With one in every four women experiencing some form of gender-based violence on a daily basis in South Sudan, the United Nations Mission in the country has reiterated its commitment to working with communities across the country to combat the problem.
Approximately 98 per cent of reported incidents of gender-based violence affect women and girls in the conflict-ridden country and, in most instances, there is no accountability for the perpetrator or enforcement of victims’ rights to remedy and reparation.
The challenge of eliminating this kind of violence was discussed at a forum organized by UNMISS’ gender unit during the international campaign focused on 16 days of activism against gender-based violence.
United Nations Population Fund policy advisor, Veronica Njikho, said rape, sexual harassment and assault as well as early and forced marriage remained prevalent in South Sudan and was therefore a priority for the UN as well as local authorities, communities and individuals across the country. She said women were constantly exposed to violence whether it was within the home or out in their communities where they were under threat even carrying out simple chores such as collecting firewood or food for their families.
The director of the National Transformational Leadership Institute at the University of Juba, Dr. Angelina Bazugba, said that gender-based violence could be physical, emotional or social. The consequences for those affected were severe and often life-long, including unwanted pregnancy and the risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases and HIV.
UNMISS HIV/AIDS policy advisor, Dr. Michael Munyoki, said there was often a stigma attached to gender-based violence and many communities did not want to talk about it. He said culture or tradition was no excuse for such violence because “there is no culture in the world that is brought up with gender-based violence”.
UNMISS police advisor, Nina Pelkonen, said a great deal of effort was being made to educate women in South Sudan and increase awareness about their rights and steps they can take to stay safe. For example, women were being actively encouraged to participate in community watch groups or take on leadership roles in the Protection of Civilian sites next to UN bases.
The opening remarks at the UNMISS gender-based violence forum were given by the UN Assistant Secretary-General Victims’ Rights Advocate, Jane Connors, who is visiting South Sudan.
An Australian law professional and long-time human rights advocate, Jane Connors was appointed by the UN Secretary-General as the first United Nations-wide advocate for the rights of victims of sexual exploitation and abuse.
She said the Secretary-General had made a personal commitment to ensure that sexual exploitation and abuse in the context of the United Nations was eliminated. The UN strategy is focused on putting victims’ rights and dignity first and promoting greater transparency and accountability to end impunity as well as building and maintaining strong partnerships with civil society and other organizations to prevent and eliminate sexual exploitation and abuse.