When civil war broke out in the world’s youngest nation, South Sudan, women, and girls suffered tremendously.
With the signing of the peace deal in 2018 and the recent agreement on the Roadmap for achieving key benchmarks by all parties to Revitalized Peace Agreement, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) is making all efforts to build capacities among local stakeholders, especially when it comes to protecting women.
United Nations Police (UNPOL) officers in Malakal, Upper Nile state, recently trained some 160 community officers at the Protection Site adjacent to the mission’s Field Office on preventing and reporting on sexual and gender-based violence.
“The officers we are training all belong to the Community Watch Group and play a vital role in ensuring displaced women living in the Protection Site are secure,” reveals Dmitry Almaev, a Police Adviser.
“As peacekeepers we continuously raise awareness on the need to prevent any sort of violence against women. By building the capacity of community members we are taking our outreach a step further, making sure they themselves are empowered to tackle crimes against women proactively,” he added.
28-year-old Ezekiel Ochol Ayul agrees.
“We often hear about instances of women being raped or abused and now, thanks to such trainings by UNMISS, we are aware of what we need to do to ensure such incidents do not take place, or if they do, we know that we must support survivors plus encourage them to report immediately to authorities,” he says.
“It makes me happy to know that UNMISS is helping us take ownership of this serious problem and find community-based solutions,” adds Ezekiel.
Eighty community officers who undertook the training programme are women.
This is significant, reveals Police Adviser Halimatou Sowe.
“In the traditionally patriarchal fabric of South Sudan, half the battle for equal rights is won when citizens see women taking on leading roles in local mechanisms. Community officers must have a good understanding of the country’s legal frameworks, especially laws governing the protection of women. Who better to understand and empathize with survivors of domestic violence or rape than women?” asks the Gambian UNPOL officer rhetorically.
Participants shared issues and challenges at the forum
“Many women don’t report cases of sexual violence because they are ashamed and afraid of being stigmatized. We know that this isn’t the correct approach, but it is hard for us to convince victims to speak up sometimes,” says 24-year-old community officer Lucia John Adieng.
Ensuring women and girls can live safe and secure lives is a basic prerequisite for a society to develop, according to Elisa James, another community officer.
“This workshop has prepared me to handle such difficult cases and always keep the wellbeing of the survivor at the centre of all investigative efforts. Women make up 50 per cent of our society and unless they are given equal rights, we cannot have an inclusive peace in South Sudan.”Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).