When a woman talks peace in South Sudan we must listen

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Displaced girls South Sudan
Three South Sudanese girls stand together at the IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camp in Juba where 20,000 people are currently living. Food, water and health care are in short supply at the camp as international agencies scramble to bring aid funds to families in the region. Image: Astrid Sehl/NorwayMFA

(WNN) Juba, SOUTH SUDAN, EASTERN AFRICA: Seeing the critical impacts of conflict ‘up-close’ Ms. Norah Zangabeyo from the South Sudan Women Leaders for Peace has been talking with strength about how peace is the most important issue facing South Sudanese women and their families today.

“Peace means for women to develop, to bring up their little ones in a safe environment,” outlines Zangabeyo sharing her on-the-ground perspective during a radio interview on United Nations Radio in April 2014.

“With the current conditions in our country of course there is a lot of fear, displacement. Many people were killed. Women were raped. Young people have been recruited to now fight, which is a big problem for women,” continued Zangabeyo.

“Peace is a very expensive item. It has taken more than 2 million lives,” says Zangabeyo. “Everybody is looking forward to peace,” she continues. “Because peace is about forgiveness. Peace is about reconciliation…Peace is about talking about it,” she added.

A little more than six weeks after government officials, civil society, women’s organizations, youth groups and peace collectives, including regional church groups, launched the National Platform for Peace and Reconciliation (NPPR) in Juba, the capital city of South Sudan in April 5, 2014, the South Sudan Humanitarian Conference in Oslo, Norway on May 19 kicked off for two days of high level meetings that brought more than 600 Million international (USD) dollars to global and local aid efforts operating in the region.

“These generous pledges will, once paid, translate into life-saving relief to the most vulnerable people in South Sudan and to those who have sought refuge in neighbouring countries,” said UN Humanitarian Chief Valerie Amos who co-chaired the meeting in Oslo.

In addition to the ongoing need for additional aid to help those who have been left homeless on the crisis, the goal for everyone involved is obvious. Sustainable peace is needed in the region, say those who are outside looking in as well as those who have been suffering under the conflict in the region for the past year.

The process of healing, peace and reconciliation is a ‘cross-cutting’ theme, outlined members of the NPPR in April.

Suffering from the impact of armed conflict since December 2013, over one million people in the South Sudan region have left their homes. In 2012 violence against women and girls had already been assessed to be happening in critical epidemic amounts inside the home. As armed conflict in the region heated up in December 2013, women, girls and the elderly were placed in a vulnerable state as part of a large wave of displaced persons who left their homes to live in camps inside the region and outside the country borders of South Sudan.

Over the past year, even in the camps, civilian, as well as military ‘protective’ forces, have also brought fear to women many who have witnessed or heard about the ongoing dangers and occurrence of sexual assault. Underage children have also been victims of the conflict under recruitment by armed militias and government forces.

“Our leaders should stop recruiting the young people [as soldiers]… enough is enough!” added Zangabeyo as she commented to UN Radio on the use of child soldiers under the armed conflict that persists in South Sudan.

Dialogue at the grass-roots level is vital, say advocates who are beginning to work in a cooperating effort to lessen the suffering in the region.

“The reconciliation has to be a national endeavour and not involve the political elite alone but include all affected communities who have deep-seated grievances,” said Mr. Raisedon Zenenga, UN Special Representative to the Secretary General for Political Affairs who was present at the April launching of the National Platform for Peace and Reconciliation (NPPR) at Freedom Hall in Juba.

“We expect the parties to the conflict to honour their [peace] agreement signed 9 May,” said Norway’s Foreign Minister Børge Brende at the Oslo humanitarian conference that brought many of the biggest national donors for South Sudan under the same roof. “The fighting must stop so that people can plant and tend to their livestock. Humanitarian access must be guaranteed so aid organizations can reach more people in need,” Brende added from the May Oslo conference.

“Everybody is going to start thinking about peace. People are just going to talk peace.  As women have been talking peace they always say ‘no to war and violence and here’s to peace because we want to sleep comfortably’. That platform is going to create a big awareness in South Sudan…” said Zangabeyo in her April interview with UN Radio.

As one of the agencies working to bring on-the-ground aid to the South Sudan region CARE International has been providing food, water and health care to those who have been left homeless because of the conflict. In addition to the impacts of violence against women and girls in the region, food availability in May into June 2014 continues to be a critical factor now facing women and their families.

“The impact of the conflict on women and girls has been horrifying,” said Aimee Ansari, CARE South Sudan Country Director. “The things happening here to women and girls are evil. Women tied up, raped and then shot. Women attacked in hospitals and churches where they had fled seeking safety with their families. There is no safe place for a woman today in South Sudan.”

To hear more from the ground in South Sudan listen to this interview with Ms. Norah Zangabeyo via UN Radio:


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