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Women Pave the Path to Peace in South Sudan

As South Sudan marks Peace Agreement Day this year, it stands on the brink of another deadly crisis – but women hold the key to a brighter future.

On 9th January 2005, Sudan’s 22-year civil war ended with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. This landmark deal between the northern government and rebel forces from the south paved the way for South Sudan’s full independence. But 16 years on, lasting peace remains elusive for the world’s youngest nation.

Conflict broke out again in 2013, and since then violence has killed nearly 400,000 people and forced more than 4 million from their homes. Armed groups routinely target civilians, burning villages and using rape as a weapon of war. Studies indicate that 65 per cent of women and girls in South Sudan have experienced physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime.

As South Sudan marks Peace Agreement Day in 2021, it stands on the brink of another deadly crisis. Ongoing conflict, combined with severe flooding and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, have created unprecedented levels of food insecurity. Last month, the UN warned that 6.5 million people in South Sudan were facing extreme hunger and the number could increase by almost a million by July.

Alice, a programme participant from Yei in South Sudan, sells fish from her market stall. Credit: Charles Atiki Lomodong
Alice, a programme participant from Yei in South Sudan, sells fish from her market stall. Credit: Charles Atiki Lomodong

Alice can now support herself and her family, pay her children’s school fees, and save some money for the future - as well as provide food for her community.

The transformative impact of women’s power

As women struggle to provide food for their families, they face increased risk of violence at the hands of their partners, fuelled by economic hardship and stress at home. Girls are forced to enter risky early marriages or drop out of school to lessen the burden on their families.

Yet, although women are bearing the brunt of conflict, instability, and food insecurity in South Sudan, they are also at the vanguard of peace and development. Investing in women’s power means helping them to access knowledge and resources to sustain their families and communities. It means sustainable livelihoods, stronger local economies, more food on the table, and more children in school. Women can create a ripple effect that sets future generations on a more resilient path.

Sarah, a programme participant from Yei in South Sudan. Credit: Charles Atiki Lomodong
Sarah, a programme participant from Yei in South Sudan. Credit: Charles Atiki Lomodong

Sarah returned to South Sudan in 2019 after living as a refugee in Uganda. She is looking forward to passing on the skills she learned to her children.

Alice is an example of the transformative power of women. When fighting broke out, she was forced to flee South Sudan and become a refugee in Uganda. After returning home, she joined Women for Women International’s 12-month programme as she worked to get back on her feet. The training has equipped Alice with the tools to rebuild her life and support those around her. Alice used her training stipend and savings from her Village Savings and Loan Association to start a business selling fish in the market. She can now support herself and her family, pay her children’s school fees, and save some money for the future - as well as provide food for her community.
 
Sarah, another South Sudanese woman who returned from Uganda, looks forward to transferring skills she learned during the programme to her children. Now that she can access her land again, she is planning to cultivate it and grow crops.
Pascalina, programme participant from Yei, South Sudan. Credit: Charles Atiki Lomodong
Pascalina, programme participant from Yei, South Sudan. Credit: Charles Atiki Lomodong

Pascalina is looking forward to starting her own business and earning money to give her two daughters and four sons better food, health, and an education.

Pascalina was unable to flee when armed groups attacked her village, raping women and chasing them off their farms. Separated from her husband, and with six children to look after, she was forced to wait out the violence. Since joining the programme, Pascalina has begun to address the trauma and build connections with other women. She says of herself and her classmates, “We became friendlier. We forgave ourselves.” Now, Pascalina is looking forward to starting her own business and earning money to give her two daughters and four sons better food, health, and an education.
 
As South Sudan marks Peace Agreement Day, while still mired in violence and insecurity, it is women like Pascalina, Alice and Sarah who offer a glimpse of a brighter future. While systematically excluded from decision-making, they are laying the foundations for long-term stability in South Sudan. After 16 years of failed peace-building and widespread suffering, it’s time for leaders to listen to women.
In 2016, a surge in violence in South Sudan forced us to suspend our programmes, for the security of our team and the women we served, but we were committed to returning. Photo: Charles Atiki Lomodong

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