Two meetings have taken place in Juba this week, which may have gone without many people taking notice, but which are nonetheless very important, in as far as women’s empowerment in South Sudan is concerned.
One of these was the National High Level Dialogue on Sexual and Gender-Based Violence, while the other one was National Consultation on Goal 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals. These meetings brought together national government officials, international development partner and other stakeholders in the country’s affairs.
The goal of the first meeting was to strengthen the implementation of the South Sudan National Action Plan (2015-2020) on United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 on Women, Peace and Security and Related Resolutions, which, among other things, stresses the importance of women’s equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.
The second meeting’s goal was to build a common understanding of Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4)-Education 2030, to ensure high political commitment of the national government, to examine education policy priorities and challenges, and to identify emerging education themes of particular relevance to the country, among others.
These initiatives by the government are commendable since they show the government’s commitment to alleviate some of the challenges that women face on a daily basis. For instance, it has been reported that the recent skirmishes and violence that erupted in July have seen an upsurge in the number of reported cases of conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) against women and children.
In education, there exists huge inequalities between boys and girls. A World Bank report in 2012 estimated that only seven girls for every ten boys attend primary education, while five girls for every ten boys are enrolled in secondary education. Literacy rates for girls are 40% compared to 60% for boys.
Sustainable Development Goal 4 is one of the 17 SDGs adopted in 2015 by the UN to ensure inclusivity and equitability in learning. It aims to ensure that by 2030, all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education.
Cultural and social barriers that hinder the development and progress of women
Lack of education, and cultural and social barriers that hinder the development and progress of women will definitely lead to poverty, since women have no other way of uplifting themselves in a highly patriarchal society like the one existing in South Sudan, where the men control all family resources.
The outcomes of these two meetings are therefore crucial for the progress of women in the social, political and economic ladders in South Sudanese society. This is because ascendancy in any of these areas –social, political, economic - depends on educational achievements and the space women are accorded to achieve their God-ordained potential.
Gender-based violence against women and other forms of discrimination against women are sometimes based on cultural stereotypes that consider women as property that men use to achieve their own selfish ends. Any move to challenge such stereotypes is highly welcome.
If the government makes a commitment to implement UNSC Resolution 1325, and comes up with an action plan to implement SDG 4, then South Sudanese society will believe that men, who control political power, are ready to help their sisters and mothers to rise up and take their place in South Sudan society.
Our prayer is that the government will be courageous enough to implement the resolutions of these two meetings, so that the lot of womenfolk in the country is allowed to fully participate in the socio-economic development of the country.
Without education and with cultural and social barriers lying on their path, women will continue to be marginalized from mainstream society, and they will continue to languish in poverty because of lack of education and exposure to resources.