings and we have the right to perform all jobs related to human beings occupying this planet, she stressed.

The Officer-in-Charge of the UNMISS field office in Kuajok, Abimbola Olubukunola Aina, reaffirmed the commitment of UNMISS to supporting peace and reconciliation, as well as progress towards gender equality.

We will achieve 50/50 gender parity if we share ideas and issues affecting us as women. UNMISS is for peace and it will continue to support you to secure peace.

Source: UN Mission in South Sudan