October 21, 2012 (JUBA) - Adut Madut Akec, chairperson of the newly established women’s parliamentary caucus in South Sudan’s Warrap State Legislative Assembly on Saturday called for similar groupings to be established in the nine other state assemblies.
- "Waiting for a bed: Juba Hospital’s maternity ward cannot meet demand" (Photo: Hannah McNeish/IRIN)
The top woman legislator in Warrap State, which also has South Sudan’s only women Governor, explained that women in the state decided to push for the legislation to address the many gender issues in the young nation.
“Our main objective is to create awareness among fellow women. We need them to know there is a forum where they can meet with other fellow women to freely discuss issues of their concerns. They not need to rely on what they hear from their husbands or other women but directly from this body. We will have branches spread all over the state”, she explained.
She argued that the second Sudanese civil war (1983 to 2005) in which more than a million lives were lost, was a key factor behind issues facing women today. More than four million people were also forced to flee their homes, losing their land, means of survival and support systems.
Many women lost their husbands in the conflict which led to South Sudan’s independence last year. The civil war had a devastating effect on South Sudan’s development.
Many South Sudanese who have returned from abroad have no homes, families or communities to return to, and no means with which to make the journey to their places of origin. Thousands of people are therefore still internally displaced all over South Sudan.
Internal tribal conflict in some areas continues to fuel displacement and poverty. Poverty among women is one of the key factors that pushes women to engage in commercial sex activities.
Most of the women who resort to prostitution see it as a temporary measure support their children. However, better options are limited, and most women are unlikely to rise out of extreme poverty without outside intervention.
“If you go to Kuacjok town today [..] There are women giving births and want to throw [their babies] away. Others have been caught throwing children. Others are engaged in illicit and immoral activities. They are doing things which are culturally an unacceptable.”, Akec told Sudan Tribune on Saturday.
It was for these reasons that the parliament decided to pass a law setting up the women’s caucus to address women’s issues, the MP said, adding that education was the best way to help women out of prostitution.
“It is important that our government take strong and immediate measures to not [only] finding ways to address them but also providing protection to women and ensure they have human rights and dignity”, she said explaining that war has left most of women traumatized and desperate to survive.
"We understand what our people have undergone. They have never seen peace. They have never seen development in their lives because the former united Sudan was never in peace even after gaining independence from British in 1956. It was at war for more than 50 years. So imagine how the lives of the people who have lived in a country that had been at war with itself for more than 50 years would look like.
"Imagine that chance of a woman dying while giving birth because of lack of basic health services. There are no health units. No trained health staff and have no access to medical facilities. No school let clean water. Children are always in danger of starvation, disease or being abducted by armed groups, she explained.
South Sudan has some of the worst development statistics in the world, especially when it comes to maternal mortality. Women and girls in South Sudan are more likely to die in childbirth and pregnancy, rather than in conflict.
A report this year found that one in seven South Sudanese women die in pregnancy or childbirth due to lack of trained midwifes and access to medical facilities.
Akec said the new women’s caucus wanted to help South Sudanese women who had returned from East Africa with virtually nothing, as well as widows from the civil war.
“Our focus group will be women who have lost their husbands and are not able to hold on their roles firmly. We know [they] may have nothing but we will have to sit down with them to identify what are facing and see where we can offer advice that can help them to continue their lives. See where we can mobilize] support for them. See where we can make dialogue with their relative in-laws and their own relatives”, she explained calling on the government to empower women in leadership positions.