John Garang, the revered late leader of the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement, once said that women are the “the poorest of the poor and the marginalised of the marginalised”. As the reality of an independent South Sudan approaches, the region’s women have vowed they will not remain second class citizens.

Margaret Michael Modi, the head of women’s affairs in Central Equatoria State, cast her vote on the first day.

“The first day (of the vote) we did not sleep. I went to the polling station and women were crying as they cast their vote,” she told IPS over the phone from the southern capital, Juba.

“For us the separation will be liberation. For so long, we were subjected to Islamic laws which limited our freedom in most ways, and coupled with the traditional values of the south, [women] remained at the bottom of society.”

South Sudanese women living in Uganda approach a polling station in Kampala on Sunday 9 January. Photo by Jimmy Siya.

Like many others, Modi expects that in an independent South Sudan, women will be in a better position to challenge limits on their freedom rights.

Mary Nawai Martin, a member of south Sudan’s Legislative Assembly from Ibba County, in Western Equatoria State, is optimistic that separation will bring in a new era of respect for women’s rights.

“Women are eager for separation. There’s no woman I have met who didn’t say they voted for the separation. During the rule by the north, women had the least rights, they were the worst victims of the war,” she said.

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