The women of South Sudan played an instrumental role in the country's liberation struggle and will continue to make sure their voices ring loud and clear as the world's youngest nation seeks to restore peace and stability amid the recent conflict, women leaders stressed today at the United Nations in New York.
“Peace and stability will not be achieved without the full participation of women at every stage of the process,” said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women).
Speaking at an event held on the margins of the annual session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, she noted that two and a half years ago, the world celebrated with the South Sudanese people as they won independence after decades of bitter conflict.
“We celebrated the entry of the Republic of South Sudan into the United Nations with a hope for a bright, prosperous and peaceful future for this new nation. Today, the world is looking on with sadness and concern as the south Sudanese again endure the hardship of conflict, violence and displacement.”
Yet three months ago, fighting broke out between pro- and anti-Government forces, plunging the country into a crisis that subsequently uprooted over 700,000 people from their homes, including 77,000 who have sought refuge at UN bases.
Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka, who visited South Sudan a month ago, said she met women who appealed to both sides to return to the peace table as a matter of urgency, to renew the commitment to a ceasefire and to find a political solution that allows the displaced to return home and for South Sudanese to continue to build their country in peace.
She recalled a “very moving moment” as she arrived at the airport, where she was greeted by nearly 100 women wearing T-shirts that said, ‘South Sudan Women for Peace.'
“Women need access to decision-making, to shape the planning process, and to ensure their priorities are not ignored. Peace-making and peace-building processes need women's energies and talents in order to succeed,” the Executive Director stressed.
Emphasizing a point she made in her presentation to the UN Security Council on Tuesday, Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka said that to be sustainable, negotiations must reach beyond the confines of the two parties to the conflict. Equal representation of women at the talks, a robust role for civil society, and gender expertise and analysis are needed.
Several women from South Sudan highlighted the need to ensure that women's voices are heard and that they are included in all aspects of the peace process, noting that the people of the country have suffered too long and deserve to live in peace.
“Enough is enough,” declared Betty Ogwaro, a member of the South Sudan National Legislative Assembly. “We want peace. We want to enjoy development. We want those bullets which are being shot now to be turned into hoes, into tractors, into fertilizers… We don't want any more suffering of the women and the people of South Sudan.”
She and her compatriots at the event stressed the need to ensure an end to the current violence, respect for the cessation of hostilities agreement, constructive dialogue, and increased humanitarian assistance to the displaced, particularly with the onset of the rainy season.
Furthermore, they underscored the need to ensure that women are included in the mediation effort being led by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the peace talks in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, and the monitoring and verification teams.
There is also a need, Rita Martin, Director of EVE Organization for Women Development based in Juba, to include women's civil society groups in the peace process to ensure that matters that concern women are put on the table and discussed.
“South Sudan is a young country. We have a teething problem but we hope that with your support we will overcome that and really have a prosperous country,” she added.
Rose Bol Weet, Gender Advisor for the South Sudan Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Commission, made a similar appeal as she called on women around the world not to forget about South Sudan and to stand shoulder to shoulder with them to ensure peace.
“Don't leave us alone. You guys were with us when this child called South Sudan was born. You were the midwives of this child. Let us let this child grow... We need another chance for peace in South Sudan.”