Shifting the balance: Sudanese women in positions of power

16 April 2010 - There is unequal participation and representation of men and women in almost all political and socio-economic spheres in Southern Sudan, with women remaining a minority. Though some progress has been made since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005, more must be done to encourage women to compete for high-level positions so that they are properly represented in key institutions. Enabling women to pursue careers in government and law will help create a new generation of leaders who can address and defend equal rights in parliament, in the courtroom, and in the community.

The CPA and the Interim Constitution of Southern Sudan (ICSS) both state that human rights and fundamental freedoms should be available to all citizens. They also call for affirmative action to re-dress the historical imbalances and inequalities by stating a mandatory 25% women representation at all levels of the public sphere. These provisions are very progressive, but operationalizing them has been difficult and inequality remains a big issue in Southern Sudan.

Recognizing that Sudan’s first multiparty national poll in 24 years offers hope that women’s participation in public office might increase, the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), in collaboration with UNDP, helped empower female candidates in the run up to the election by providing training in all of Southern Sudan’s ten states. Education was also offered to female voters in an effort to mobilize them to participate in the polls. UNIFEM’s main objective is to create the political space for all – not just half – of Sudan’s diverse peoples to have a say in the decisions and policies that affect their lives.

UNDP spoke to women in Juba on the last day of polling to gauge the impact of these activities. In a statement, Mrs. Farida Simon, a Public Service Official working for Central Equatoria state, said: “I am so happy to come here today to vote for peace. This is my chance to vote for the right people to lead this county.”

To complement this work, the Ministry of Legal Affairs and Constitutional Development (MoLACD) has been working with UNDP to look at the status of women in law in Southern Sudan. In a workshop help in March, female lawyers from MoLACD, the courts and private practice came together for the first time to share their experiences and work together to look at practical ways to ensure a legal environment which protects everyone equally. Participants heard experiences from female lawyers from other countries and discussed capacity building needs for Southern Sudan.

The workshop contributed to the establishment of the Southern Sudan Women Lawyers Association – a body to empower female lawyers to improve their professional skills and enhance their contribution towards key developmental issues. This Association will become legally operational after registration with the government. It is hoped that the initiative will help raise awareness of gender issues, and improve the protection of women by lobbying for legal reform.

Copyright (c) United Nations Development Programme Sudan, 2011. All rights reserved
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