Sexual violence against women in South Sudan, especially inside IDP camps, has reached appalling proportions. We asked Josephine Chandiru Drama from STEWARDWOMEN, what is needed to stop the suffering. She came with 10 measures that can change the lives of women in South Sudan. And others who are stuck in camps around the world.
70% of displaced women are raped
Up to 70% of the women and girls who seek protection in camps in South Sudan, say they have been raped, according to UN investigators. Many of the perpetrators are soldiers and police officers. Their mandate is to protect, not to rape. Near to none of them is brought to court.
Seeking solutions? Listen to women
This gruesome figure not only epitomizes the dire reality in the world’s youngest nation and the effect of armed conflict on women, it also illustrates the total failure of state’s obligation to protect its citizens and the shortcomings of international peacekeepers stationed in the country.
To turn the tide and protect women from harm, South Sudanese women’s organizations are working on the ground, 24/7. They have been doing so for years. But they are underfunded, understaffed and overwhelmed by the scale of suffering. In a country with 1.7 displaced women and men, seeking to survive war, extreme poverty and sexual abuse, there comes no end to their work.
One of the women committed to end gender based violence in her country is Josephine Chandiru Drama, program director of STEWARDWOMEN. This South Sudanese organization is supported by Cordaid and the Dutch government. It is also part of the strategic partnership Cordaid has with the Dutch ministry of Foreign Affairs (Capacitating Change: empowering people in fragile contexts). STEWARDWOMEN empowers women, improves their welfare and secures their rights.
Why is sexual violence so rampant inside IDP camps?
Josephine has been a front-runner in the struggle against gender based violence for many years. The past 16 months she has been working with women in two IDP camps in Juba. She knows what they go through. She knows how it can be that even the youngest girls are raped with impunity. And, most importantly, she knows what it takes to stop this.
“Inside the camps”, she explains, “up to dozens of families live together in un-partitioned houses. Men, women, boys and girls sleep together, without any privacy. Bathing shelters are for both men and women, latrines cannot be locked or lit. Often the camp borders are not guarded.”
These conditions are conducive to harassment, abuse and atrocities. “Sick women and girls often remain inside the camp unattended. During the day the others go out to fend for the family. By the time they return the patient has been raped in the dormitory. This happens all the time”, Josephine says. “Only two months ago a 45-year-old man, not a camp resident, entered a camp and raped a three-year-old girl, who died as a result. This too happens.”
Being poor and being abused go hand in hand
Another cause for the rampant sexual violence in and outside the camps is the looming economic crisis. “Poverty drives women hopeless”, Josephine continues. “I met women who sold their 8 to 12-year-old daughters to be able to feed the rest of the family. Other young women become sex workers. They lack the education to get a job, but they need to feed the family and prevent starvation.”
Fear, silence and impunity
Most rape cases are never investigated. No justice is done. Women have survived war and rape, but speaking out often is too dangerous. “When you name the perpetrator violence spreads to the whole family”, Josephine says. “ To avoid more harm, rape victims remain silent.”
10 measures to stop gender based violence
“To turn the tide for women in South Sudan, many immediate measures need to be taken”, says Josephine. She comes with a list of 10. Some of them are easy to take, others aren’t. But none of them is impossible. They range from easily applicable ‘self-defense’ steps for women in camps, to military transparency and policy reforms.
Here are 10 measures, coming from women, to stop gender based violence committed by men:
• Perpetrators of sexual violence must face the law. South Sudan has progressive laws to handle rape cases. Their implementation needs to be enforced.
• Uniformed and armed men need to wear name tags and identification numbers. This helps to identify perpetrators more easily.
• Cases of sexual abuse need to be reported. Whenever a woman’s right is violated STEWARDWOMEN’s social workers, legal aid workers and lawyers are there to handle the cases discreetly.
• In case of abuse women and girls can call our 24/7 phone lines; staff will refer them to our support services.
• Women and girls should move in groups, particularly when leaving the camps in search for food, firewood and water.
• They should have torches to light the latrines during the night.
• IDP camps need to be temporary. Displaced women and men have to be relocated to places of their choice where they feel more secure. For example to refugee camps, where people are allocated a plot of land and can construct their own shelter. This minimizes the incidence of rape.
• Women need to be economically independent and fend for themselves and their children. This is the purpose of our economic empowerment programs.
• To protect victims of abuse and violence, they need to be relocated quickly if they deem it necessary. Operational referral pathways need to be in place, or a safe house where all services are accessible.
• All IDPs need to be aware of their human rights. For this purpose, continuous awareness raising needs to take place inside the camps.