GENDER AND POLITICS THE CASE OF SOUTH SUDAN

brandeis-regis-logo

LIMBANI TAMBWARI
(Zimbabwe)
&
DARIUS EDEMA
(South Sudan)

Brandeis University

Brief Overview


August 20, 2015(Nyamilepedia) — South Sudan is a newly born country which gained its autonomy on September 11, 2011. Despite being freshly established, gender relations in South Sudan are constructed by social, economic, political and environmental realities after decades of conflict (CARE, 2014). Its population is dominated by men, making 52 per cent of the population against 43 per cent for women in contrast to the global ratio of 51 per cent female and 49 per cent male (Ali, 2011). Women and girls makes the majority of the internally displaced to refuge as they would flee war infested areas with children while men remain behind. The impact has cascaded to Sudan education with women affected most. Only 27 percent of the adult population above the age of 15 is literate of which 40 per cent is of men compared to 16 per cent of women (World Bank, 2014).

Problem Statement

Historically, there existed short sight on principle for the involvement of new actors and agendas in the new and changed political environment so as to enable participation of women who have been out outside traditional political institutions. Therefore, demands for the introduction of mechanisms that would ensure the equal opportunities politics were often understood as illegitimate and unacceptable. Therefore, the newly born South Sudan is confronted with a deep-rooted political culture that indirectly brings a glass ceiling effect that does not support political participation in the sense of active citizenship  (women) (Jalusic 1999). However, most literature has been concentrating on civil and political wars in South Sudan at the expense of gender and politics, due to limited availability of this information, this project seeks to expose the current status and effort by the South Sudan government to bring about equal opportunities politics and to provide micro empirical evidence to fill this gap.

Justification

Due to gender stereotyping, there is a general assumption that women would find it difficult to cope with a high degree of fighting associated with politics, which is perceived as a dirty and corrupted enterprise. In South Sudan a gap exist on the literature on gender and politics. In most cases available literature assesses and discuss about women in development and women and development at the expense of women in politics. There is also limited understanding on how far South Sudan has progressed towards provision of equal opportunities politics which was defined by Faria (2011) as an endeavor to introduce measures that could diminish structural structurally conditioned discrimination against a certain social group in this context ‘women’, with measures which may relate to various areas, such as employment, public and political participation, education or endeavor to change ineffective legislation that incorporates the elements of institutionalized and structural discrimination in participation and representation of women in politics, in this case with reference to South Sudan. Although the project is limited to South Sudan, the information will contribute to existing knowledge and could be of value to the government, civil society, policy makers and development practitioners in formulation of appropriate development model and policies that will help in gender and politics. Furthermore, the study will help future researchers who wish to study on South Sudan.

South Sudan Perceptions on Gender

Contemporary gender issues are not well understood by many people in South Sudan. In most cases people tend to equate gender with biological characteristics of being male or female. This has been exhibited by their referencing of The Ministry of Gender and Social development as for the Ministry for women affairs (Edward, 2014). Furthermore, gender structures are associated with women and men’s positions in the family, with roles and expectations being influenced by patriarchal arrangements that existed in pre-colonial and colonial South Sudan. This historical process led to the formation of rigid and oppositional gender ideology which interacted to create gender ideologies that emphasized separate spheres, unequal positions and inequitable power relations between women and men. Edward (2014) highlighted that, due to the patriarchal orientation of South Sudan just like any other African society, women participation in politics and public affair was minimal and severely restricted. The patriarchal tendencies were further reinforced by the introduction of new gender ideology named ‘Victorian ideology of domesticity’ during the British colonial period (1898-1956). It defined roles of women and men within the family and the society, and emphasized on separate spheres of male and female activity in the public and private spheres. Further emphasis was that women were supposed to concentrate on submissiveness, purity and piety (The cult of domesticity and womanhood, 1910).  While contrary men would be concentrating on business and politics. The impact of this mentality cascaded to post South Sudan Independence hence its contribution to the state of woman participation in politics.

International Perspective for Gender Mainstreaming.

Martin (2013) noted that the African Unions’ (AU) approach to the advancement of women’s rights and gender equality towards their participation in politics has been informed by United Nations (UN) frameworks and instruments. In 1946 the UN created the Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW) to champion women’s empowerment and gender equality in an effort to ensure that the world’s population enjoys equal rights and is able to live in dignity as equal citizens in this context with reference to women in politics. The obligation to the achievement of gender equality can also be traced to the UN Charter (1948)and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (1948) which states that rights and freedoms will not be limited by a person’s gender and establishes that ‘all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights’. Literally, women were being advocated to participate in politics. Prominent among UN frameworks and instruments, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), also described as the ‘International Bill of Rights for Women’, provides the basis for realizing equality between women and men. Additionally, the UN conferences that had women agenda held in Mexico City (1975), Copenhagen (1980), Nairobi (1985) and Beijing (1995) and its Platform for Action, which aims to remove all obstacles in all spheres of public and private life based on a full and equal share in economic, social, cultural and political decision making. In development countries the Beijing Conference of 1995 had a tremendous impact in bringing awareness on women to participate economic, environmental and especially the political sphere. Initially, Women in Development approach (WID) of the 1980s was used to address gender issues and later, it was replaced by the Gender and Development approach (GAD) in the 1990s.

