An African Union special envoy is urging South Sudan’s leaders to enact and enforce laws to end the pervasive problem of sexual violence in the country. AU special envoy on youth, Aya Chebbi, said authorities must involve men if South Sudan is going to end gender-based violence.
“Men should be doing all these initiatives to end gender-based violence. Why? Because these women are their mothers, their sisters, their daughters, they are not some women out there who are suffering and I don’t care about; these are their communities,” Chebbi told South Sudan in Focus.
During a five-day visit to South Sudan, she said the AU’s plan for ending gender-based violence focuses on eliminating all forms of violence, including genital mutilation and child marriage. “So I call on civil society to advocate for legal frameworks that protect women. For the communities, there is also resilience and community policing which means the community must protect itself,” Chebbi told VOA.
Simon Marot Tonloung, a member of the African Union’s Youth Advisory Council, says preventing sexual violence begins at home.
“How will you feel if your sister, if your daughter, or your mother undergoes such kinds of troubling experiences? It’s sad. So it will start from families. It will not come from outside,” Tonloung told South Sudan in Focus.
Tonloung said AU member states like South Sudan must ratify policies that protect all citizens including women, and it is the duty of every citizen to hold the government of South Sudan accountable for enforcing those policies.
“So, if we don’t hold out our institutions at the grassroots level accountable, then we’ll not have an impact even if we pass a lot of policies,” Tonloung told VOA.
Earlier this month, the AU’s legal counsel signed a document to form the Hybrid Court for South Sudan as stipulated in the 2018 peace deal. Once in operation, the court will combine South Sudanese and other African judges and staff to investigate and prosecute allegations of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.
After a gang rape last Friday in Jonglei state, women rights activists and leaders called on state officials to do more to protect women and girls against sexual abuse. Jonglei officials accused armed cattle raiders from neighboring Fangak state of gang-raping two women in Jonglei state’s Duk-Padiet county.
A 30-year old mother of three who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the stigma attached to rape victims in South Sudan, said she was walking to Bor from her village about five kilometers away when armed men attacked her.
“When that happened, I hated myself and felt like that was the end of my life. I felt so crushed and useless. But because God can turn a bad situation around, that is why I am here today talking to you,” the woman told South Sudan in Focus.
She said a local non-profit called African Leadership And Reconciliation Ministries (ALARM) brought her to a counseling center in Bor where she received counseling.
Jonglei state information minister Atong Kuol Manyang said the men were hiding until the women came along the road.
“They went and hid in the bush for some hours and they met two women who had gone to collect firewood in the forest. So in that process they continuously raped the women and these men were from Gaweer [of Fangak state],” Manyang told South Sudan in Focus.
Manyang did not explain how he knew the women’s attackers were from neighboring Pangak state.
Jonglei state assembly lawmaker Hellen Akech Marial said South Sudanese women are often at high risk of being attacked while carrying out daily chores.
“We don’t have electricity so that people cook in the houses and so women always resort to going out to look for firewood. Once they are out, they are subjected to such criminal acts,” Marial told South Sudan in Focus.
The United Nations has repeatedly expressed concern about the high level of sexual violence perpetrated against women and girls in South Sudan.