July 22, 2019 – The Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative (WPDI) and UN Women are pleased to announce a new partnership in South Sudan to train young women and empower them to become leaders in their communities. In the coming months, we plan to build two cohorts of 30 women each and mobilize them to promote peace and gender equality at the local level.
South Sudan is one of the youngest countries in the world and only very recently emerged from the depths of a long civil conflict. With that in mind, building lasting peace there has been a difficult endeavor; in many places, the seeds of conflict are still present. This is especially true for young women, many of which are disproportionately marginalized because of gender disparities, leaving them unable to participate fully in economic, political, and social life. UNICEF estimates that only 16% of women over 15 years of age are literate compared to 83% globally and the UNDP reported recently that “domestic violence, psychological and emotional abuse, abduction of women and children during cattle raids, rape and sexual assault, as well as giving girls as compensation for a crime or wrongdoing committed by her family, are widespread practices in the country.” There is unquestionably an empowerment gap.
The leadership of South Sudan has pledged to address this gap, which was directly expressed in the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS) that was signed on September 12, 2018 in Addis Ababa, a document that stipulates a participation of 35% women in the new Executive of the country. Yet none of the reconstituted institutions at national level meet this quota and women at the grassroots level have little to no knowledge of the R-ARCSS and how it can be used to promote women’s empowerment in South Sudan at large.
Our initiative with UN Women aims to transform these gender imbalances through youth-led grassroots activities and build on WPDI’s well-recognized expertise and experience in empowering young women in conflict-affected areas, places where we have also worked in collaboration with UN Women. Our new Women Peace Ambassadors program will seek to mobilize young women in two locations, the former Central Equatoria state (in Juba) and in the former Western Equatoria state (in Yambio). The 60 women that we will train in Conflict Resolution Education and Peacebuilding are, upon completion of their three months of training, expected to work at the local level to further empower young girls and push for women to break cultural barriers. They will also urge women to increase their participation in civic life, disseminating, for instance, information on the R-ARCSS. To achieve these objectives, they will engage local communities in conflict resolution, mediation, and dialogues – all designed to help build peace between communities and within communities as well.
WPDI has long worked in South Sudan and is well-aware of challenges on the ground. Although the grave humanitarian situation in that country has undermined prospects for women for many decades now, we also know that partnerships like this one with UN Women will be the catalyst for change. Together, we will help spark a movement for gender equality and female empowerment in South Sudan.