Gender and Politics in Spain

According to Meier, Lombardo and Bustelo (2005, pg. 3), among the European Union members, Spain had the lowest number of women in political decision making until the end of the 1990s. They further noted that, there has been some debate on the position of women. In 1932 women obtained the right to vote and to stand for elections, but studies on the position of women in political decision making generally take a start when the Franco regime came to an end (Astelarra 1998). From 1977 until the end of the 1980s women made up about 6 per cent of the MPs in the national parliament. During the 1990s their number rose to 15 per cent, to attain 28 per cent in 2000 and 36 per cent in 2004. Hence, over the last few years Spain joined states with a high number of women in elected political positions such as the Netherlands. However, the number of women remains considerably lower in the Senate, making up 23 per cent since the 2004 general elections. Meier etal (2005) noted that, the position of women in political decision making became an issue and in 1988 the Socialists party launched a debate on quotas and approved a 25 per cent minimum quota for women for party functions and for electoral lists. In reaction to this measure, the opposition Leftist Party set a quota of 35 per cent and although the number of women elected did not rise to the quotas set, it started its way upwards (Bustelo et al. 2004).

Furthermore, in 1996 the Conservatives party came to power, rejecting what they call the ‘wonder-bra’ quotas (Meier et al, 2005, pg. 4) and then the debate on quotas first entered the legislative arena in 1997 when the Leftist Party questioned the Conservatives about their plans to guarantee a higher participation of women in politics in the Women’s Right Committee of the Parliament. The third National Plan for Equal Opportunities (1997-2000) contained a section on ‘power and decision-making’ and several subsequent regional equality plans, as well as the fourth national one, contained similar sections. The 1999 municipal and regional elections led to a quotas debate within all parties. The Conservatives repeated their rejection but increased the number of women candidates. The various parties maintained their positions in subsequent elections, and in the 2000 general elections parties used quotas as a campaign issue. Changing its statutes, the Leftist party raised its quota. Debates were also influenced by the French parity law but the ‘constitutionalization’ of the issue of women in politics was tackled with more reluctance. Meier et al (2005, pg. 4) hinted that in 2000 the Socialists presented a bill for the reform of the national electoral system, which was rejected and in 2002 elections the Socialists adopted an equality plan with a strong commitment for parity democracy. Both the Socialists and the Leftist party respectively submitted a bill on an egalitarian access to electoral positions, but none of them would pass. A mixed group of parliamentarians also presented a bill meant to guarantee men and women equal access to electoral positions, which was also rejected. Regions such as the Baleares and Castilla-La Mancha approved bills including the zipper principle, which were considered unconstitutional by the conservative government and taken to the Constitutional Court (Bustelo et al. 2004). Despite all the rejections, numbers of women entering the politics arena in Spain has been on the increase.

South Sudan Gender and Politics Legal Framework.

Gender and politics was and is a new subject that still need clarity in South Sudan, however, from the twentieth century, women in South Sudan were able to enter the political arena and other fields which were considered as reserved for men territories. Women’s distinguishability in politics was evident after the signing of the Addis Ababa Agreement in 1972 in the Southern Sudan Regional Government establishment. In this era some women in South Sudan joined the  For instance, some women from South Sudan joint the Women Socialist Union created between  during 1969-1985 (same period when Nimieri’s regime was launched) (Sudan Tribune, 2011).
The signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA, 2005) also gave an opportunity for women in South Sudan to enter into the political arena. It stipulated a twenty five per cent affirmative action for women’s representation in all levels of government.  The effort was to address historic injustices and imbalances in women presentations in politics. The CPA increased the number of women participation in decision making. However, despite the operations of CPA, most women remained marginalized and where insecure.

Further effort to address the balance of gender in politics was evidenced by the launch of The Transitional Constitution of South Sudan (2011). Section 16 subsection 3 and 4(a) of the constitution stated that women shall have the right to participate equally with men in public life it further promotes women participation in all levels of government and their representation in the legislative and executive organs by at least twenty-five per cent as an affirmative action to redress imbalances created by history, customs, and traditions. Immediate inclusion of at least 30 per cent representation by women in the new permanent Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan shows the government interest to address gender imbalances and inequality in South Sudan political arena. Women participation did not increase significantly but added few parliamentarians.
A year after independence, South Sudan launched the National Elections Act (2012)which emphasized the allocation of 15 per cent of the proportional party list to women.. It included provisions ensuring that women are likely to be elected from the list and stipulating that placement must be done in consultation with women’s groups. Seats for women in parliament were reserved with rotations of each constituency in each election.

South Sudan women also organized large conference entitled “Mainstreaming Women’s Agenda in the Post-Referendum Arrangements”. The conference involved the Government of South Sudan through the Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Welfare and international agencies and civil society representatives, government legislators, parliamentarians, members of the South Sudan Referendum Commission and the African Union (Faria, 2011) as to improve women participation in politics.

