SUDAN: A More Gender Representative Leadership

Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Eastern Africa
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Reconstruction and Peacebuilding

As the general elections scheduled for April 2010 draw nearer in Africa's largest country ravaged by a long drawn war, the scramble for political positions is rife as women struggle to make their presence felt.

Despite the fact that it has been a difficult battle for African women to get into political leadership due to factors such as the patriarchal society that is unwilling to accept female leadership, the south Sudan story is even more complicated.

Sabina Dario Lokolong, the Speaker of Eastern Equatoria State-and the first female speaker, points out that the greatest obstacle for women lies within and among themselves.

"The competition among women themselves is destructive; take for instance when there are positions to be filled, rather than women joining forces to put their best person forward they would rather compete.

"In the end men carry the day, politics of divisiveness driven by this nature of competitiveness is harmful to the gender agenda within the political arena."

The perception that women are not fit to lead, the speaker says, has always been there and we therefore should not spend too much time bemoaning the fact "rather efforts should be channelled towards changing this grave misconception".

Her sentiments are echoed by Agnes Lawrence Odwar, a member of the Interim Legislative Assembly representing the Torit County, Eastern Equatoria State.

"The destructive criticism and suspicion among women eyeing positions of power may well continue to be our down fall, there is therefore need for us to focus on a collective agenda that speaks to the need for an engendered democratic process," Odwar says.

She said the focusing on "what is in it for me" agenda will always be the biggest obstacle.

In a country where women are in the majority according to the United Nations agencies, currently estimated to stand at 60 percent, it is unfortunate that women remain sidelined in mainstream political leadership.

Even more unfortunate is the agenda of wanting political positions based solely on being female without solid political messages that reflect a capacity to lead people, which most of these women bring to the table of political negotiations.

Lomong Dan, a social worker says that "sadly, most of these women want to be elected because women can lead too, that to me is a very retrogressive way of changing a patriarchal society".

"Further, most of these women would rather engage in emotive politics-provoking public sympathy rather than solidifying their positions by making speeches that reflect what the south Sudan people want to hear," Dam says.

He therefore adds that since misery and destruction has characterised the lives of the south Sudanese, there is a need to cut a figure that symbolises hope and the much needed change free from political rhetoric.

Inevitably, the democratic political orientation of south Sudan, as is in many African countries, greatly affects how women are valued as actual and or potential political leaders.

"Since the socialisation has symbolised the head as being patriarchal-the leader is male," explains Rose Ibalu who works for a religious organisation.

"These perceptions have become our political values that consequently guide our political behaviour and it is on these values and behaviour that we build a sense of democracy, women therefore need to change how they approach leadership if this values are to reflect gender equality."

To change these already entrenched values, Ibalu explains will mean women have to consciously make a paradigm shift in the way they handle themselves. "Which should be first of all as leaders and secondly as women."

This aspect of women seeming to belabour their gender has been viewed by critics as a mask to hide the fact that they have no other agenda to put on the table as Peter Ngong, a journalist, explains.

"The Affirmative Action has been a much needed measure to correct a social injustice, consequently, women have gotten attention from the society as leaders, but now the same society demands that women stand up for themselves.

"The perception of leadership in the society is of a strong character, one that is able to command a following and make sound decisions that affect people's lives, if women want to be elected just because they are women, the fight for more political space for them will last longer than is necessary."

However, the minister of gender and social welfare, Hellen Marsali Boro, cautions that women should not seek to be like their male counterparts in order to be respected as leaders.

"Women are in their own right leaders and should therefore seek to harness all their energies towards building on their strengths by keeping themselves informed about people's needs and how they can speak to those needs.

"This way, they are able to address certain gaps in the society and with time their work will speak for themselves."

Her sentiments are echoed by Rachael Akii, a business woman. "Political esteem for women will truly come when they (women) learn to speak to the heart of the society and in South Sudan it basically means carrying the voice that reflects a desire to reconstruct that which was destroyed in the 22-year long conflict.

"When women put aside their gender and tell the society that they are leaders hungry to transform a country now rising from its knees, therein people will find a sense of hope to cling to."

This, she says, is not easy but if there was ever a time that it needed to be done it was now, "women need to say in explicit terms what value they can add in the lives of the south Sudan people as we work towards the new Sudan".

Lokolong emphasises that although it is unfortunate that more is demanded from women leaders compared to their male counterparts, "within these difficulties are numerous opportunities for women to prove that they have what it takes to guide and lead a society".

This, she says, is because change has never come easy and now that south Sudan is in a transformative mood, women should adjust accordingly and push for a more gender representative form of leadership which is the only way that Southerners can speak of a democratic form of governance.

"We might have the autonomy we seek from the northern region but if the leadership remains grossly masculine then we can never speak of being independent, from the north perhaps but not from ourselves," says Akii.