In the 2018 process, one woman served as a mediator, women made up 25 percent of the delegates, and female civil society leaders acted as official observers. In the 2015 negotiations, 15 percent of the negotiators were women, and female civil society leaders served as both official observers and signatories.
Women in civil society have worked across lines, broadened the negotiating agenda, and staged mass action to advance security.
In 2011, South Sudan became the newest country in the world, but has been plagued by civil war since 2013, causing mass displacement, widespread food insecurity, high levels of violence, and human rights violations that may constitute war crimes. The majority of displaced people are women and girls. In 2015, after seven failed cease-fires and under the threat of international sanctions, President Salva Kiir and rebel leader and former Vice President Riek Machar signed a peace agreement. Following the collapse of the agreement in 2016, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development—an eight-country African trade bloc—has supported renewed talks.
For the 2015 peace process, women comprised 15 percent of negotiators. While women were absent from the government’s delegation, three women served as part of the opposition’s ten-person delegation, including one woman who had fought on the frontlines. The Women’s Bloc of South Sudan—a network of civil society leaders—also served as formal observers and signatories of the 2015 agreement and as members of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission, charged with tracking implementation of the agreement. In the renewed 2018 peace effort, one woman serves as a mediator, women make up 25 percent of official delegates, and members of the Women’s Coalition—a new network of civil society leaders based in South Sudan and surrounding refugee camps—are official observers.
Throughout the peace process, women advocated for quotas to ensure that they have a seat at the table and in decision-making bodies. The negotiating parties have agreed that 35 percent of those appointed to the next transitional government will be female, as well as one of the four vice presidents. Research shows that high levels of women’s participation in public sector positions—as leaders, police officers, judges, agricultural extension agents, teachers, or medical attendants—can improve the quality of service delivery for entire communities, thereby advancing stability and postconflict recovery.
Here are three ways in which South Sudanese women have made a difference in the peace efforts.
Work across lines. Women have de-escalated tensions between South Sudan’s two main tribal groups: the Dinka and Nuer. While living in UN displacement sites, women successfully overcame tribal differences to reduce conflict between their communities. Following the adoption of the 2015 peace agreement, more than five hundred South Sudanese women joined across religious, ethnic, and regional divides to lay out their vision for the “South Sudan We Want,” identifying priorities and establishing the Women’s Peace think tank to monitor implementation of the agreement. They also insisted that all agreements be translated into local languages, and worked together to educate the public on their contents and train them in conflict resolution. In 2018, women living in South Sudan and surrounding refugee camps formed the Women’s Coalition, with members serving as official observers to the renewed peace effort and relaying updates on the talks to the conflict-affected communities.
Broaden the agenda. Due to the influence of South Sudanese women leaders, the 2017 cease-fire agreement expressly prohibited sexual violence in conflict and included strong commitments to protect civilians and reunify women and children. Throughout the process, women also demanded accountability for atrocities committed by armed groups, security forces, and peacekeepers, including widespread sexual violence that has destabilized communities across the country.
Stage mass action. In 2017, hundreds of South Sudanese women marched in silence through Juba, South Sudan’s capital, to call for an end to the conflict. They protested the continued rape and killing of civilians, displacement, and lack of humanitarian services for people in need.
South Sudanese women’s groups and international observers continue to stress that women must participate meaningfully in all peace and security processes to ensure that civilians are protected from violence and the country moves forward on a path to stability.
“When we talk security as women, we’re talking human security. It’s not about the guns . . . It’s about our life, food, education and health.” — Priscilla Joseph, founder and chairperson of the South Sudan Women’s Peace Network
- Direct representation at the negotiation table
- Problem-solving workshops