Coming after decades of conflict and a hard-won victory, there were high hopes that South Sudan’s independence would lead to a lasting peace. But those hopes have so far been thwarted.
Starting in July 2016, the world’s youngest country has been plunged back into another cycle of violence and an ensuing humanitarian crisis. The most recent relapse has prompted renewed peace negotiations to try and find a path towards establishing a protection force for war-ravaged civilians. The existing mandate of the UN Mission there,UNMISS, has been expanded by increasing the number of peacekeepers – but no new innovations to try and transform the conflict seem to be forthcoming.
And despite the significant impact that conflict violence has had on South Sudanese women, the international community’s response continues to ignore the conflict’s very gendered characteristics.
This is a very serious omission. If South Sudan’s civilians are to be meaningfully protected from violence, and if the country is ever going to establish a stable and just society, the response to the latest events has to start incorporating gender perspectives.
A globally recognised framework for making this happen already exists. Known collectively as theWomen, Peace and Security(WPS) agenda, it was first established in 2000, and is designed to help ensure that women’s experiences inform the pursuit of peace and security. Essentially a constellation of eight UN Security Council Resolutions, it advocates National Action Plans for all UN member states to implement gender perspectives in their conduct of domestic and international public policy.
But even though many countries have done the same, there are significant gaps in its implementation. South Sudan itselflaunched a National Action Planfor implementing the WPS agenda earlier this year, but gender relations continue to weigh heavy in the South Sudanese conflict.
To change the status quo, the country and those trying to help solve its problems need to focus on three areas: gendering peacekeeping, prosecuting sexual gender-based violence, and ensuring that local women’s groups can fully participate in the peace process.
Keeping the peace
As the UN prepares to expand UNMISS’s mandate, it must include more female peacekeepers in the mission. This is not a priority unique to South Sudan;less than 5% of military peacekeepers around the worldare women, even though two of the WPS’s resolutions explicitly advocate that women be deployed in these missions.
In an arena such as South Sudan, female peacekeepers can be essential to building trust. For all the good peacekeeping missions can do, they arenotorious for incidents of violence and criminalitycommitted with impunity. Put simply, it is mainlymen in uniforms(of all stripes) whom South Sudanese women have to fear, and that greatly undercuts their confidence in troops sent to keep them safe. Putting more women in peacekeeping uniforms could both cut down on abuse and build trust that’s currently just not there.