The world’s youngest nation has begun the process of drafting a permanent constitution, a critical opportunity for the South Sudanese to agree to the arrangements by which they can live together harmoniously, avoiding a repeat of the civil wars that have defined the last decade.
A precondition of this vital social contract: The full and equal participation of all South Sudanese citizens, including not only holdout groups but women, internally displaced people and refugees, young people, persons with disabilities and other marginalized groups.
As part of the United Nations family’s ongoing support to sustainable peace here, the UN Peacekeeping mission, UNMISS, joined hands with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to facilitate a two-day workshop in Bor for IDPs and returnees, especially women, to discuss ways in which they can actively engage in constitution-making.
“Living in camps for displaced people isn’t easy,” said Angelina Nyabiel Gatbuol, a resident of the IDP camp adjacent to the UNMISS base in Bor.
“I believe that our voices must be heard because we are the ones who are directly impacted by conflict. It’s never anybody’s dream to be forced away from their homes and flee for their lives. I am hopeful that if we can contribute meaningfully to the dialogue around the constitution, it will make a tremendous difference to our status – as women and as part of the displaced population,” she added emphatically.
Women and young girls have been disproportionately affected by violence in South Sudan and despite the provision of 35 per cent affirmative action in the Revitalized Peace Agreement, their participation in politics, governance and decision-making remains minimal. Lack of awareness about equal rights contributes to this gap.
“I used to think that voting is a right reserved for men; now I know it is my right too and it is our duty to participate in making decisions that directly affect us. However, we still bear the scars of past wars and are afraid. Security is an essential prerequisite for the constitution-making process and effective governance,” stated Rhoda Awuoi Duot Alith, another participant.
Along with the need to establish security structures, repeated delays in achieving key peace benchmarks such as credible elections, coupled with a dire economic situation across the country have left people disenchanted.
“We need a constitution that creates the environment for new job opportunities so that development can happen,” averred Bior Jok Chaw, another resident of the Bor IDP camp who says he believes South Sudan’s future lies in the hands of young people. “We need vocational training and steady sources of livelihood,” he added.
For their part, Jonglei state authorities seized the opportunity to encourage participants to actively take part in constitutional and electoral processes.
Additionally, they commended such interactive stakeholder meetings for building trust between citizens and the government.
“Such dialogues restore social cohesion because citizens are consulted and consequently will own outcomes from these important processes,” said Acting Governor, Jacob Akech Dengdit.
“This forum is exactly the sort of intervention we must all invest in for people to leave aside their differences and play their part in nation building,” echoed Michael Mading Akueth, Chair of Jonglei’s Relief and Rehabilitation Commission.
89 people attended the workshop, including 26 women.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).