These and other women in Western Lakes are demanding the political representation the revitalized peace agreement entitles them to.
This November, South Sudan is expected to begin a new chapter in its history as opposition parties come together to establish a unified transitional government, as stipulated in the revitalized peace agreement.
The deal is also promising an important window of opportunity for women, who will be entitled to a 35 per cent share of decision-making seats in government structures at all levels.
Yet many women in Western Lakes are still unaware of their rights, and unsure about whether they will see their agreed political powers materialize.
“Women don’t understand what they are entitled to in the peace agreement, yet the time for establishing a unified government is just around the corner,” says Mary Achol, one of the organizers of a workshop conducted by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan and its Gender Affairs Unit.
The women, most of whom are illiterate and cannot interpret the written peace deal, are struggling to claim what they are slowly beginning to understand belongs to them. Despite this, they insist that nothing will deter them from attempting to do so.
“They say women are not educated and that’s why they have been sidelining us, but I keep on asking: what about the men who have never seen a blackboard but are still holding office? Does a lack of education only affect women?” asked Victoria Deng Madit, a former legislator from Western Lakes.
The Greater Lakes region has witnessed women struggle to overcome a patriarchal system to secure their places in government positions. Over the last six months, they have experienced several setbacks: the two female ministers in Eastern Lakes were relieved of their duties, the female deputy governor of Western Lakes was ousted, and a female representative from Gok was impeached.
What remains in terms of women’s political representation in the region is a total of four female advisers and one minister, the latter in Gok.
“It is shocking,” Victoria Deng Madit said. “Not one constituency has a female governor or deputy governor. Why is that?”
During the workshop, participants tried to identify both what challenges women are facing and how they may be overcome.
Among the obstacles cited were a lack of education, nepotism, limited capacity to lobby, patriarchal dominance, tribalism, and other unfair cultural practices. Possible solutions mentioned included community sensitization about women’s rights and vocational training.
To further their causes, the women resolved to form a nine-member task force named the Western Lakes Advocacy and Lobbying Group, which will focus on working for greater political representation of females. The body will also create a roster of qualified female candidates to receive training on how to campaign more effectively during election season.
“The group plans to meet with the governor of Western Lakes and his cabinet to present the issues raised here today,” said Doris Maholo Saydee, a Gender Affairs Officer serving with the peacekeeping mission and a member of the new task force.
The workshop concluded with empowered women celebrating their organizational feat with a series of spine-tingling ululations, which may still be reverberating in the area.
“When we talk, people say that we are fighting men,” said Mary Adhel Jok, former commissioner of Paloach County and chairperson of the task force. “But we are not here to fight anybody, we are just asking for our share, for what belongs to us.”