Camilla Shearman, Blog Writer
While violence in the world’s newest state is often understood as ethnic conflict, women and girls from all ethnicities and communities in South Sudan are vulnerable to severe forms of gendered violence. Alongside nation-wide problems of displacement, extrajudicial killings, and destruction of home and livelihood, women and girls are particularly targeted by extreme violence in the form of rape, gang rape, abductions, and severe beatings. As an African Union Report on the situation in South Sudan makes clear through its descriptions of such widespread gender violence: the situation for South Sudanese women and girls is especially desperate.
Gender issues in South Sudan, however, are not confined to direct violence, but have also extended into the political sphere. President of South Sudan Salva Kiir’s recent decision to exclude women from his appointment of 28 new governors puts South Sudan’s “war on women” at a risk of becoming structural. Despite a constitutional provision of a 25% quota for women’s representation in the South Sudanese political system, President Salva Kiir excluded women candidates for the governor roles based on the reasoning that women are weak and likely to be kidnapped. This decision represents a worrying step down a path where the particularly gendered nature of South Sudan’s conflict could become institutionalised in the political system.
In response to Kiir’s decision, Peter Mayen Majongdit, head of the opposition People’s Liberal Party, urged female leaders in South Sudan to voice their concern. The opposition party’s criticism currently focuses on two aspects of Kiir’s decision: first, the unconstitutionality of Kiir’s reassignment of political boundaries into 28 states – rather than the 10 states agreed upon in the August peace agreement – and second: the exclusion of women from full political representation.
Women’s groups in South Sudan have responded to Kiir’s decision by demanding that the position of Speaker of the Transitional National Assembly be appointed to a female. With the executive branch of the government currently dominated by men (who occupy the positions of President, First Vice President and Vice President in the transitional government), the appointment of a female as Speaker of the Transitional Assembly would work to balance out the gender inequality in South Sudan’s political system. With the Transitional Assembly yet to be established, however, the outcome of the women’s coalition demand is not yet determined.
As South Sudan progresses in the establishment of its governing structures, it is important to consider the role of both men and women in the enforcement of the August peace agreement. While the conflict in South Sudan has resulted in extreme violence targeted at women and girls, the establishment of the transitional government is an opportunity to address structural violence against women. A consideration of gender equality is thus integral to the success of the August peace agreement in reducing violence in South Sudan.
STAND Canada recognizes the importance of discussing the genocidal legacy within our own borders. In light of that recognition, our Conference at UBC this weekend focuses on Promoting Reflexivity to Genocide of Indigenous Peoples. Visit the link here to find out more.