South Sudanese women constitute over 60 percent of the population in Africa’s newest state. This has not been an act of nature but the reminder of the devastating effects of the 50 years of independence struggles where thousands and thousands of South Sudanese men were killed on different front lines.

In the lead up to the signing of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, a donors conference was held in Oslo where South Sudanese women came out to put their priorities, concerns and challenges. The women highlighted the impact of war on their lives and erosion of their capabilites.  Among others they called for:

Recognizing the principle of 50% equal representation for women and men as enshrined in the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality and the IGAD Gender Policy, but cognizant of the context, situation and issues at stake, we recommend 30% as a minimum threshold for women’s representation at all levels and in all sectors. This includes:

Immediate inclusion of at least 30% representation by women in the Constitutionmaking and review processes.

A minimum representation of 30% for women in decision-making positions at all levels, including transitional institutions and all commissions established under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).

Support urgent programmes for addressing negative customs and practices which continue to foster women’s marginalization and exclusion in all spheres of life.

• Support and enhance women’s effective political participation and leadership at all levels, including within political parties with a strong and urgent support to capacity building for women’s leadership.

Finally in the CPA it was put that women would have a minimum of 25 percent representation in all leadership positions. In the National Assembly (parliament), the women representatives have passed this threshold but in many different State Assemblies the representation of women remains low. Also issues like lack of education hinder women from participation.

South Sudan women leader lists down priorities of women in the new state. Many women in South Sudan cannot write or read.

Coming from a country where the last twenty years have revolved around “those who fought” i can identify with the uphill task that women of South Sudan face on the eve of Independence. In a week-long meeting that I attended in Juba organised by Isis-WICCE for women leaders from five states, most women said that while women had fought alongside men in the battles, few women were being recognized. In a land where war heros rule, it’s important to see women who sacrificed a lot be given due respect. The women talked of different women’s brigades that fought in the liberation wars who  are no where to be seen after the agreement and the referendum that have led to the creation of the new country.

Of course its not only women who fought that should be recognised, most women kept the families together, looked after children amidst famine brought by the northern government’s scorched earth policy that was intended to make South Sudanese surrender.Women faced it all and ensured families and fighters had the food, many were tortured physically and sexually by both fighters and Khartoum government troops. This suffering and contributions should not be in vain. All these issues should be adequately addressed in the new state and women’s participation is paramount. The participation of 65 percent of the population in shaping the destiny of the new republic is vital and it must be ensured from the start. You can’t claim to work for women without them and President Salva Kiir Mayardit’s government should make this a priority in order to build a stable South Sudan.

One woman member of the State Legislative Assembly told the meeting that she was scared for women of South Sudan becoming like Eritrea  “where women fought alongside their men and once the country was created they were pushed back to the kitchen.”

Hanna Lona Bona, Member of Western Equatorial State Legislative Assembly recounts the referendum stories with a symbol for separation.

The women issued a communique which they took to the ministry of Gender, Child Affairs and Social Welfare listing top priorities ahead of the independence day celebrations. The Communique is also to inform those interested inn the development of the new nation.  Top of the list is to ensure the new constitution puts the minimum percent of women affirmative action at 30 percent. They also want to see major policies on girl child education and they even looked at a Uganda-like system where girls were given some additional points to increase their entry into high institutions of learning after years of war. Many said that most scholarships had not benefited women but had been used by those high up in the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement (SPL), the ruling party to take their children to good schools outside the country. One woman leader said: “To women, independence from the north is half independence, we must be able to remove other forms of oppression and marginalization from our own communities. ”

Below is the communique.

Women Communiqué to Government of Southern Sudan,

13th April 2011, Juba.

We, women from Central Equatorial, Western Equatorial, Eastern Equatorial, Upper Nile and Western Bahr el Ghazal states at a conference in Juba under the theme “Positioning Women’s Needs and Priorities in South Sudan” take this opportunity to congratulate all Southern Sudanese People for a successful exercise of a free, fair and peaceful referendum at this historic moment in the history of the Sudan.

AWARE that we gather here as a body of women and not divided by any party or tribal line, for the promotion of equality, peace, good governance and development for the people ofSouthern Sudan, 

APPRECIATING the affirmative action for promotion of women’s participation in politics and governance as enshrined in the Interim Constitution of Southern Sudan, Section 20 (1 to 4),

REALIZING however that this affirmative action has not been fully implemented,

RECALLING the promise of the President of the Government of Southern Sudan H.E. Salva Kiir Mayardit to increase the representation of women in politics and governance to 30% in conformity with the global minimum of a critical mass of women representation,

RECOGNIZING the worldwide interest and support which the Referendum has generated and the existence of the International Conventions and Security Council Resolutions, in particicular UNSCRs 1325, 1820, 1888 and 1889 in reference to Women, Peace and Security,

DISTURBED that high maternal and infant mortality and HIV/AIDS continue to be a danger and a threat to the lives of the people ofSouthern Sudan,

DEEPLY CONCERNED that although women constitute more than 60 per cent of the population they remain largely an untapped resource thereby denying the nation their potential, talents and wisdom for its development. 

TROUBLED that despite the fact that there has been some improvement in the lives of the women in the last five years the bulk of their concerns, interests and needs are still relegated to the periphery in the development process of the nation. 

NOTING that the majority of the votes in the referendum came from the women,

MINDFUL that the Referendum  to the women meant not only freedom from the North but freedom from any form of oppression, exploitation, marginalization, discrimination and any other constraints affecting women, 

EMPHASIZING that secession to the women means unity, peace, security and development forSouth Sudan.

NOW WE THEREFORE,

URGE the government and all the political parties to implement the minimum 25% Affirmative Action at all levels of leadership within their parties;

WE CALL upon the President and the Government of Southern Sudan to translate his promise into reality by providing for the 30% women representation at all levels in the interim constitution which is currently being reviewed;

WE DEMAND Peace and Security for all the people ofSouthern Sudan, in particular women and vulnerable groups;

WE CALL for creation of the special basket funding for women to uplift the economic status of women;

WE URGE the Government of Southern Sudan to effectively utilize the large untapped potential of women in all sectors;

In line with the above demands we have identified key areas of concern which must be given priority within the governance and development process ofSouthern Sudan.  The key areas are:

  1. Democracy and Good Governance
  2. Peace and Security
  3. Basic social services
  • Education
  • Health
  • HIV/AIDS
  1. Economic Empowerment and Poverty Reduction
  2. Elimination of Gender-based violence
  3. Capacity building and institutional mechanisms for the achievement of Gender equality and Women’s Empowerment.

It is only when these concerns are fully integrated within the development plans ofSouth Sudanthat the potential of women would be fully tapped for the development of this Nation.  Remember development without women is not sustainable development. 

We women gathered here today, have resolved that these issues of concerns be transformed into a concrete vision of the women of the Republic of South Sudan