“Many challenges we face in making sure our voices heard at all levels of governance is a lack of knowledge. How can we, as female activists and representatives from the grassroots, know which positions we can apply for in keeping with the provisions of the Revitalized Peace Agreement?,” asks Jenny Michael, a participant at an UNMISS-facilitated workshop for women, organized by the peacekeeping mission’s Civil Affairs and Political Affairs divisions in partnership with international organization, Nonviolent Peaceforce, in Yambio, Western Equatoria.
The Revitalized Peace Agreement, signed in September 2018 by parties to the conflict in South Sudan, allowed for 35 per cent representation of women at different governance levels, ranging from localities to the parliament. Two years and a pandemic later, much remains to be done in terms of implementing peace across the world’s newest country, especially when it comes to women taking an active, inclusive and equal part in shaping the political landscape.
UNMISS, for its part, is doing its best to ensure that women across all 10 states are equipped with the necessary know-how and skills to advocate for durable peace.
“It starts with knowing; women across the country have to know first what is due to them. It is only once they are armed with all the necessary information that they will have to lobby and advocate for areas which interest them the most,” explains Stella Abayomi, Civil Affairs Officer, UNMISS.
Ms. Abayomi’s views are amplified by Robert Roba from the mission’s Political Affairs division: “Fifty per cent of any society are women. They are champions and channels that can uplift the country,” states Mr. Roba. “At UNMISS, we are keenly aware of the need to empower South Sudanese women so that this nation, which is on the verge of establishing itself as a true democracy, includes their voices in every solution towards a peaceful, prosperous future for the entire country,” he adds.
For its part, members of the Nonviolent Peaceforce believe that cultural norms entrenched in patriarchy across South Sudan have prevented women from enjoying safety, security as well as leadership positions in families, communities and politics. “Our goal is to make sure women are represented and included in the decisions that impact their daily lives,” avers Farai Nyamayaro, member of the Force. “When it comes to future leaders of our country, our hope is that South Sudanese women will overshoot the minimum 35 percent stipulated in the Agreement because the power of women as mediators, conveners and connectors within peace processes is well-known.”
Picking up on this point, Ms. Abayomi urged the 20 women participating in the forum to find ways to engage and influence men not only to support the advancement of women at all levels but also to become speak up for women’s rights. “When we expand the possibility of everyone being part of the peace process then sustainable peace will no longer be a distant dream,” she said.
The workshop also explored ways to reach a possible Action Plan for a genuine realization of the peace agreement’s affirmative action for women at the grassroots level, with due consideration to three main strategic aims – accelerating the effective participation of women in state governance, identifying allies and advocates among men and engaging with civil society on a female-led agenda for peace and security.
This forum was a follow-up to a larger push by UNMISS to connect and empower women across Western Equatoria.