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News, 7/2/2012

The changing dynamic of the conflict in South Sudan is a challenge for women

“The changing nature of the intra-tribal conflict has had a harmful effect on communities: women and children have become primary targets of violence”, said Julia Akur of the South Sudan Women Lawyers Association in a meeting organized by the Permanent Mission of Finland to the United Nations and NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security for the Members of the Security Council.

South Sudan is soon approaching the first anniversary of its independence. The UN Security Council is about to start negotiations on the renewal of the mandate of UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).

In the panel discussion held in New York on 20 June 2012 Margaret Matthew Mathiang, a member of the National Constitutional Review Commission, and Julia Akur discussed the key challenges faced by the women of South Sudan and gave recommendations on how the Security Council and UNMISS could respond better.

‘Circulation of small arms’ becoming a growing concern

South Sudan has seen many significant developments in a year, but a lot of challenges remain. Margaret Matthew Mathiang and Julia Akur highlighted women’s challenges and opportunities especially in three areas: security and protection, women’s participation and capacity building.

In the area of security, circulation of small arms was mentioned by both speakers as a growing concern. They also expressed their concern on breaking down of the traditional norms which used to accord a protected status to women and children in their communities. The humanitarian crisis has a severe impact on the border areas and the needs of the returning refugees and internally displaced people are huge.

The speakers stressed that the country's constitution takes well into account women's rights, but unfortunately this does not translate too much in practice. According to Julia Akur sexual violence against women has increased. In the patriarchal society it is difficult for women to obtain the protection guaranteed by the law or to seek help.

Ambassador Janne Taalas, Margaret Mathiang and Julia Akur discussing women´s challenges and opportunities in South Sudan. Photo: Pirjo-Liisa Heikkilä.Ambassador Janne Taalas, Margaret Mathiang and Julia Akur discussing women's challenges and opportunities in South Sudan. Photo: Pirjo-Liisa Heikkilä.

‘Women’s participation in politics’ an uphill battle

Margaret Matthew Mathiang, in turn, reminded the women's active role in the referendum leading to South Sudan's independence. However, women's political participation is an uphill battle. Mathiang noted that in many cases, because of lack of education and empowerment, women are not aware of their own possibilities. Especially strengthening the role of civil society is important to ensure educational opportunities. Mathiang said that civil society has sought to play an active role. It has, for example, organized workshops to discuss women's rights and participation.

“The Government’s decision to stop oil production has been a blessing in disguise. Refocusing development in rural areas to agriculture is empowering women”, Mathiang said. She also stressed the importance of strengthening women's financial position as contributing not only to development but also to their protection. Julia Akur stressed the need for capacity building and the creation of educational opportunities.

In their recommendations to the Council members, the speakers called for the international support to the country to be better coordinated, possibly through a jointly managed trust fund. Akur also hoped that the United Nations would involve women more actively in its peace-building mission, and ensure that women actually have access to the negotiating table. According to the speakers, UNMISS-resolution contains already very good provisions on protection and participation of women. However, they hoped that the Security Council would concentrate in ensuring that the words lead to actual participation of women in peace processes and political decision-making.

The panel consisted of Margaret Matthew Mathiang, a member of the National Constitutional Review Commission; Julia Akur, the Deputy Chairperson of the South Sudan Women Lawyers Association, and Ambassador Janne Taalas, Deputy Permanent Representative of Finland. The event was held at the Permanent Mission of Finland to the United Nations on 20th June 2012.

Ensuring implementation of Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security in Security Council’s country-specific work

At the tenth Anniversary of Resolution 1325 in October 2010 the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security compiled an analysis of how far we had come in its implementation. The analysis was clear: The Security Council has all the norms and tools at hand to make women’s rights and women’s participation in conflict and post-conflict situations a reality. Yet when it came to country-specific work of the Council, the implementation of the women, peace and security agenda was much more uneven.

The Permanent Mission of Finland to the UN has teamed up with the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security to try change that and help the Security Council ensure that women’s voices are genuinely heard when critical discussions take place and important decisions are made.

In partnership Finland and the NGO Working Group are going to arrange for advocates of women’s rights to come to UN Headquarters throughout 2012 to present women’s views and recommendations directly to the Security Council and other interested delegations and actors ahead of mandate renewals and most important country-specific discussions.

The NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security serves as a bridge between women’s human rights defenders in conflict-affected situations and policy-makers at UN Headquarters. The NGO Working Group composed of 18 international non-governmental organizations advocates for the full implementation of Security Council resolutions on Women, Peace and Security and plays an important global role in monitoring policy and practice.


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Updated 7/3/2012

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