‘Sustainable peace’ will reduce Gender Based Violence, officials say

Gender & Equality
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[Yei, South Sudan, TCT] Under the theme ‘healthy relationships at homes, in schools and in the community’, with special focus on the young people, the sixteen days of activism to end gender based violence ran between November 25th to December 10th, and was celebrated in Yei Freedom square.

The event featured poems, riddles, songs and speeches, drawing together women, school children, elders, youth, churches, representatives from nongovernmental organizations and government officials.

Citizens, development partners, and government officials said if South Sudanese leaders bring a sustainable and prevailing peace in the country, cases of gender based violence would reduce.

During the sixteen days of activism for stopping gender based violence, officials and locals said the abuse of human rights has increased in times of conflict.

They outlined that some of the gender violence cases included rape, harassment, defilement, early pregnancies, forced and early marriages, school drop outs, and low women participation.

“We need love and peace in Yei”, a church based women group appealed in a song chosen for the celebration.

“We have committed sin. Our Father, God forgive us. We are mourning our children who have been killed, killed with pangas, slaughtered with knives and shot with guns. We are now left with widows, we are left with orphans”, they said.

Charity Dudu of Yei River County Women Association said rape cases have increased while other forms of gender violence have reduced since last July’s outbreak of clashes in Juba.

Dudu said many women ended up being raped due to lack of self defense especially with those rapists who are armed with guns.

She said women can personally use self defense to from being raped, stressing the need to shout and use any nearby tool to rescue.

“In the times of conflict, when women were trying to go out and garden, we find that the issues of rape cases have been more than we expected”, she said.

Dudu narrated the story of when someone tried to rape her while she was selling locally brewed alcohol in Khartoum during the war.

 “The male customer demanded for the alcohol. When I took it to him, he immediately grabbed me but I tried my best to avoid him and it worked. I got past him and sounded the alarm”, she recalled.

However, Dudu said many women and girls have been raped after been threatened with a gun, making it impossible to safely get away.

Most cases of gender based violence are committed by men, but there are a  few cases of women committing it, said UNHCR’s Mohammed Tahr, adding that any bitter relations with parents in a family can negatively affect their children.

“In a relationship, if there is sexual and gender based violence, that is not a healthy relation”, he said.

He called for an end to rape and other cases of gender related violence, saying UNHCR will continue to try to prevent and respond to Sexual Gender Based violence (SGBV).

“According to my understanding, today is the last day of the sixteen days of activism, but for UNHCR, it is not. We will continue to try to prevent gender violence and respond to the SGBV and IDP program”, he said.

After listening to the testimonies of ongoing gender-based and sexual violence, Mohammed used the occasion to call on South Sudanese to adopt the idea of resolving grievances through non-violent means.

“Also, when there are conflicts or issues, we should resolve them without using physical or psychosocial violence”, he appealed.

Yei River State Minister of Health and Environment, Kogo Manase Levi, said many cases of gender based violence, including sexual violence, are not reported to authorities due to traditional taboos and fear of stigma.

He recalled that many survivors of sexual violence resort to delaying or secretly seeking treatment at health facilities without reporting the incident at the time for immediate treatment which could have helped prevent infections or sexually transmitted diseases.

“There are a lot of cases of rape, but the challenge is we don’t get the report either because it is a taboo, or people feel to ashamed to tell anyone so we fail to report such cases. Why haven’t we brought attention to this issue? We have received a couple of genuine cases from ladies who said they had been raped”, he said.

According to the acting director of Yei state hospital Michael Lugala, insecurity has crippled efforts of extending social services to survivors of sexual abuse.

He also reiterated that many people also neglect or delay reporting sexual abuses to authorities.

In his closing remarks, State deputy governor Augustino Kiri Gwolo admitted that a prevailing peace would lower the amount of cases of gender based sexual violence in the state.

Meanwhile, he blamed other factors of sexual or gender based violence on traditional taboos of resolving cases of rape with compensation or marriage which are parallel to the demands of the law.

Kiri said the only way to prevent further occurrences is for South Sudanese authorities, citizens and development partners to work together to bring a lasting peace and give a clean environment to conduct massive awareness on cases that have and will happen.

“If there is peace, there will be no such reports of rape and looting somewhere. We need to work out collectively to find a sustainable peace so that all these violence is stopped”, he said.

With sexual survivors and their families feeling shamed, he said, human rights violations and abuse continue to occur.

He made these remarks after a similar incident which happened in Lutaya residential area of Yei town involving a rape of a woman was reported after seven days.

“We should also speak out against all the violence that has been done against them. If you keep silent, those abusers will keep pushing you down”, he warned.

Kiri said keeping silence will allow the crimes to continue and make it difficult for the authorities to hold the perpetrators accountable.

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