On a recent trip to Juba I attended a conference of South Sudan Women leaders from six states hosted by Isis-Women’s International Cross Cultural Exchange. At the meeting women were discussing the way forward in the new country and they centered on how to help women get their rightful place in different sectors and governance of the new nation. I met Hannah Bona Nimaya, a representative in the Western Equatoria State Legislative Assembly where she chairs a committee on public service. Western Equatoria State borders DRC and Central African Republic. Nimaya has been working with different women’s groups to ensure women participate in governance. She has also worked with a network of traditional birth attendants to give them more skills to handle deliveries in place where health centers are mostly just buildings with no medical staff or drugs.
Nimaya told me about what the different issues facing South Sudanese ahead of independence and what she expects from a new state.
You recently voted in the referendum where you decided to move away and have a new country of your own, what does this mean to you as Sudanese woman?
As a woman, a mother and a member of parliament in southern Sudan who was born and grew up during war, this is a historic point that we have longed for. During the referendum we had to move to access villages that have no roads. Due to my work in training women in maternal health I was voted to represent my people in the state parliament. So during the referendum I had to work hard to put the message of cessation across. We moved door to door to mobilize people and ensure that everybody has registered for voting and it happened and I appreciate them.
It’s less than two months to the Independence Day celebration on July 09, what do you think should be priorities of the government in the new country?
One of the priorities for women in southern Sudan is security. There’s still fighting in some parts and for us in Western Equatoria State we still have a problem of the Ugandan rebel group the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Most of the people fear of moving because they think they will be killed.
We lack proper health facilities. Women are still suffering, women, the mortality rate and mobility rates are still high. We have many counties that do not have adequate health facilities, all centers were completely destroyed during the war and have never been renovated and the services there are completely poor. Some of the hospitals are empty so it’s one of the priorities that people have to be given good health services.
The education system has to be improved especially now that we are becoming a new country. The education system in Southern Sudan has to be upgraded and the standards have to be improved, so that education services are given to our children equally.
The other issue is women’s representation in governance. The number of women holding positions in decision making is not reasonable at all. We are more than 60 percent of the population but we don’t feature much is administration of this country and its resources. The 25% which was put in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) is yet to be implemented at national and state levels. In many states the 25% is far from being achieved. I am not happy when the men say we were given that percentage. Who gave it to us? It should be seen as our right because we are part and parcel of the story of the liberation of South Sudan. Our contribution to the liberation for the last 50 years was way greater than 25% so we can’t just be given 25%. Women have to be appointed in key ministries that deliver services in key areas and government needs to ensure that a lot of resources are put in the service delivery ministries. Women should be heading such ministries because women have a heart to ensure that the services go to the people.
In Southern Sudan there is a high rate of illiteracy especially among women. And even when the women are well educated they are still marginalized. We want women supported to go back to school so women’s capacity is increased whether in business, politics or education. As a country we will have to devise means to tackle gender based violence. Women still face f rape and forced marriages. For poor families, a girl child is seen as only good for bringing wealth to family by being married. We need our government to address these issues.
What’s your dream of the new country?
I want to see the level of service delivery improved. Regardless of our positions I just want to see us as one people, dealing with tribalism, nepotism and corruption because if we don’t do this from the start our country will not progress.
I think that the opportunity we have is that we will own our country and we can decide for ourselves to discuss and address our own issues unlike before when we used to wait for resources and someone to help. Another opportunity is that people are ready to receive their new country and become participants we must take good advantage of this mood.
What do you want to see organizations involved in development do in your community?
We need to see health interventions especially reproductive health. This is often ignored yet people coming out of war like us have major complications to address. During war women were raped many never had any medical services before therefore I want to see reproductive health given as much attention as other areas. I have worked with Traditional birth attendants (TBAs) to train them with a grant by Isis-WICCE. We have no hospitals yet we have to address maternal health issues immediately.
Although the TBAs have no much education, they have been offering these services and if given help and offer good services especially since there very few midwives around. They have really helped our women because now women can receive counseling, they are tested for HIV to reduce mother to child transmission all because we used TBAs who they trust. So far we have trained 45 birth attendants and given then new skills and also increased referrals even thought the health centers we are referring them are not that equipped.
I also need to see our people trained in different peace building mechanisms. Of course we have local systems which have worked for centuries but we need to know in cases where they have failed we can borrow a leaf from neighbouring countries that have also suffered war in the past. People still have trauma, there have been clashes with different tribes so we must address these issues to make sure our country is stable. My rough estimate would be that 80% of the women I know in my area face some level of trauma. Many lost their husbands, they are not able to support their children in school, and they have land issues which affect their livelihoods. Any development must address people’s immediate needs.