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South Sudanese women eye greater role in peace building

By Denis Elamu JUBA (Xinhua) -- Despite bearing the brunt of more than three years of violent conflict, South Sudanese women have vowed to be on the frontline and champion peace and reconciliation in the world’s youngest nation.

Sarah James Ajith, who heads the support for women in governance organization, is one of the female activists in the country’s peace cause.

In a recent interview with Xinhua, Ajith said they were participating in stakeholders meetings in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa with peace mediators, government and SPLA-In Opposition (SPLA-IO) to help end the ongoing skirmishes.

“We have been doing a lot of advocacy in Addis Ababa, meeting with government, opposition and peace mediators,” Ajith said.

Ajith is also part of a peace advocacy task force comprising ten women from various groups promoting awareness and disseminating peace messages in remote parts of the country.

“Last month we had a peace building conference in Bor, capital of Jonglei state, supported by international partners. We have been doing awareness and some women are involved in expanding the task force,” she told Xinhua.

South Sudan has been beset by civil strife since December 2013 that has caused tens of thousands of deaths and massive displacement of civilians.

Despite a peace agreement signed in 2015, conflict erupted again in July 2016 and spread to once peaceful Equatorial region.

The United Nations in late February declared famine in some parts of the country, including in Unity state’s Mayendit and Leer counties where 100,000 people are starving, with over 1 million on the brink of starvation.

It remains to be seen whether the national dialogue, initiated in late December 2016, will end the conflict. Meanwhile, the UN has expressed fear of ethnic cleansing that would lead to genocide as fighting intensifies in some parts of the country.

The warring factions have been accused of rapes, looting and killings in Yei town South West of the capital and Kajo Keji border town, where majority of those fleeing to Uganda are coming from.

Elizabeth Amer Manyok, head of the South Sudan Women Block, a loose coalition of local women groups, told Xinhua that they are advocating for political, economic and social empowerment of women through lobbying the UN and aid groups to reach out to internally displaced persons (IDPs).

“Our focus is humanitarian support to those in need because the country has been hit by economic crisis due to conflict. Without food our country is in crisis. You cannot make peace when somebody is hungry, and IDPs want to go back home,” Manyok said.

Meanwhile, Festus Mogae, head of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC), a peace monitoring body, said women have suffered injustices and borne the brunt of the conflict but they continue to protect and provide for South Sudan’s families and communities “with unfailing courage and commitment.”

“The women of South Sudan are strong and capable and we would wish to see their contribution increase across all aspects of national life,” Mogae said.

“Peace processes are inevitably more successful with strong female involvement and I firmly believe that there can be no sustainable peace in South Sudan without the full participation and leadership of women,” Mogae added.

South Sudanese women have been calling for adequate political representation from 25 to 35 percent to enhance their clout in political, social and economic spheres.

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