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Between the 9th and 15th of January 2011, the population of South Sudan was called to vote for unity or separation from Sudan, after years of internal conflict. The voter turnout of 60% that was required to validate the election was largely met and, in some regions, participation reached almost 100%. Approximately 98% of the voters voted in favor of independencei, which came into effect on 9 July 2011, and was accepted by the North. However, numerous disputes remain, including the sharing of the profits from oil production, the status of the Abyei province and of the South Kurdufan and Blue Nile regions, leaving some areas unstable. While Northern Sudan is predominantly Muslim, the South is mostly Christian.


The government of South Sudan has established a Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Welfare, which is headed by a woman, Agnes Kwaje Lasuba. The vision of the Ministry is to attain a peaceful, inclusive and equitable society and objectives include advocacy, sensitization and protection of the rights of all people without any discrimination on the bases of gender, ethnicity, political or religious affiliation. The Ministry also monitors any violations of women, children and persons with disability rightsii.


In terms of female political participation, South Sudan currently ranks 31st in terms of number of women in national parliamentsiii with 88 out of 332 members (26.5%) being women. An important number of women are also in ministerial positions, notably in the Ministry for Agriculture and Forestry and the Ministry of Transport.

Women’s rights in South Sudan

As decades of civil war have created a gender imbalance within the country with young men dying as soldiers, women now constitute 60% of the population. Already in 2005, during the negotiations for the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), South Sudanese women formulated a series of demands, including a minimum representation of 30% for women in decision-making positions at all levels, including transitional institutions and all commissions established under the CPA.iv


Furthermore, during the International Engagement Conference (IEC) held in December 2011, women recommended ensuring that 25% of all investments in agriculture and commercial livestock go to female farmers thereby "increasing their food productivity, their entrepreneurship, and access to markets." v The large majority of farmers in South Sudan are small women farmers, and war has left South Sudan with a large number of female-headed households.

The question now remains as to whether those demands will be met, and donor countries will also play a crucial role to encourage the participation of women.


However, several factors continue to hinder the equal participation of women. The literacy rate of the total population is 27%, and for women it is only 16% (compared to 40% for men)vi. Furthermore, the lack of education and access to schools also prevent women from participating in political life.


Women also face a series of health concerns. Female genital mutilation (FGM) for example, is still occurring. While it is mostly practiced in the North, it also takes place in South Sudan as 7% of women in Juba report having being circumcised (compared to almost 100% in Shendi (north)vii. Moreover, the HIV epidemic in South Sudan has been categorised as a general epidemic with approximately 3% being affected. The capital Juba has a prevalence rate of 6% and, in some regions, including Western Equatoria, the infection rate reaches 10%viii.


As war heroes continue to be celebrated, the key contributions of women during the civil war are often forgotten. In the post-independence and reconstruction phase that South Sudan is now entering, the new country faces the major task of ensuring the inclusion of more than half of its population. As women outlined in their demands for the CPA, they must be included from the early start and their needs must be taken into consideration throughout the process, so that women can be actors in the construction of their own country.

 

 

Women’s Political Participation Recent Statistics

Political Representation

Following the referendum of January 2011

President

Salva Kiir

Vice President

Riek Machar

Number of women in ministerial positions

4 (out of 32) ix

National Legislative Assembly

88 out of 332 (26.5%)

Council of States

5 out of 50 (10%)

iSouth Sudan backs independence – results http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-12379431

Government of South Sudan official website http://www.goss.org/

iiiWomen in national parliaments http://www.ipu.org/wmn-e/classif.htm

vWomen aim to protect their rights in a young state http://allafrica.com/stories/201112160236.html

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