Women crucial in post-conflict recovery
On International Women’s Day, 8 March, Jesuit Refugee Service Eastern Africa urges the Ugandan and Southern Sudanese governments to enforce laws protecting women’s economic, social and political rights, such as the right to property or the right to participation in governance and public affairs.
“Women play key roles in rebuilding communities after a crisis” says JRS Eastern Africa Director, Fr. Frido Pflueger SJ. “They raise children, pay school fees, work the farms and support their families. Yet most of them are excluded from land ownership and decision making processes, have limited access to education and are frequently exposed to physical, psychological or sexual violence,” he adds. “Women also play an important role in conflict resolution and peace-building, but they are hardly considered for leadership. Such negative cultural attitudes need to change” says Fr. Pflueger SJ.
After more than two decades of war and conflict, hundreds of thousands of Southern Sudanese and Ugandans have recently returned to their homes. In both countries, women disproportionately bear the burden of child care without financial or other support from the men in their communities. They are frequently forced into early marriage, abandoned by their husbands, sexually exploited and exposed to HIV/AIDS.
In the Southern Sudanese town of Nimule, women have taken initiative and come up with their own solutions. They founded the ‘Awarawara’ group, an initiative with 100 members which promotes cross-border trade with neighbouring Uganda. Another group, the Biyo Women’s Association raises awareness among women about their role and empowers them to participate in civic activities.
But the needs remain huge. Around 40,000 women in Nimule County would need micro-finance schemes and more than 15,000 education. “We can do a lot of things that men do. We are not inferior” says Angua Agnes, secondary school teacher in Nimule.
In line with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, a quarter of all senior positions in the public sector should be reserved for women. However, a clear and adequately funded strategy must be developed before Sudanese society can tap into the potential of women.
“Laws against early marriage need to be enforced to promote female education and women need better access to literacy, life skills and vocational training. More needs to be done to educate men on women’s rights; they have to accept that we deserve equal opportunities” says Chandia Paska, JRS Project Director in Nimule.
In northern Uganda, women are equally calling for action. “Women we have talked to demand the reinforcement of laws enshrined in the constitution and other legal instruments that promote their participation in public affairs, their right to inherit property and protect them from violence” says Akera John Paul, JRS Peace Education Advisor in Kitgum, northern Uganda.