In Yei, UNMISS and implementing partner, Mission to Alleviate Suffering in South Sudan, handed over a safe house to provide emergency shelter for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. Photo by James Sokiri/UNMISS.
CENTRAL EQUATORIA – In South Sudan, the world’s newest nation, women and girls are disproportionately affected by conflict.Preventing and ending all forms of violence against women, therefore, remains a priority for the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). Recently, the UN Peacekeeping mission handed over a safe house to provide emergency shelter to survivors of sexual and gender-based violence in Yei River county, Central Equatoria state. This project was prioritized by local authorities and the community.“This safe house, constructed with support from UNMISS and the Mission to Alleviate Suffering in South Sudan as an implementing partner, represents our joint commitment to ensure that the rights and dignity of survivors are protected. Mostly, I am glad that we will no longer have to house women and girls who have been traumatized in our homes. They deserve a safe space,” stated Emma Meli, the county’s Director of Gender, Child and Social Welfare, speaking at the handover ceremony. The safe house, which consists of a conference hall, bedrooms, a kitchen and two bathrooms, was constructed through the mission’s Quick Impact Projects (QIPs) programme that funds infrastructural support to address urgent community needs. For her part, Njoki Kinyanjui, Head of the UNMISS Field Office in Central Equatoria, observed that as this young nation approaches its first post-independence elections in December 2024, protecting women and girls is more vital than ever. “One of the key indicators of peace, security and development in any society or country is how well women and girls are protected, their rights upheld and whether they have access to equal opportunities,” averred Ms. Kinyanjui. “Sexual and gender-based violence is rooted in harmful traditional practices and cultures. In conflict contexts, the battlefields have moved to the bodies of women and girls. This scourge must be addressed holistically and collectively through prevention, protection, and accountability. While this safe house is a concrete example of our commitment as a Peacekeeping mission to support survivors, we must not forget that enhancing accountability is a deterrent to occurrence and, thus, call upon the authorities to enable swift justice” she added. County Commissioner Aggrey Cyrus Kanyikwa agreed with Ms. Kinyanjui. “We must come together to address the root causes of violence against women and girls in our society and end harmful norms such as early or forced marriages. Women make up 50 per cent of our society and they must be empowered and safe to take up their legitimate role in taking decisions on issues that impact them and the wider community directly,” said County Commissioner Cyrus. An important issue discussed: Stigma against survivors. “Stigma ranges from subtle criticism or discrimination, to insults, peer isolation, or being disowned,” revealed Emmanuel Tedrige, Chair of the South Sudan Nurses and Midwives Association in Yei. “This is a mindset we must change, and I am excited to see this safe house which, to me, represents an excellent step towards ensuring survivors have a confidential place to recover, receive counselling and return home with dignity,” he added.For Doctor Joseph Khamis Raymond, Acting Medical Director of Yei Civil Hospital, the protection of women is paramount. “We should work together to identify existing protection gaps to better serve our survivors and witnesses by ensuring that the referral pathway is done with the necessary measure of professionalism, confidentiality and competence,” he pointed out.As the day came to a close, Ms. Kinyanjui urged all attending to come together, as the country approaches its first post-independence elections, to contribute towards creating a safe and inclusive civic and political space for women as leaders, voters and community influencers. The safe house was constructed by local implementing partner—the Mission to Alleviate Suffering in South Sudan—which also provided 200 sanitary kits, kitchen utensils and installed ceiling fans, while the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has provided furniture and will support with personnel.