Soon after the outbreak of the conflict, the women of South Sudan organised themselves into Women's Operation Group — an alliance of women representatives from the entire country. Their core aim was to bring the different factions to the negotiating table. However, their voices were not heard despite the international recognition of women's participation in decision-making at all levels in conflict resolution and peace processes as stipulated by the United Nations Security Resolution 1325, the Beijing Platform for Action and Maputo Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa.
With proliferation of conflicts around the world, women in Africa have in the past organized themselves into a formidable force and influenced the peace processes in their countries. In Liberia, Sierra Leone and Uganda, women's unique perspectives were central in engendering peace processes. It is, therefore, very important to support the South Sudan women in their efforts of ensuring that sustainable peace is achieved in the country.
Isis-WICCE, a feminist organisation committed to justice, peace and human security which has worked with South Sudan women for a period over 10 years was not only dismayed with the escalation of conflict in South Sudan but was also deeply concerned about the absence of women in the peace talks; slated for Addis Ababa under the Auspices of Inter government Authority on Development (IGAD) early in the year. Isis-WICCE engaged partners on how best to support South Sudan women leaders to ensure that their voices and concerns are taken into account in the peace negotiation process.
Consequently, a consultative meeting with South Sudan women leaders was organised in Kampala from January 19-22. The purpose of the meeting was to provide a platform for South Sudan women to consolidate women's voices in order to influence the peace talks between the conflicting parties. The meeting was attended by 18 women leaders drawn from government and civil society organisations in South Sudan as well as South Sudan refugee community in Uganda.
The most critical issue that the women raised during the consultative meeting was that their efforts have not been recognised by stakeholders involved in the peace negotiations when they are the ones picking up the pieces; and the need for their participation.
During the meeting, the women expressed concern on the immense destruction, indiscriminate and ethnically targeted killings, the suffering and displacement of the population as well as the breakdown of moral values, governance systems and internal party politics that degenerated into an armed conflict. They demanded to be part of the negotiating teams so that their unique perspectives as mothers, sisters, daughters and grandmothers become essential in understanding and addressing the dynamics of the conflict. At the end of the meeting, a communiqué detailing their demands was drawn and signed by all. In the communiqué, the women demanded;
- Immediate cessation of hostilities with clear gender sensitive implementation and monitoring guidelines and participation of citizens in ending violent acts including rape and other forms of violence against women;
- Immediate inclusion of at least 25 percent of South Sudanese women from senior level positions in the mediation and ceasefire monitoring teams; with a clear mandate;
- Funds coming in for the ongoing peace process should also be invested in human resource and capacity development for women;
- IGAD, African Union, the chief mediator, parties to the conflict and international community to support psychosocial therapy, sexual and reproductive health and rights services as well as trauma healing; and creation of corridor for humanitarian assistance to the internally displaced people among others.
The meeting also laid out strategies on how to engage different stakeholders while in Addis Ababa.
In Addis Ababa, the South Sudanese women held a meeting with the IGAD Chief Negotiator Ambassador Seyoum Mesfin, to whom they presented their demands as stipulated in the Kampala communiqué. They also raised other issues pertinent to women's needs and concerns like the need to develop a comprehensive strategy for security sector reforms, a comprehensive Demilitarization, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) programme and truth and reconciliation process, as important components of healing.
Mesfin expressed support for women's participation to the peace process; ". . . these are genuine concerns coming from mothers, daughters and sisters, who are at the receiving end of the crisis... the process is going to be different this time round as the participation of citizens particularly religious groups, women and youths is paramount".
Mesfin advised South Sudanese women to speak with one voice and remain neutral so that their contribution can be valued and sought by the team.
The South Sudan women leaders also held a meeting with Her Excellency Mary Robinson the United Nations Secretary General's Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region.
During the meeting the statement of the South Sudan women was presented.
Reacting to the demand by the women, Robinson emphasized the role of women and girls in peace building and sustainable development. She urged them to profile their voices in all processes at all levels to ensure that women's contribution to peace is valued in all spaces. She promised to share the concerns of the women of South Sudan in her meeting with IGAD and other relevant stakeholders.
The women also met with the Norwegian Special Envoy on Sudan and South Sudan Jens-Petter Kjemprud as well as the UN Women Representative to the African Union, Letty Chiwara.
The women briefed them on their efforts since the conflict erupted and the specific support they want from the representatives. They specifically mentioned the need for the UN Women to profile their voices and provide both technical and financial support to continuously meet at the margins of political negotiations.
South Sudanese women have continued to mobilise both within and outside the country. They are engaging at different fronts and strategizing to maintain the momentum. Plans are underway to establish different working groups in Nairobi, Addis Ababa and Juba to continue influencing the peace process.
"At this stage of the peace process, we are happy to report that due to the various advocacy efforts, the two parties to the conflict have included three women per team. While we welcome this positive step, we urge the negotiators to include women in civil society as their perspective is required for objectivity and inclusiveness as they represent a wider group of women.
The major challenge for women is lack of resources to sustain the efforts and this is a call to all partners to support the women's efforts as provided for in United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325. Including the women in the peace process is not simply the right thing to do; it is the smart thing to do.