Margaret Ceaser, a member of parliament in South Sudan’s Western Bahr El Ghazal state says she believes in the adage that behind every great man, there is a woman. She took this belief a step further at a recent forum in Wau organized by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), in partnership with the South Sudan Women, Peace and Security caucus. “The time for us to be merely a support structure for men is over,” she stated at the two-day gathering organized by the UN Peacekeeping mission’s Gender Affairs Unit. “South Sudanese women are ready to take the lead in building an enduring, inclusive peace, one that ensures our issues and needs take center stage and are given equal importance as those raised by men,” she stated with conviction.
Fifty-seven women parliamentarians congregated to discuss the need for women’s full and equal participation in this young country’s politics, to shape a future of sustainable peace and prosperity for all. Margaret referenced the positive impact of women in achieving relative stability across Western Bahr El Ghazal and underscored how vital it is for opportunities to be created at the national level for women to effectively lend their voices to the ongoing peace process. “This event has given me, a newly elected member of parliament, to engage with like-minded women leaders across the state. We have shared our failures and our successes. Most importantly, we have shared best practices as well as our dreams of a gender-equal society,” she stated. “This has left me not only with actionable takeaways but with the most important ingredient that one needs to fight the good fight—hope.”
Spirited discussions at the forum covered a wide arc—enhancing women’s representation in nation-building and public life; decision-making; and critically, their full involvement with larger peace and security issues. For Margaret, it has been invaluable. “We discussed the role of a leader and how we define a leader. The consensus was simple: Women constitute 50 percent of any society and our voices must be equally represented in political leadership at every level if South Sudan must emerge as a true democracy,” she revealed.
According to Rweida Rajab, a participant and Deputy Mayor of Wau town, no country can build a durable peace without women being an integral part of the process from start to finish. “It is a fact that the participation of women makes peace processes more sustainable. However, I am concerned that South Sudanese women aren’t being given those seats at the table at this most critical time when the transitional period is coming to an end and elections need to happen in a peaceful, timely manner,” she articulated. “We must be involved, our voices heard and we get the same opportunities as men. We cannot continue to be excluded from the social, political, and economic life of our own country,” she continued passionately. “Without women, there can be no real peace and without peace, there cannot be development. We are a necessary instrument for the full implementation of the 2018 Peace Agreement,” added Rweida.
National Minister of Gender, Child and Social Welfare, Aya Benjamin Warille, agreed with Margaret and Rweida. “We can no longer separate the interests of men and women in South Sudan. We are equal partners with men and we must be treated as such,” stated Minister Warille. For his part, Mustapha Tejan-Kella, Head of the UNMISS Civil Affairs Unit in Wau called on participants to break the silence and report any violence, intimidation, or abuse that they may have undergone. “Do not be silent. Rise and demand your rights. It is time that the powerful women of South Sudan attain their rightful place in society.”
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