Culture and the nation in South Sudan: Gender and future of the new state

Category: Writing aboard the Kenya Airways: A story on coming to Rwanda for the first time
Published on Monday, 06 June 2011 00:17
Written by Dr. Nyanyang Kuch, The New Sudan Vision (NSV),
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(Juba, South Sudan) - We as a people had embarked on a long journey that had many stops. Our current journey of the last sixty years had many stops. In the course of this journey some perished, others were born and raised. Some of us lost their way and yet others seem not to understand. In the course of this journey we met those who engaged in conversation with us, others accompanied us and others engaged us in preparing our current stop. The stop this time happens to be at the crossroads.  It was at the CPA.

The journey that we are about to start, is the last walk to the Promised Land, a land of prosperity, social justice and peace. A land in which all will have a voice and space to participate. There are many hurdles that are on the way but these can be overcome through our resoluteness, and organization 

South Sudan voted for independence during January 2011 referendum. The new state faces numerous demographic  challenges, for  instance, the recent published report by the Southern Sudan Centre for  Census, Statistics and Evaluation (2011), showed that more than 51% of Southern Sudanese are below the age of 18 years; 72% of population are below the age of 30 years; 83% of the population are rural; 51% of population are below the poverty line; 78% of households depend on crop production or animal husbandry as their primary source of livelihood; 55% have access to improved sources of  water; and 53% of population are unpaid family workers. It was reported that women are more than 52% of the total population. The population is made up of women and men, girls and boys and these groups are socially and culturally treated differently because of their inherent difference, the term use to describe this is gender.

Gender is a culturally and socially constructed difference between women and men that varies from place to place and time to time. Southern Sudan communities’ lives, concepts, and orientations, are governed by traditional norms, values and ethics. It is to be noted here that because of this social construct, women, girls and boys are disadvantaged. Girls are not allowed   to go to school in some communities. They are engaged with their mothers in the domestic work, and are given away in marriage at the ages between fourteen and sixteen. Women do most of unrecognized labor that is supporting the families, while they constitute more than fifty two percent (52) % of the population. They are less educated, do not own or have control over the family properties. It is to be noted that maternal related morbidity and mortality, extreme poverty and hunger levels are very high amongst women. Women do not have access, control and use of information.

The practical gender needs that have been identified by women and youth within their socially defined roles  are related to their livelihoods such as clean water provision, health care and employment. Women and youth have strategic gender interests, such as reversing their subordination in the families, their rights to information and its use, legal and economic rights and all gender inequalities   that they want the state to address.

 The case for women and girls become a state responsibility given the fact that they constitute more than 52% of the population. Affirmative action is seen by the government as a solution to offset these inequalities. Affirmative action is passive as the beneficiaries are not participants but only recipients. The best approach will be to have an affirmative action plus empowerment polices and programs.

 For the purpose of this debate, it is necessary to define what empowerment is and why we need women empowerment. Women empowerment is the process by which those who have been denied the ability to make strategic life choices acquire such ability. The ability to exercise choice includes access, control and future claims to Information, and material, human and social resources. Empowerment is about the women sense of self worth; the ability to influence the direction of the social change towards creating a more just social and economic order; the right to access opportunities and resources; the right to control their own lives both within and outside their homes. When we evaluate the progress in women empowerment we are looking at the political, social, and economic and health status of the women

There are international and country related instruments that are used to empower women. UN instruments range from the Human Rights Instruments, MDGS, special programs such as elimination of all forms of Violence against Women, the CEDAW and of late the establishment of UN women.

The questions are, are South Sudanese women empowered? If not are there plans to do that?  What are the gains that can be counted? Is empowerment about the 25% participation in the government institutions? All these questions are raised because empowerment is a participatory process. It is a process in which the disempowered claim their rights. Women have to influence the change and the order of things in the history of South Sudan people.

The new state

 In modern world, States are defined by level of prosperity of their citizens and the level of freedoms and health they enjoy. This has been captured in the GoSS vision 2010-2030 document. The central point in this document is the prosperity of the people, good health, justice and enjoyment of freedoms.  If the people are to prosper the state has to provide enabling environment that will ensure active participation in the development and generation of wealth.  The State framework for distribution of wealth can be through a welfare system where the state subsidizes and distributes actual cash money to vulnerable groups. This system can benefit women and children but will not empower them. The other possibility is a Fair State, where equal opportunities are provided for the population to develop skills, access jobs and decide what they want to do, and access wealth. In this situation the populations are actively involved and are able to take decisions. The central question here is, is the Republic of South Sudan (ROSS) going to be a Fair State or a Welfare State?

I would assume that having fought for the last fifty plus years and having voted overwhelmingly for secession, the South Sudan People are expecting the current leadership to deliver to them a Fair State, where there is redistribution of National income. The citizens will be looking towards the state to assist them to develop skills and expertise that will allow them to participate in the nation building and access jobs. The indicator here will be the earning power of the citizens and their ability to own properties. The state should be able to create an environment where people will have the freedom to use their earnings.

The Official language of ROSS will be English as stated in the draft South Sudan Transitional Constitution that is currently being debated in Southern Sudan Legislative Assembly (SSLA). There is constitutional development to develop other languages. English is an international language  , the  language of business and diplomacy. The dilemma will be how the New state will absorb the western world influence that will be carried in the language and by the returning South Sudanese Diaspora while it develops/evolves into a unique state. Is the new State going to guide the development of new set of morals, and values or preserve the traditional morals and values bearing in mind that South Sudan population is a diverse one?

Is South Sudan like all States that are emerging from war, who have young population, poor infrastructure and weak institutions which create an opportunity to build structures and programs that are responsive to the needs of the people? This situation provides a challenge and opportunity to the Government to transform the rural economy as an instrument of addressing the socio- economic inequalities that were inherited from the previous Khartoum based Governments.

South Sudan has land, water, natural resources, that can be developed to move the economy up the value chain. The president of Government of Southern Sudan in his inaugural address in May 2010 had put the improvement of the lives of the people in Southern Sudan as the target using a balanced economic plan that will have the following objectives.

These objectives can be achieved through creation of an open business environment that  combines export oriented  market economy with  government involvement  through enactment of laws, availing of  credit and mandatory savings through saving schemes . Technical education is a key to rapid economic growth. The economic planning as a key to improvement of lives of the people will require special study to determine how best this can be addressed using the Singapore and Malaysia experiences.


Thank you

*Dr. Priscilla Nyanyang Kuch is South Sudan’s Minister without Portfolio in the Office of the President. The Speech was delivered on June 3rd at the University of Juba, South Sudan.