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    Rachel Adau Gieu (UN Photo/ UNMISS)

People for Peace: Rachel Adau Gieu, on women’s rights in South Sudan

More than one million peacekeepers have served for peace under the UN flag, but they are not alone in the pursuit of peace. Peacekeeping is powered by strong and diverse partnerships. In this new series, we bring you the voices of peacekeepers and partners across the world, to mark the International Day of Peacekeepers, 29 May.

Original reporting: Gideon Sackitey / Priyanka Chowdhury / Edited by: Maya Kelly

Rachel Adau Gieu is a fierce advocate for women’s rights in Jonglei, South Sudan. She is the Executive Director of the Women’s Empowerment Centre and Chair of Jonglei’s Gender Champions Taskforce. The UN Peacekeeping Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) works with civil society partners and community leaders on various projects to build social cohesion, promote women’s rights and create conditions that support lasting peace and development. This story is based on an original interview in March 2022.

“As a young girl, I always felt trapped by restrictive social norms. Perhaps the worst experience was watching my mother struggle to make ends meet at a time when we had no support and no money to pay for our school fees.

Women and girls across South Sudan are essentially marginalized. Education for girls isn’t a priority, and they are often seen by families as means of gaining wealth (through dowry).

We are forced to marry before we are ready, and consequently, relegated to the background when it comes to decision-making. I often use an analogy from football to describe women’s lives in our country — it’s like being a perennial goalkeeper. Just as a goalkeeper is responsible for saving attempted goals from the opposing team, but within a narrow space, women here have to operate in a very limited sphere. But the unpaid labour we do — bringing up children, running the home, taking on most domestic chores — is massive.

Therefore, we must demand our space in the sun. We must be safe from sexual violence, have equal access to economic and legal frameworks, and, most importantly, participate fully in public life.

The civil wars of 2013 and 2016 also had a detrimental impact on (advancing) gender equality… the suffering of women was perhaps, at its peak. We were raped, our children killed, an entire generation of girls dropped out of school, and our livelihoods were ruined.

The Revitalized Peace Agreement made it possible to have 35 percent (quota) for women across South Sudan. This is the most significant gain in our shared struggle for equal rights. However, much more remains to be done.

Equal rights for women and girls is a shared struggle across the world. Education, economic empowerment and consistent advocacy is needed for women to be able to take their rightful place alongside men, in deciding the life of a nation.

I call on women and young girls across South Sudan to speak up and speak out. There is power in a collective voice.”