Women as mediators in South Sudan

by Stella Sabiiti

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Stella Sabiiti is a survivor of war and torture in the 1970s and 1980s in Uganda and has spent close to 40 years brokering peace and promoting inclusive voices in peace processes. She played a key role in the peace negotiations in Burundi and Rwanda, ensuring the participation of women. Sabiiti is the founder of the Center for Conflict Resolution in Uganda. Currently she is a consultant with the African Union and UN Women to create a Network of African Women Mediators.

The current conflict in South Sudan has taken a heavy toll on the local population, the most challenged being the vulnerable groups that include women, children, the elderly and the infirm. This conflict is the latest in a series of violent episodes that characterize the long-running struggle for self-determination, peace, stability and development in this youngest nation on the African continent. The Republic of South Sudan gained its independence on July 9, 2011 from the Republic of Sudan and was immediately recognized by the Republic of Sudan and subsequently welcomed into both the African Union (AU) and the United Nations (UN). This euphoria was however short-lived, as violence erupted again on December 15, 2013 within the leadership. Despite various peace agreements more violence exploded in 2016. Concerned by the impact of this violence on the lives of the people of South Sudan, especially on women and children, the women of South Sudan overcame resistance and internal divisions to successfully campaign for inclusion in the peace talks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. These talks were led by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), one of the five building blocks of the African Union. This process culminated in the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan in August 2015. The process received wide international support, including from the European Union. Organisations such as UN Women, the Institute for Inclusive Security and others have supported the women of South Sudan to build and enhance their capacity and hone their advocacy skills that eventually saw them play that challenging role of being included in the peace process. At the peace talks in Addis Ababa, the negotiators eventually created space for the women, including the formation of the Women’s Bloc of South Sudan (WBSS). The woman representative on this Bloc also sits on the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission that follows the implementation of the agreement.


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A number of normative and legal frameworks that include the African Peace and Security Architecture, AU’s Agenda 2063 and Silencing the Guns by 2020, the Gender Architecture and its Gender Policy present the impetus for enhanced political will to end conflict and enhance the participation of women in peacebuilding activities. The AU’s Office of the Special Envoy on Women, Peace and Security, has contributed significantly through the Envoy Bineta Diop’s solidarity missions to South Sudan to encourage women and influence decision-makers’ commitment to their decision to protect and promote women. UN Security Council Resolution 1325 also emphasizes the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts. The women of South Sudan continue to organise forums to ensure that gender-responsive issues are discussed in the implementation of the peace agreement and in the formation of the Transitional Government of National Unity.
The laudable and noble efforts of women of South Sudan to raise their voices and become equal partners in the search for peace, stability and development in their young nation are however faced with serious constraints. The dire lack of funds severely curtails women’s mobility to run their programs and carry out civic education, sensitization and awareness-raising within the communities around the country. The continuing and in some respects escalating levels of violence, insecurity and the unfolding humanitarian crisis are only a few of the challenges women encounter in their attempt to participate in finding lasting solutions. Overall, the challenge of a weakening economy, political divisions and the immense weight of competing priorities at national level pose an ever-present threat to women’s efforts and the implementation of the various agreements.


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Despite these challenges, the women of South Sudan, accompanied by support from regional, continental and international partners, are geared towards pushing for transitional justice and to fully participate in the National Dialogue that promises to prepare the ground for further attempts at peace and stability, leading women to proclaim their readiness to contribute to make their continent a better place. South Sudan has seen a proliferation of women’s groups targeting various categories of the women constituency, encouraging them to rise up and play a positive role for peace and development. Groups such as the South Sudan Women’s Empowerment Network (SSWEN), South Sudan Women Peace Network (SSWPN), Women General Association, the Women Monthly Forum, the Taskforce on the Engagement of Women, faith-based organizations and women entrepreneurs, call for a representative democracy that recognizes women as equal partners in the process of democratic development. Some of these networks and taskforces organise events along the sidelines of the AU Summit in Addis Ababa every January, to put their advocacy skills into practice catching the attention of key decision makers for purposes of delivering vital messages for the creation of sustained peace.
With the proposed Network of African Women Mediators by the African Union, anchored within the Peace and Security Department through the Pan-African Network of the Wise, African women’s efforts from the grassroot level up will create synergy and help bridge the existing gap between this level and the official peace processes. The EU has also supported peace efforts in this young nation, especially by channeling support through the provision of logistical and other support to the IGAD-led peace process, as well as the provision of support to various key government sectors with which the women groups interact, and is a keen observer of the implementation of the agreement. The current insecurity however is a threat to the provision of such support, and the EU joins the authorities on the continent by calling for long-term focus on the implementation of the various peace deals for the realization of peace in South Sudan (21 March 2017).