Clasping hands and raising their voices in unison, over 90 participants of a gender symposium chanted slogans calling for an end to gender-based violence in Imatong at the end of a 2-day event in Torit.
The Torit Guest House, a small conference hall in the heart of the town, was brimming with representatives from government, civil society, women’s groups, youth associations, and army ranks, engaging on the topic of “Male Engagement in Ending Gender-Based Violence”.
Organized by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, in partnership with Imatong’s Ministry of Gender, Child, and Social Welfare as well as the non-governmental organization, Safer World, men and women alike actively deliberated on ways to address issues of sexual gender-based violence, harmful cultural practices, and early/forced marriage that predominantly affect women and girls.
As the symposium drew to a close and the evening sun trickled in through the windows, participants reflected on concrete recommendations that could give light to actionable results.
Loboi Clement, a member of the Imatong Youth Union, emphasized the importance of raising awareness and sensitizing communities.
“Gender-based violence is not something that we can promote in our society. We can combat it in a peaceful kind of society through awareness, so that we go to the grass roots and sensitize our people on the dangers and the causes,” he said.
In addition to raising awareness, holding perpetrators to account was the key message that emerged. UNMISS Head of Field Office Torit, Mary Cummins, encouraged people to rely on legal procedures and not traditional means to seek redress.
“We must ask whether resorting to resolving problems in such a way, really helps the women and girls, who may not even be involved in whatever decision is made, that will have enormous effects on the rest of their lives,” she concluded.
The Imatong Minister of Gender, Child, and Social Welfare, Longejuk Vitale, cited harmful cultural norms that encourage gender-based violence. He stressed that perpetrators must be held accountable in order to end impunity.
“The perpetrators will not be left unaccountable, they must be held accountable. Any case of gender-based violence must be treated as a crime. Gender-based violence against women and girls is a human rights issue. Harmful cultural practice that occurs within our society is a human rights issue. It is a crime, punishable by law,” he emphasized.
Concluding the symposium, Longejuk Vitale, led participants in a rhythmic refrain to reiterate the key messages of the symposium and vocalize a call to action for all women and girls of Imatong.
“No, no, no, to gender-based violence!
Let’s stop gender-based violence against women and girls, NOW!
Let’s stop child compensation NOW!
Report all cases of gender-based violence!
And the perpetrators will be brought to justice!
The survivors will get the end result of justice!”
The hall reverberated with enthusiastic whoops, shouts, and applause, symbolizing strengthened collective efforts to enforce the law and end impunity to ultimately eliminate gender-based violence in Imatong and across South Sudan.