To mark this year’s International Women’s Day, Kuer Gideon Dau, the Director of New Sudan Women’s Federation (NSWF),  shared her insights on plight of women in South Sudan and what part she  plays to support them.

Women embracing each other in Minkaman, South Sudan.

In South Sudan, women are working to bring communities together. Women from different walks of life are helping each other overcome the painful vestiges of war to recover and rebuild their lives. They are speaking for those who don’t have a voice and working to ensure that they have dignity and power over their lives.

I have been fighting for women’s rights for most of my life. New Sudan Women’s Federation (NSWF) was founded to counter the fact that women in South Sudan were largely excluded from the negotiating table during the peace talks. Women were greatly affected by the war and we needed our rights to be reflected equally in the peace agreement, and in any discussions on the future of South Sudan.

Life is very challenging for women in South Sudan. After the latest phase of conflict began in December 2013, sexual and physical violence against women and girls escalated. To date, women and girls in Protection of Civilian sites, and many others in areas affected by the conflict live in fear of physical assault, rape and sexual exploitation.

In some parts of the country, women are seen as assets because of the bride price attached to them. Forced marriages are a common occurrence. Challenging this age old practice, when it’s exploited, is seen as an attack on culture and getting an audience for discussion is difficult. Sometimes we are accused of trying to destroy a people’s culture, which is not what we’re trying to do.

One of our primary goals is to create awareness on Gender Based Violence and make sure that people understand why it has to stop. We create a safe environment where people who have been abused can come forward and be heard. We also document cases of abuse and relay them to the relevant authorities so that perpetrators are brought to justice.

It took a very long time to get traction in the communities where we work. We first had discussions in the communities in explain what we were trying to do and more importantly, listen to the community’s views and concerns. If we could understand each other, then maybe we could start a conversation about gender based violence. It was very important that men were included in these discussions because their involvement is key to addressing these issues.

One of the main challenges in addressing gender based violence is the silence that sometimes follows the abuse. In many cases, a woman cannot speak on a violation committed against her, and if she does, her words may fall on deaf ears. We try and make it easier for women to access justice by providing safe avenues for them to report any incidents, create links for them to access justice and different avenues to rebuild their lives.

There is great power in a single voice, and even more strength in these voices coming together. We encourage women to come together to share their stories and give each other strength and provide safe spaces where women discover that they are not alone in their struggle, and that life can go on after healing.

Oxfam is privileged to be part of the global movement challenging the systems, structures and beliefs that start and condone violence against women and girls. In South Sudan, we are working in partnership with local organizations such as NSWF to end gender based violence.

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