Gender-based violence (GBV) – including rape, sexual assault, harassment, domestic violence, and forced marriages have been a persistent problem in South Sudan prior to the current conflict.
UNFPA estimates that 24, 500 South Sudanese women and girls are at risk of sexual violence.
According to Ms. Judith Draleru, a UN International Volunteer midwife and Nurses’ Mentor at Juba Teaching Hospital, the Hospital’s- One Stop Center probably receives about 20-30 GBV cases within a month’s period.
Ms. Judith, however, says women are not the only victims of gender-based violence but men too are affected.
“I know normally when people talk about gender-based violence, they only think of women, equally, there are men, and could be more keeping quiet there and they are not coming for care. But most of the vulnerable majority community are women that have believed sometimes.”
Ms. Judith cites that women suffer GBV mostly compared to men, “first of all, if you are abused sexually or physically, it may make you suffer from physiological torture, you could get infected by HIV/AIDs and other sexually transmitted diseases, there is possibility of getting pregnant for women and then there are many other issues that come including family separation”.
Judith states that UNFPA with other agencies is offering continues counseling, screening, and treating of GBV victims.
She urges numerous organizations and the government to join hands together and embark on continuous grassroots campaigns aimed at sensitizing the communities on negative impacts of GBV, echoing her calls to women to also be independent.
GBV Survivors Speak-Out:
Jane – not her real name – is a mother of three, she lost her husband who was the only sole bread. After her husband’s death, she says she was forced to vacate her house by her husbands’ relatives who also took away her properties including her piece of land which she legally acquired after her late husband’s death.
“The problem that happened to me was when I lost my husband years ago, he left me with two children and with one unborn child. From there, my husband’s clan decided to chase me out of my husband’s house. My father after seeing this couldn’t let me suffer so he took me and my children to his house. The idea that came to my mind then after all that happened was to kill myself.”
“I wanted to just take my children to that clan. When I wanted to do that, my neighbors helped and encouraged and advised me and that’s why I dropped that plan of abandoning my children but I wanted to just give them to my husband’s clan to take care of them but my neighbor strong advise made me change my decision of abandoning my children”.
She said that it took her a long time to recover from stress, but eventually opened a case against her late husband’s family who took away her property.
“I called them and we were taken to the court. As you know all my properties were taken by my husband’s relatives. The lawyer stood with me and we finally won the case and I was awarded all the grabbed properties and were returned back to me. Especially my husband’s land that was changed to someone’s name is now under my name.”
Jane called on women across South Sudan especially widowers to always stand bold and fight for their rights, adding that women should not abandon their children like what she almost did.
Currently, Jane is running a business where she earns a profit of at least 2,000 SSP a day, which adds to the monthly rent wages of rented rooms she constructed on her piece of land.
For her part, Elizabeth, not her real name – who is in Form three this year says she almost quit school because of her family pressure to marry her off to an old man.
“I am from an illiterate background, where most of my family members have not gone to school. And they don’t value girl child education. When I went to school that made my mother and my father not happy totally. A few years ago they began disturbing me saying I have reached an age where I need to be married off.”
“There are people who come to our home and one of them wanted to marry me and his approach was seconded by my parents and they asked me to marry him because they said he would help them”.
The 20-year-old girl reveals that the pressure from her family interfered with her school performances.
She says with support from agencies that support girl child education, she was able to be assisted and she is now back to school where she is doing better than before.
Medicine Sans Frontiers or MSF 2018 report on rape suggested that over 120 women and girls were raped, beaten and brutalized in the former Unity State in a span of just 10 days.
GBV First Hand Experinces| What the law says:
According to Mr. Reech Malual, a lawyer from Badres Law Firm, cultural rigidities are major fuelling factors to GBV across the nation.
“Recently, we have seen in Yirol, Eastern Lake state, where one of the ladies who was forced into marriage was beaten and ended up dead. This could be the best example of what GBV is.”
Mr. Reech who is also the executive of Screen of Rights reveals some rape incidents where his organization offered legal services to GBV victims.
“Last year alone, we had a case where a young girl from high school was raped just behind Juba Teaching hospital and we helped convicted two gentlemen who were accused. The others who were also accused were not found, so we partially handled the case and they were sentenced. Also, last year, there was a case of a 9-year-old girl who was raped by a former minister and he was convicted and he is serving a jail term of ten years.”
Reech calls on GBV victims to report cases such as beating and torture, rape and forced marriages amongst others because they are all crimes under the South Sudan constitution.
Earlier this year, the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC) stated that Sexual and gender-based violence including rape, abductions, and recruitment of child soldiers in South Sudan increased in the past years.
In Yei River state, a women’s group leader stated last year that nearly 40 cases of rape have been registered in four counties of the State.
Also in Uganda, the Uganda police last year says there is an increase in cases of gender-based violence among South Sudanese refugees in Moyo district.
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