Will an independent southern Sudan bring advances for women?

“When it comes to human rights, states have an obligation to respect, protect, promote and fulfil human rights,” writes NSV contributor Akur Ajuoi Magot, Deputy Director of the Southern Sudan Women Lawyers’ Association, in this first in a series of articles examining women rights issues in southern Sudan.

(Juba) – Who knows what 2011 holds for the people of Southern Sudan? One thing however, is for certain if we are to go by the majority wishes of the people of Southern Sudan then 2011 will see the birth of an independent country by whichever name.

The birth of an independent state signifies a lot of hope and opportunity for the people of Southern Sudan. As a feminist lawyer at this time in Southern Sudan I too hope like other women and gender sensitive men that the post referendum period will bring about many advances for women’s rights and equality—and one hopes that women’s issues will take a central place among the many other priorities that go into nation building.

One of the major impediments to the realization of women’s rights world over is violence which takes place both in the privacy of the home as well as in the public sphere. It can be perpetuated by private persons or the state and can take the form of physical abuse, such as beating, psychological abuse (humiliation) or sexual abuse (such as rape).

Violence against women is a violation of women’s human rights and in particular their rights to physical integrity, liberty, equality in marriage and family relations, equal protection under the law, the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, to just and favourable conditions of work, their freedom from torture, cruel, degrading and inhumane treatment, it undermines a woman’s sense of self worth and all too often her right to life itself.

Families, communities and nations as a whole do not go unscathed by the effects of violence against women as it undermines development efforts and efforts to reduce poverty by depleting limited resources and time and undermining productivity of almost what is often half of a nation’s population.

Violence against women is rooted in inequality and discrimination against women in both the public and private spheres and is a manifestation of the historically unequal power relations between men and women. This violence, whether subtle, such as insults or humiliation or in its more severe forms is the main way that societies insubordinate women and maintain the status quo and injustice is perpetuated under the disguise of ‘normality’, ‘natural order of things’ ,‘our way of life’ or even culture.

Violence against women affects all women irrespective of their age, education level, income level, ethnicity or any other social determinants but is further compounded and made worse by these differing social determinants.

While violence against women is one of the most persistent and widespread human rights violation, it was only till fairly recently that it received international attention and recognition as a violation invoking state responsibility for failure to protect survivors under International law. The 1980 Women’s Convention (CEDAW) did not specifically mention violence against women in its text but the committee on the status of women has since in a number of its general comments incorporated and linked violence against women to the provisions on discrimination contained in the convention given that the common thread in all forms of violence against women is indeed discrimination.

One of the reasons why violence against women did not make it earlier to the international scene was that it was thought of as a private matter that takes place between private persons or couples and even the more severe accounts of violence against women taking place in the home were thought of as individual deviant behaviour. By linking violence against women to violation of human rights including reading it within the legal definitions of discrimination and associating it with torture which is , an act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purpose as……..punishment, intimidation, or coercion or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, and appreciating it as the chief means by which women are subordinated, violence against women is now recognised as a human rights violation involving state responsibility for a failure to protect survivors.

When it comes to human rights, states have an obligation to respect, protect, promote and fulfil human rights. So when it comes to ending violence against women and elimination of all forms of discrimination against them, states have a responsibility to refrain from abuses of women’s rights through its actors, by enacting and implementing legislations to protect and end violence against women and to take all necessary measures, whether administrative, judicial or educational to end violence and discrimination against women.

*Akur Ajuoi holds an undergraduate degree in Law and a Masters’ degree in International Development Law and Human Rights with specialization in Gender and Law. She is also deputy director of the Southern Sudan Women Lawyers’ Association. She can be reached at n This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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