JUBA, South Sudan — South Sudan was a nation gripped by civil war and ethnic cleansing until a peace agreement reached in 2018. It is home to extremely high rates of sexual violence. Both sides use sexual assault, abuse and trafficking as a weapon of war in South Sudan. Gender violence in South Sudan is often forgotten or overlooked due to women being afraid to report their assault. Furthermore, the famine and civil war are often the main talking points in the news.
Although a peace agreement was signed in 2018, rebel groups not included in the agreement continue to fight with armed men in the streets ready to wage war with government forces. In Juba, a refugee camp in South Sudan, there is an extremely high number of sexual assaults right outside of the camp’s gates. This is known as Conflict-Related Sexual Violence. Conflict-Related Sexual Violence is very often committed by members of the military in order to draw out the men they are searching for from hiding. Even worse, it is permitted by many officials in the Sudan military forces.
Gender Violence In South Sudan
Juba is one of the largest refugee camps in South Sudan. It houses nearly 30,000 Nuer, the ethnic group being targeted for violence by the government. Just outside the camp’s gates, women regularly and publicly experience sexual assault. One refugee, using the pseudonym Linda, describes the way that gender violence deters the women in Juba from leaving the camp for food and resources. According to Linda, armed men sit outside of the gates of the camp, waiting for women to collect wood, water or go to the market. At which point, they kidnap and assault the women oftentimes in large groups.
Quite often, in underdeveloped nations, women and girls are seen as objects or commodities to be used as weapons or as slaves. In South Sudan, this is not just due to war but rather a sexist attitude that extends far beyond the civil war and has contributed to large-scale gender violence and child marriage. A study conducted by the Government of South Sudan concluded that men and women alike generally believe that instances, such as women leaving without informing their husbands of their whereabouts, are an offense that should be met with physical violence. At least 65% of the women interviewed in the study reported being sexually assaulted or physically abused – double the global average.
UNICEF and USAID in South Sudan
South Sudan is a nation that has been tarnished by war, famine and extreme poverty. Many people have claimed that sub-Saharan Africa is “hopeless.” However, USAID continues to make strides and call on public support to continue to bring the funds. USAID created a hotline for women to report instances of gender violence in South Sudan. The Resilience Organization (RO), “a South Sudanese female-led NGO,” is working to raise awareness of the issue as well. It covered the events around the 16 Days of Activism Campaign back in November 2019. The campaign gave women a voice on local radio stations. USAID helped support the interviews broadcast during the campaign.
In February, the Trump Administration has proposed a budget cut of 21% to the International Affairs Budget, which will affect USAID’s ability to reach victims of sexual violence. Lobbying representatives in support of the budget and donating to USAID is very valuable. In addition, there needs to be a stronger push for the Sudan Government to use the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS) to prohibit gender-based acts of violence.
– Raven Heyne