Women stand up for their rights in the new Republic of South Sudan

17 Aug 2011

image Deputy Chairwoman of the SSWLA, Akur Ajoui Magot © UNDP

Just a few days after independence was declared, the South Sudan Women Lawyers Association (SSWLA) issued a rallying call to supporters of women's rights, demanding greater equality and human rights for the women of South Sudan. The association congratulated President Salva Kiir Mayardit and all the South Sudanese people on attaining independence, however they also called on the government to step up their efforts in promoting and protecting the rights of women and girls.

The association was formed in 2010 to represent women legal practitioners and to advocate for women and children's rights. UNDP was instrumental in helping to set up the association, and provided training in areas such as psycho-social support for survivors of violence and English language skills. Following this, UNDP worked closely with the association to provide input on gender issues into the new South Sudan constitution, following a broad, state-wide consultation process.

Currently there are over 60 members, many of whom work in government roles. Some members also work in private practice and in the judiciary. "We envision a society free of all forms of discrimination against women and girls. We are using the law to help achieve this,"said Deputy Chairwoman Akur Ajuoi Magot.

The association acknowledges some of the big achievements made by the Government in the six years since the war ended. Ms Magot highlighted the Land Act, which recognizes women's equal rights to property; the Child Act, giving rights to children; and especially the new Constitution. "It enshrines affirmative action provisions for women," said Ms. Magot, "which opens up spaces for women's participation."

However, there is a long way to go for women in South Sudan. The new Republic suffers from some of the worst human development indicators in the world. Girls are often subjected to early and forced marriages and are usually unable to receive a proper education. Women experience shocking rates of maternal mortality and have an estimated 90 percent rate of illiteracy.

Looking ahead, the SSWLA suggest the government should ratify and implement some of the major international covenants on women's rights, such as the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and the African Women's Protocol, both of which reinforce legal protections for women and girls.

The association also stresses the need for reform of the justice and rule of law sectors, to ensure effective prosecution of those who commit violence against women, and the need for an accountable police service and an independent judiciary. "Women have suffered enough in South Sudan," said George Conway, UNDP's Deputy Head of Office. "We are supporting organizations like the SSWLA at the same time as we work closely with the police and prisons services and the judiciary to build a more accountable, robust justice system that can deliver greater stability and accountability for women in the new nation."

Suggested legal interventions to safeguard and promote the rights of girls:

Abolish forced marriages and early marriages and early marriages

Set the minimum age for marriage at 18 years of age

Abolish harmful cultural practices such as female genital mutilation

International agreements on women's rights which South Sudan can ratify and implement
Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Agaist Women (CEDAW)

A 1979 UN convention which defines discrimination and requires signatory countries to take particular steps to overcome it, including the abolition of laws which discriminate against women.

African Women's Protocol

A 2003 agreement of the African Union which requires member states who have ratified the Protocol to take steps including the legal recognition of equal rights in marriage and property, recognition of the vulnerable position of women refugees, and widows , and equality before the law.