Empower women through law in Southern Sudan

Category: Writing aboard the Kenya Airways: A story on coming to Rwanda for the first time
Published on Monday, 21 February 2011 02:33
Written by Maker Mayek Riak, The New Sudan Vision (NSV), www.newsudanvision.com
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(Canberra, Australia) - The allocation of 25% in political representation to women in South Sudan is absolutely a futile policy. I have a reason for saying so. It is not because it is a preferential treatment, but it is a preferential treatment that serves no purpose, or perhaps, if at all, with purpose that has no ostensible impact. A lot of us might be thinking it empowers women but I think it does not. Tell me, how many women leaders, the direct beneficiaries of the 25%, in the current government of South Sudan are out there trying to make a difference on the plight of women in our country? Absolutely none. None that I know of or heard of and none that I have ever read of. These privileged elites are not up to the task. Their voice is of no utility if it is there at all.

A lot of terrible things continue to happen to women in our society but the supposed 'official voice' remains indifferent to their problems. In our society, women still get bashed to death for refusing to marry some well-to-do individuals because they are either too old for them or do not make their hearts tinkle by the slightest - yet the Juba women power group remains unabatedly oblivious to those who need their support. Young girls are barred from getting the education they deserve so that they can be married off to bring money and property for "chattel masters", yet the "sisters’ keepers" in Juba continue to disregard these abhorrent practices. I could go on and on.

My question is this, if the 25% special treatment quota does not serve the underlying policy principle it was intended to serve, then, why do we have it? Why hasn't some brave woman somewhere raised an issue with the futility of this policy? I think one thing is obvious; people know it is nothing but butter on bread to make it tasty; a ploy to make us look like a society that really cares and wants to empower women to have a voice in decision-making. Nope, it does not look like that to me. It is pointless to me.

Let's seize the "Sputnik moment". Put the special treatment quota aside and take other initiatives that can work. Empower the Southern Sudanese women in law. Enact a family law  and ratify international covenants on the protection of women. They will be more productive than the allocation of ministerial positions and sending a handful of sisters to the top. I am sure the contents of a family law  will be very controversial but at least, the best outcome would be to see underage marriages and forced marriages criminalised. May be the lawmakers from Lakes State, the South Sudan's Nazi State and my very dear State I hail from, will have something to legislate on rather than jailing young men for making their girlfriends pregnant. Include provisions that punish severely those parents who treat their daughters like chattels to deter them and to make them understand that they themselves are state subjects and can be treated like property.

Incorporate a provision that makes it compulsory for girls to complete, at least, primary school before they even think of marrying anybody, consensual or otherwise. Some might call such a policy unreasonable and draconian but it really makes sense compared to the political representation quota. Any law that makes education compulsory is demonstrably justifiable in any 21st Century society. Besides, there's a consensus that education is the best strategy to improve any single individual's well-being. It will be a quantum leap for Southern Sudanese women to get educated and know that they can sustain their own well-being without the need to rely on the traditional and moribund concept of a man being the bread winner.

It cannot be stressed enough, knowing that it’s a matter of procedure. Before we become an independent state, we will need to ratify laws explicitly expressed in International covenants that call for the protection and advancement of women. Education is one of those norms in International law. It is a social right that every Southern Sudanese woman should have. Ensuring that we commit to halving illiteracy among women in the next 10-15 years is an achievable goal. It is one single strategy that will empower women so that they competently participate in decision-making in our country. It is one potent way that women can improve the lives of their families; that they can harness their own potential to contribute to our state and nation-building; and most compelling of all, it is one way to give our women the dignity they deserve as human beings and as our fellow compatriots. I understand this is talking the walk because of the gravity of the issue but discussing the problem is always the start. Some might argue that a 10-15 year commitment to halving illiteracy among women in our country is an expensive undertaking and difficult to achieve given the scarcity of resources that projects have to compete for to win value for money.

But there is an inexpensive approach; enact a family law that will criminalise some silly practices against women. Having family law legislation will address and clarify the position of a woman in our society. I believe through community consultation and engagement, we can get to agree that certain aspects of our practices are irrelevant and dichotomous to the proper functioning of the modern State and they need to be rid of. Practices such as polygamy can be contentious but we can agree to find a way forward with the proponents of the practice. Having family law legislation will give us a fresh breath in setting a new direction in our society. It will accord the Southern Sudanese woman the dignity she deserves in our society because it will give her a say on the structure of our society.

Perhaps, you now understand that I am not against the special treatment quota; it’s just that it’s not helping those it was intended to help. For that reason, I have argued that we need to look elsewhere to address the grave concerns women face in our society.

*Maker Mayek Riak is a graduate of Bachelor of Arts, and a Bachelor of Laws and resides in Canberra, Australia. He can be reached on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.