Almost 400 women leaders from 15 African countries joined the UN-backed three-day conference, which opened on Monday, including former and current presidents.
The goal is to advance progress, tackle pressing concerns and find sustainable solutions to issues affecting women and girls in South Sudan and across Africa.
The conference’s theme is GuwaTaMara, meaning the strength of women. During the meeting, speakers agreed that challenges persist in the areas of leadership and governance, climate change, economic challenges, access to education and gender-based violence.
“The protection of women’s rights is important to us in Government,” South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir Mayardit said. “Our country cannot afford gender-based violence, as it hinders peace and development. Let us keep working towards a better day for women and girls.”
As the 2018 peace agreement enters its final phase, he said the Government will work hard to address challenges women face and to empower them across the country. Ongoing efforts include providing women with opportunities to develop their skills to better compete in the labour market.
The Government had already increased the percentage of women’s representation from 25 to 35 per cent, given the challenges of insecurity and lack of power they face.
“While we have not fully met this quota, we will work to fulfill it and allow women to compete for the remaining 65 per cent,” said President Kiir.
‘Good place to start’
Women’s participation in African parliaments has doubled in the last decades, but more must be done, said UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, in a video statement to the conference.
“Many factors continue to impede women’s leadership and participation on an equal basis with their male counterparts,” she said, emphasizing a need to boost efforts to correct this.
“We need to build a movement for transformational leadership, and South Sudan is a good place to start,” she said, pledging UN support for South Sudan in its ongoing efforts and further achievements. “We need women to participate in finding solutions that work for all. Together, we can turn ambitions into action.”
The UN Deputy Special Representative Sara Beysolow Nyanti said the resilience and determination of South Sudanese women was an inspiration.
“It is my hope that South Sudan will transform to peace with women at the forefront,” she said, adding that without their full and equal participation and leadership, South Sudan will not move forward in its journey from conflict to peace and development.
Yet, the challenges in South Sudan remain daunting. A top priority is to increase women’s representation in political and security institutions to meet and exceed the 35 per cent target set in the 2018 peace agreement, which ended a five-year-long civil war that killed or displaced hundreds of thousands of people.
Discussions will also focus on preparations for the country’s first elections as a sovereign state, due to be held in December 2024.
‘In Their Hands’
A new multimedia photo exhibit “In Their Hands” opened at the conference, shining a light on women taking ownership of peace. Reflecting the conference’s theme, the strength of women leaders abounds. African women paved the way for the Security Council’s adoption of the landmark resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security and are increasingly playing key roles in fostering peace. The exhibit also highlights challenges they face.
“The war has killed hope and turned our lives into a tragedy, but my work pushes me to persevere and makes me hopeful about the future,” said Olla al Sakkaf, a 27-year-old youth activist from Yemen, which has seen a civil war wreak havoc on communities since 2014.
“Every small change I cause in my community gives me hope for a better future for me and for women and youth like me,” she said.
Alokiir Malual, the only woman to have signed the 2015 peace agreement in South Sudan, was also featured in the exhibit.
“We are growing,” she said. “We have smartly taken advantage of the peace process, making sure to gain more for women. We achieved a 35 per cent participation quota by uniting as women and as groups, and coming up with one position, one demand. A formidable achievement by the women of South Sudan.”
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