Recap of the PAX, Plan Nederland and WO=MEN Lunch Session on 24 June: The need for gender-responsive transitional justice in South Sudan

PAX South Sudan and Plan Nederland in collaboration with WO=MEN, reflect on an informative and hopeful lunch session with South Sudan project officers Vicky Apio and John William. Vicky and John both work daily on transitional justice and peacebuilding in South Sudan.

The session's goal was to raise awareness on the looming crisis in South Sudan and explore approaches for support. With South Sudan facing one of the world's worst refugee crises and women rights being ignored or often undermined, the need for gender-responsive transitional justice is crucial. 

The South Sudanese people have been suffering for decades from war and trauma. South Sudan is experiencing one of the worst refugee crises in the world, with millions of people facing both man-made and natural disasters. The country is on the brink of an additional crisis, lacking moral leadership and being in an almost permanent state of political discord and mutual hatred. Sixty percent of the population are women, who face even greater difficulties. 

“As a woman in South Sudan, you are more of a property than a human being. You are owned,” said Vicky Apio. She mentioned as examples the tradition of 2-year-old daughters who can be booked as a bride by adult male relatives. On top of that, later in life, if the man dies, another family member can 'inherit' her. 

The upcoming elections (initially foreseen for December this year) is a crucial moment in South Sudan's history but it is feared that it may result in widespread violent clashes as the process is poorly thought through and people have not received any voter education. “We are working with partners on the ground to change the narrative,” John explained. “We have to invest in education, but we also have to invest in improving law and order.” Vicky and John highlighted the importance of female and male role models and advocates to change the narrative and spaces. 

“Female parliamentarians are now empowered, but how do we work with men who are not used to empowered women?” Vicky asked. This is why it is so important for men to be active and supportive as well. The role of the church with a network throughout all levels of society, along with local chiefs, fathers, and diverse voices, is crucial when building a gender-responsive transitional justice system, including transforming conflicts at both the national and peripheral levels. 

John William: “We want to change these cultural norms through three advocacy messages: 1) eliminate gender-based violence, 2) empower women through education and activities, and 3) have a clear stance on the roles of women and men in these issues. Solidarity meetings, where people come together to share ideas and showcase how women are faring in different locations, can strengthen and empower women throughout South Sudan, with the support of men who champion women's rights.” 

We want to thank Vicky Apio and John William and the audience who actively participated, for this empowering session.