No Simple Solutions: Women, Displacement and Durable Solutions in South Sudan
Conversations surrounding returns and relocations in South Sudan and the future of the POC sites are often framed around clear-cut distinctions between single push and pull factors. This framing – often based on the perceptions of international actors of what internally displaced people (IDPs) or refugees do or should think – ignores the fact that decisions to stay or to move are made based on complex motivations in contexts of high uncertainty and, especially for women, limited information.
This report seeks to bring the perceptions and experiences of displaced and returned South Sudanese women to the forefront of conversations around durable solutions, and further convey the complexities of the current context. As up to 80% of displaced households in South Sudan are female-headed, and as women and girls face distinct threats in displacement and return, the report also advocates for a more gender-sensitive and durable solutions-based approach to analysis, planning and programming around population movements in South Sudan. The findings are based on focus group discussions and key informant interviews in nine locations across six of the 10 former states in South Sudan.
Return – or not – is often a coping strategy. Rather than an end in themselves, movements should be seen as coping mechanisms that are frequently open-ended and non-linear. The vast majority of civilian movements continue to be linked primarily – not to changes in the political situation – but to careful considerations of where they and their families have the safest access to services and the best chances of survival. They often involve the splitting up of households or moving back and forth between displacement and locations of return or relocation. In many cases, women who have come back from neighbouring countries also noted insecurity or difficult conditions as the main factors driving their movement, and most were not making it ‘home’ but were instead effectively becoming IDPs in South Sudan.
There are no simple solutions in a complex context of needs, threats and political uncertainty. Women and girls face particular challenges in achieving durable solutions, which are not always fully understood or adequately reflected in planning and response. The most salient challenges raised by women included: sexual and gender based violence; access to housing, land and property; and extremely scarce resources. Indeed, the report notes that in some cases returns may be driving even higher needs, as finite resources are split to accommodate more people. Women also noted continued insecurity in many areas, raising threats of inter-communal violence, criminality and the continued presence of armed actors. Many internally displaced women also noted they were unwilling to return until they were convinced that the R-ARCSS would lead to lasting peace. Overall, the report concludes that – given the complexity of the current context – all actors must respond in a context specific, community-driven and gender-sensitive way, with an aim of permanently ending the cycles of displacement experienced by millions of South Sudanese.
Key recommendations from the report include the following:
All actors should:
• Take a durable solutions approach to returns and relocations and planning for the future of the POC sites. In the current context, achieving a durable solution should be viewed as developing transitional pathways, with an emphasis on tailored, case-by-case and location-specific approaches as well as a focus on (re)integration rather than merely physical return.
• Integrate gender considerations into planning and response and consider in a systematic way the ability of different segments of the population to access services as well as their distinct protection threats.
• Undertake special efforts to ensure the full participation – rather than consultation – of displaced persons in the planning and management of achieving durable solutions, including deliberate strategies to engage women and promote their role in decision-making.
The Government of South Sudan should:
• Urgently invest in building the necessary infrastructure and providing essential services.
• Along with other parties, reinvigorate progress on implementation of the RACSS ahead of the end of the pre-transitional period and ensure that the RARCSS leads to improved governance and sustainable peace in South Sudan.
Humanitarian actors should:
• Prioritize gendered contextual analysis and understanding of movement dynamics, motivations and intentions.
• Prioritize needs-based assistance over status-based assistance.
• Explore the importance of kinship networks and gender relations as key determinants of vulnerability.
• Improve accountability to affected populations. This should include the establishment of a specific, transparent and representative body to monitor assisted movements, gender-sensitive mitigation measures to address anticipated risks and effective, gender-sensitive community feedback mechanisms.
• Plan dedicated activities and investment specifically designed to challenge harmful gender norms and to address and prevent sexual and genderbased violence.
• Ensure strategies to extend its presence beyond the POC sites are based on transparent, gender-sensitive analysis of risk and in close consultation with communities, particularly women.
• Ensure its planning and protection assessments include a thorough gender analysis of and activities aimed at preventing and responding to threats of sexual and gender-based violence faced by women and girls inside POC sites and outside, with particular emphasis on sexual violence.
• Ensure that gender-sensitive responses to return, relocation and (re)integration are effectively funded, with a strong focus on local capacity