Supporting Survivors of Sexual and Gender Based Violence in South Sudan
“I see women distressed, desperate, bewildered, depressed, battered ... they feel neglected and despised, some even try to find an answer to what has happened to them by blaming themselves for things beyond their control”.
Laura Poni Hatim is a married mother of five children, two boys and three girls. She is a social worker at the Special Protection Unit of the State Ministry of Education, Gender and Social Welfare office in Yambio. Every morning she leaves her children with their grandmother and walks 45 minutes to reach her office where she is completely dedicated to supporting and assisting victims of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV).
- The documented rate of SGBV in South Sudan is 40%, however, it is possible that the numbers are higher because of how frequently SGBV goes unreported.
- The Government of South Sudan, through the Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Welfare and the Ministry of Cabinet Affairs have committed to address Gender based violence with the implementation of the National Action Plan on UNSCR 1325 and Related Resolutions on Women, Peace and Security.
- Through the IGAD Regional Initiative and Access to Justice and Rule of Law projects, UNDP is supporting the Government of South Sudan’s efforts to protect women and prevent sexual and gender-based violence in South Sudan.
“Gender-based violence is a common crime in South Sudan. It is hard to try to help these women when, despite being victims, the community discriminates against them,” explains Laura.
“I provide counselling to the survivors. When a victim comes to my office, first I try to calm her down so that she is able to tell me what happened,” says Laura. “I explain to her that everything she shares with me is confidential and that she can trust the authorities,” she continues. “I always try to not raise their expectations because in some cases, with the limited means that we have, it is difficult to get them the justice that they are looking for,” recounts Laura, while breastfeeding her last born son.
Her face turns serious and she looks at her baby while she keeps talking.
“At work, we face cases of rape perpetuated by unknown people, soldiers…but also by men from their own community or family. Some are domestic violence cases, and it’s the husband who perpetrates the crime. These cases are very difficult to address because the victim may not have support from her family. She would need to leave the relationship to prevent further abuse and making such a decision would leave her isolated and alone,” says Laura.
SGBV remains at crisis levels in South Sudan. Domestic violence, psychological and emotional abuse, abduction of women and children during cattle raids, rape and sexual assault, as well as the custom of giving a girl child in compensation for a crime or a wrongdoing committed by her family, are widespread practices in the country. The documented rate of SGBV in South Sudan is 40%, however, it is possible that the numbers are higher because of how frequently SGBV goes unreported. The ongoing conflict has exacerbated the situation. Women and girls who have experienced SGBV during the conflict are impacted by psychological trauma, HIV/AIDS, and social marginalization as well as the effects of unwanted pregnancy. Furthermore, women and girls in South Sudan are disadvantaged via customary law, and the perpetuation of certain cultural traditions.
The Government of South Sudan, through the Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Welfare and the Ministry of Cabinet Affairs have committed to address this issue with the implementation of the National Action Plan on UNSCR 1325 and Related Resolutions on Women, Peace and Security.
“In the July crisis, we see that the culture of impunity remains a significant obstacle for responding to and addressing SGBV. The military, police, prisons, wildlife [authorities], national security and fire brigade have an oversight role to play and they have the responsibility to protect our people. SGBV is a crime, as defined by our constitution and our laws. The Bill of Rights of this country must be respected,” explained Minister of Cabinet Affairs Dr. Martin Elia Lomoro during a high-level dialogue held in September in South Sudan to discuss the National Action Plan on Ending Impunity for Sexual and Gender-Based Violence.
“The responsibility to prevent these cases rests with the South Sudanese. It is our responsibility to reach our villages to spread the word and protect the people” continued Hon. Dr. Lomoro, at the event organized by the Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Welfare, in partnership with the United Nations.
The United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 advocates for the recognition of women during conflicts, not as helpless victims of war and violence, but as active peacebuilders, politicians, community leaders and activists. The South Sudan National Action Plan, in turn, is based on United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, and is a complete strategy designed to address the victimization of women during the conflict in South Sudan through prevention, participation, protection, relief and recovery.
“Efforts are being undertaken to prevent, protect and respond to SGBV,” said Minister of Gender, Child and Social Welfare Hon. Awut Deng Acuil, during the same high-level dialogue on SGBV. “The establishment and review of police Special Protection Units are positive steps. The establishment of a Gender Department at the Ministry of Interior and the Department of Women and Juveniles at the Ministry of Justice is progress. But more efforts are needed. We still need specialized training for lawyers, prosecutors, traditional authorities and customary courts.”
UNDP prioritize gender equality and women’s empowerment in all endeavours. In South Sudan, through Rule of Law project, UNDP is supporting the implementation of The South Sudan National Action Plan through trainings on women’s rights, gender justice and the bill of rights. Likewise, thanks to the support of the governments of Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda through a capacity development initiative by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), an eight-country regional development block in eastern Africa, as well as the government of South Sudan, UNDP is implementing an initiative aimed at strengthening South Sudanese civil service capacity. The project, funded by the government of Norway, places civil servants from the mentioned three IGAD countries in different national and regional government offices to mentoring South Sudanese counterparts.
Laura Poni Hatim is one of these South Sudanese counterparts, and receives coaching from Moses Kimani, a special protection officer from Kenya.
“Moses is teaching me how to reduce the traumatic feelings of the victims and what the procedures are to medically assist the women within the first 72 hours after the abuse was perpetrated,” explained Laura.
Through the IGAD Regional Initiative and Access to Justice and Rule of Law projects, UNDP is supporting the Government of South Sudan’s efforts to protect women and prevent sexual and gender-based violence in South Sudan.