JUBA - Sensitizing young minds on equal rights for women—that was the focus of an unconventional but necessary advocacy event in Juba during the ongoing 16 Days of Activism.
“Violence against women and young girls is a fact in South Sudan,” said Setina Aboagye, Team Leader of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan’s (UNMISS) Reform and Advisory Unit. “Some of you may be surprised to learn that many young girls who are raped know the perpetrator. It’s often a close family member. Therefore, parents must be careful of who they leave their children with.”
Setina was speaking to a rapt audience of 150 students, a number that included 80 girls.
The event was jointly organized by UNMISS; the National Ministry of Health; Central Equatoria State Ministry of Education, Science and Technology; and the administration of St. Daniel Comboni Secondary School.
Articulate and passionate students set the tone for discussions by delineating why they found the forum helpful and their own strong views on violence against women.
“We live in a society that treats girls or women in an almost subhuman manner. The value attached to them is less than that of their male peers,” said 19-year-old Richard Soma Sebi, a student at St. Daniel Comboni Secondary School.
Richard further went on to explain that, in his opinion, education for all is necessary because it builds coexistence, innovation and ensures that girls and boys work together to create a future of hope for South Sudan.
“At our school, girls are outperforming boys,” he added with a smile.
Vivian Flavia, a student at the same school, agreed.
“This event has made me aware that there are young girls and women among our communities who are strong and can be powerful role models for us to pursue an empowered, economically independent life as girls,” stated Vivian.
She acknowledged that many girls are burdened under regressive cultural norms such as early or forced marriages and the overarching patriarchal structure of South Sudanese society that demands they remain in the shadows and stifles their voices, dreams and aspirations.
“This advocacy forum has helped us to see the future with a different lens. We girls can do much more than just chores in the kitchen,” she declared. “We should focus on our studies and ensure that as young girls, we are not fooled into thinking that it is only boys who should study or men who should provide for us later in life. We shouldn’t look towards marrying a wealthy man but rather being wealthy, educated and progressive women ourselves.”
For his part, Emmanuel Natana Wani, Director for General Education, Central Equatoria State Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, urged attending young pupils to eschew violence in all its forms and strive to become future leaders. “Violence begets violence and we, as a nation are overdue for a peaceful, prosperous future. You, as youth, hold the power to usher in a culture of peace, coexistence and development.”
Dr Victoria Anib Majur, Under-Secretary, National Ministry of Health, while speaking to the students, warned about the close links between sexual and gender-based violence with sexually transmitted infections including HIV/AIDS.
Her views were echoed by Patrick Sokiri Bungi, an Infectious Disease and Public Health Officer working with the UN Peacekeeping mission and he underscored the importance of support for survivors of violence as well as people living with HIV.
“The best way to fight such diseases is prevention, but if you are already infected or fear you may be been infected due to any sexual violence you have been subjected to, go to your nearest health facility within 72 hours so that you have access to post-exposure prophylaxis.” Mr. Bungi advised.
In conclusion, Setina had stirring words for the students: “Be agents of positive change and break the culture of silence by reporting all cases to responsible authorities, such as the police, your teachers, community leaders in time for immediate intervention. Your voice matters.”
Earlier this week, UNMISS organized a similar advocacy forum with women from the grassroots bringing together 70 participants, of which 50 were women. 20 of these women are living with disabilities.
16 Days of Activism, commemorated annually, is a period dedicated to eliminating all forms of violence and discrimination against women and girls globally; it begins on 25 November and ends on a high note on 10 December, which is Human Rights Day.