Thursday, February 20, 2014

South Sudan: All We Ask for Is Peace - Voices of Women from South Sudan

Source: UN Women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

As the head of UN Women, one important part of my job is listening to women and girls and amplifying their voices on the world stage.

I am sending this dispatch from Juba, the capital of South Sudan, where I had the opportunity to meet with displaced women who are bearing the brunt of conflict and raising their voices for peace.

Since the recent conflict erupted in December 2013, it is estimated that more than 872,000 people have been displaced; forced to leave their homes, in fear for their lives. To provide food, water, health, and safety to the 3.2 million people who are affected, the international aid community appealed for USD $1.27 billion. So far, they have received just 18 per cent of what is required, and there is a shortfall of more than USD $1 billion.

Increased funding is urgently needed. More than 75,000 people are seeking shelter inside UN bases around the country, including 27,000 in the base here in Juba.

I spoke to women who had left their homes and belongings behind and are struggling to care for their children. They told me about their suffering, the violence they had endured, the children and husbands they had lost or been separated from. They told me about the lack of food, water and medication and the lack of safe spaces for them and their children to receive some form of education. They told me about disease and death. And they told me about their yearning for peace for South Sudan.

While partners are scaling up access to water, health, sanitation and nutrition support to avert a looming public health disaster, durable solutions must be found, including restoration of confidence in the rule of law, so that people can return to their homes when they feel safe to do so.

Many women here are pregnant, lactating, or caring for infants, and they face serious health risks due to lack of nutrition. Displaced people here live under thin plastic sheeting, and they worry that when the rainy season comes, they will not be protected from the elements.

The conflict in South Sudan has exacerbated the poverty and violence experienced by women. Eight out of 10 women are illiterate, and the rate of violence against women and girls is extremely high. The most recent study found that as many as 40 per cent are affected by physical or sexual violence.

Despite hardship and displacement, the women I met with are keen to rebuild their country, and to focus on self-improvement and opportunities to generate income in the future. South Sudan has one of the most progressive constitutions in the world in which the rights of women are guaranteed. Thanks in part to advocacy and the South Sudan Women for Peace, at the talks that began last week in Ethiopia, both parties included women their negotiating teams.

In addition to meeting women, I also met with President Salva Kiir, and key Ministers, UN agencies, and women leaders. We discussed women’s full participation in the political talks, and the need to prioritize women’s needs and rights in the political negotiations and the humanitarian and security response.

As one of the displaced women told me, “All we ask for is peace so that we can go back to our lives. We want our children to go home, to school and to get nutritious food and proper health services.”

These demands and hopes must be heard. Any lasting solution to the crisis in South Sudan requires the leadership participation of women.

With safety, human rights and empowerment, women can claim their equal place in society and help realize a more peaceful and prosperous future. Read more about my visit: