Gender equality should not be sacrificed in the new Sudan

Gender equality should not be sacrificed in the new Sudan

Date: January 1, 1970
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The peace promise holds out new promises to women who have borne the brunt of the country?s 21-year-old conflict. But if history is anything to go by, gender justice may fall by the wayside when the arms of war are finally laid down.

With the current stories of slavery and genocide emanating out of Southern Sudan, the world may easily forget the negotiations for a peace process, which saw the signing of the third protocol on power sharing in Kenya in late May.

Women paid a heavy price during the war. Thousands have been murdered, displaced, traumatized by the deaths of their children, husbands and loved ones, and they have fought to protect their own bodies from abuse during the 21 year-old conflict.

Knowing the horrors of war first-hand, many Sudanese women have been at the forefront through organisations such as the Sudanese Women Empowerment for Peace, the Sudanese Women in Nairobi, the Sudanese Voice for Peace, among others, at the negotiating tables to unite women and men irrespective of race, religion and ethnicity.

Women like Gema Kumba, Awut Deng, Agnes Lasuba and Ann Itto witnessed the signing of the third protocol and were part of the peace negotiations. Their voices were loud on the need to mainstream gender into the negotiations’ documents and for gender justice to be an integral part of creating a new government and structures in Sudan.

But their battle is far from over. The struggle for gender justice in the new Sudan may prove to be as long and arduous as the country’s struggle for peace.

Women involved in the peace-making process have been promised that attention will be paid to rehabilitating women and building their capacity. The peace agreement also calls for the establishment of national machineries to push for gender equality and women’s development.

These women now are filled with optimism that the new Sudan will embrace their issues and that a new country premised on equality, justice and peace would be built.

But if the peace-building and reconstruction efforts of other African countries after a war are markers to go by, women will be the first to be forgotten in the power sharing and re-building of a new Sudan. Without concerted advocacy externally and internally, women’s practical and strategic needs will be pushed to the back-burner as the country comfortably slips back into the norms and structures which violate women’s human rights.

As Rebecca Okwaci, the executive director of the Sudan Radio Service in Kenya who witnessed the signing of the third protocol on power sharing, reminds us: “We should not take it for granted that the new Sudan will embrace gender. We still have got a lot of work to do to sensitise our leaders on the role of women.”

Women activists across Africa all have a role to play in ensuring that the price Sudanese women paid during years of war is not suddenly forgotten when the ink dries on the peace documents. The story of the new Sudan should not be one where yet again, gender justice is deemed expendable for the sake of peace.

Rosemary Okello is a Kenyan journalist with the African Woman and Child Feature and Information Service, based in Nairobi.

This article is part of the GEM Opinion and Commentary Service that provides views and perspectives on current events. for more information. 



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