Women and girls formed a significant contingent of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and other armed groups (OAGs)1 during the first and second Sudanese civil wars (1956- 2005). Some fought on the front lines, while others travelled with the armed groups, carrying ammunition and food, and providing sexual services and medical support. Their roles were complex and multifaceted, and while some women served willingly, others were forced into supportive activities against their will. Still others saw their association with male soldiers as the only viable means of livelihood in a country bereft of economic opportunities.
Today, the contributions and activities of South Sudanese female combatants and women associated with armed forces and groups (WAAFG) remain largely unrecognized and undocumented. Their post-conflict status is among the lowest of all groups in South Sudan, regardless of ethnic or tribal background. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2005 neither identifies them as a specific group entitled to consideration, nor provides any special compensation for their many sacrifices. As of July 2008, promises of disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) remain unfulfilled, and most women who were actively involved in the rebellion remain dependent on male soldiers and security service members.
Based on recent interviews and focus groups with a wide range of stakeholders in South Sudan,2 this Issue Brief provides a preliminary review of theroles of southern women and girls in the Sudanese conflict, the specific threats they faced, and their involvement in and contribution to the CPA. It also examines gender relations in South Sudan since the end of the war and the failure of the Government of South Sudan (GoSS) and relevant UN bodies in responding to their needs as part of a DDR programme. It finds the following:
- Significant numbers of women contributed to the Sudanese war effort as active combatants.
- Sexual abuse of women by all of the parties to the conflict-including by government soldiers, the SPLA, the South Sudan Defence Forces (SSDF), and other armed groups and militias-was routine and has not been sufficiently acknowledged. Rape, abduction, forced marriage, and survival prostitution were all commonplace.
- Violent skirmishes are ongoing, taking place over dowry disputes and 'ownership' of WAAFG and their children, contributing to community insecurity.
- Measures taken to protect women during and after the conflict-such as the SPLA's internal code of conduct banning rape, and specific language on gender equality in the GoSS interim constitution-appear to have been largely ineffective.
- The delay in beginning DDR of both women and men is having a serious impact on the welfare of WAAFG and former female combatants who are not supported by the SPLA and continue to rely on high-risk survival techniques.
- The small numbers of women identified as eligible for DDR in the South underestimates their real contribution during the war.
- Security sector reform in the South has not been organized in a manner that supports and protects women. Men who have committed atrocities against women and girls are gaining positions in the security and police forces, while women are not receiving equal treatment in relation to opportunities and salary.