On 15 December 2013, South Sudan woke up to an alleged coup by former Vice-President Riek Machar. Since then, there have been serious tensions between army units loyal to President Salva Kiir of South Sudan and those loyal to former Vice-President Riek Machar.
Mama Cash’s grantee ‘Support the Empowerment of Women and their Rights for Development Organization’ (STEWARD ORG) works in some of the areas affected by the conflict. The group reports that since the beginning of the conflict, they have received over 10,000 people in their office compounds looking for protection. STEWARD ORG is working with the UN and other organisations to provide support to the affected population. We have contacted STEWARD ORG’s Programme Officer Josephine Chandiru Drama to learn more about the current situation in the country.
How is the current situation in South Sudan? Are the peace negotiations having any impact?
“Negotiations between the two rival groups started already in the neighboring capital of Addis Ababa in Ethiopia with the help of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). However, both sides are pressing for unprecedented demands from each other.
Many people are still fleeing their homes as the fighting – as well as fruitless bilateral negotiations in Addis – continue. Others are crossing to the neighboring countries of Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia. The tensions have escalated into war between government troops and a loose alliance of ethnic militia forces and mutinous army commanders. The fighting initially started in Juba, Central Equatoria State, and eventually spread to other towns like Bor and Bentiu in Jonglei and Unity States respectively. According to the UN, 350,000 people fled their homes to escape from the clashes and thousands have been killed.”
Are women involved in the negotiation process?
“I have personally made contacts and attended one meeting with some members of the peace negotiation team based here in Nairobi on behalf of STEWARD ORG, with the view of advocating for inclusion of women in the on-going peace talks. At least one meeting each has been held in Nairobi, Kampala and Juba for this purpose by various South Sudanese women groups, to raise funds for this negotiation process and select women to join the Addis peace talks. Concept notes have already been written and submitted to the Inter-Governmental Authority for Development (IGAD) to support the women peace negotiation process, but no feedback to date. Essentially, the representation of women in the peace process is being delayed due to lack of funds.”
What’s the impact of this conflict on civilians, and on women in particular?
“We were involved in an Initial Rapid Needs Assessment (IRNA) done on 7 January 2014 in Nimule, according to which there are about 20,781 internally displaced persons (IDPs) who have also arrived in this location. The number is expected to rise in the coming days. The majority of the displaced persons in this location are women and children.
During the IRNA, some of the IDPs spoken to reported to have fled their homelands due to increased violence resulting from the atrocities inflicted by the rebels. Many testified that they witnessed their women being raped; children and relatives beheaded or shot dead, their houses burned down, their animals and properties looted. There’s a general deteriorating condition and human suffering observed among the IDPs as they fled their homes without carrying any belongings including food thus exacerbating hunger and shelter situation.
Many of the women have also reported their children and husbands missing. They do not know whether these family members are alive or have already been killed. This has caused them psychological trauma and suffering from the onset let alone how they are going to survive in this new home. The women also continue losing their husbands, sons, brothers, in-laws directly to this conflict, some of whom were the sole bread winners to their families.”
Are you planning any specific activity in response to this crisis?
“There’s need for STEWARD ORG to initiate counselling and provide psychological support among these groups of IDPs as a way of slowly settling them down. There’s also need for STEWARD ORG to conduct frequent visits to these IDPs to monitor their situation and ensure that as they wait to grab normal life via resettlement and other support, the rights of women and girls are not further abused. In addition, we’ll collaborate with other partners to strengthen monitoring of violence among the displaced women and girls. We intend to sensitize displaced women and girls on the availability of safety nets and mechanisms- where to report and what to do in case their lives are threatened. STEWARD ORG will hold a joint dialogue between the host communities and IDPs on the protection needs of women and girls etc.”
Our grantee STEWARD ORG mobilises, trains, and supports women leaders at the community level, and raises awareness among community leaders, police, the army, and other security agents on women’s human rights, with the goal of eradicating gender-based violence in all its forms. The group has also a strong focus on promoting women’s access to justice and operates gender-based violence desks in different districts of South Sudan. The group has received Mama Cash’s funding since 2012, and it is currently in its first year of a multi-year grant aimed at promoting sustainable access to justice for vulnerable women and girls.