Barriers to South Sudanese Women Political Participation: Women involvement in politics is not free of contestations and challenges as they still face numerous challenges some of which are socio-cultural, while others relate to different status of women.

Educational Status:

Unsatisfactory educational background among the South Sudanese women has a cast a glass ceiling on women raise in political ranks. Increasing high rate of illiteracy among women has further contributed negatively to their political participation. According to the World Bank (2014) statistics, the illiteracy rate of women in South Sudan was at 73 per cent of the population thus a reflection of uneducated majority as the women. Several factors contributed to such high illiteracy rate, among them the consequences of the 22-year civil war during which many educational institutions were destroyed, as well as some cultural perceptions that undervalue girls, women’s education and the social construct of women responsibilities of looking after the family by cooking, feeding and washing.

Access to Campaigning Money:

Additionally, there were many challenges identified that affect women’s political representation, participation and decision making and these include access to money for campaign. In most cases once a women is selected funding is withdrawn, harassment and intimidation follows.  The general assumption is women cannot handle political pressure and cannot worse trying to juggle political matters with domestic hence looked shunned from politics..

Culture

The norms, values, belief, practices and perceptions in South Sudan represent major obstacles to women’s participation in politics and other public affairs. Women fail to maneuver into politics due to practices such as early, forced, and arranged marriages which obstruct women’s advancement and empowerment. Such cultures would limit women’s chances to continue education which will allow them to pursue careers in politics and other professions. In addition, South Sudan patriarchal inclinations and cultural perceptions that view women as suited only for domestic responsibilities while involvement in politics is seen as men domain further contributes to barriers for women efforts to pursue political role.

Traditional rules and regulations govern the conduct of the South Sudanese and customary laws have influenced the role of women in public life, in particular political participation. The current operating customary laws have made it difficult for women to escape the bondage of domestic roles which relegated them to the status of second class citizens. Generally, under these laws women are valued and respected as mothers and cherished as daughters because they are expected to bring wealth to the family upon marriage. Women also serve as guardians of culture and traditions and are charged with imparting cultural values to the younger generation. However, this accord of respect is not usually complemented by many aspects of customary laws pertaining to women’s lives. These same aspects of the law are sometimes used to marginalize women’s voices and rights, as well as to justify women’s exclusion from political participation and decision making process as they deemed to be only specialist in domestic issues other than political matters.

Gendered Division of Labor:

The marginalization of women participation in politics and public spheres can be attributed to the gendered division of labor, which puts heavy burden on women’s shoulders. In their house chores, the Sudanese rural woman would woke up at five early in the morning, to walk many kilometers, to bring few liters’ of water and spend more hours working in the family farming land and preparation of the family meals. This consumes much of their time thus depriving them time to in cooperate or participate in political matters.

Women’s Displacement

During the war, women and children were taken to safe places away from the war stricken areas mostly remote rural areas and men would remain in the cities to look for resources to feed the family in the cities. This has helped women to remain alive but it has disadvantaged them being in active politics. The distance barrier has result in limited number of women presence in political arenas.

Women Own Suppression and Stereotyping

Despite other barriers to women participation in politics, women themselves can be a hindrance to their own advancement and empowerment, especially when they internalize the long held assumptions and perceptions that politics and other public affairs are only for men while, women’s place is at home. Internalizing such assumptions negatively affect women’s attitudes toward politics. For example, women might be reluctant to be involved in politics and also stereotyping that politics was a men game affects their involvement into politics. Those women who venture into politics face many challenges and criticism from men and sometime from women themselves as they are labeled as unfeminine, irresponsible wives or mothers and being loose women. This has demotivated many women to participate into politics of South Sudan.

Recommendations

There is need for reduction of high illiteracy rates among women through investment in education; strengthening existing Ministry of Education, and encouraging women to enroll into education, establishment of independent adult literacy programs to increase adult literacy rates or even provision for free education for all disadvantaged women. Women trainings on political diplomacy, campaigning and entrance into politics must be the focal stance at ward, district and national level. Improvement in education and trainings will help assist women to have a renewal of their mind set by removing stereotypical tendencies of underestimation of their capabilities hence developing mechanisms to improve their education and economic situation for the betterment of their chances to compete in the politics. This can also be achieved by collaborations with civil society and donors to promote women’s grassroots participation, which could include training in leadership and other relevant skills; working to strengthen women’s self-esteem; and identifying and eliminating socioeconomic, cultural and political barriers to women’s participation at the household, community, and state levels.

Access to campaigning funds should to be linked to gender equality effort for women participation in politics. The current system grants great power to political parties’ leadership to choose candidates without consultation with women’s groups thus the need to have laws that would relinquish these powers for the laws that would call for endorsement of candidates selected by women group in each political party. Other funds should be made available for to raise civil society organizations and women groups strengthening and capacity building.

In order to in cooperate women who have been displaced by the war, compulsory measures has to be imposed to political parties to include a certain number of women in their structures for them to be eligible for registration. Women participation and incorporation should be evidenced from the remote areas where women are concentrated with representations at each level.

Cultural barriers to women participation in politics calls for redefining of South Sudanese social constructs. This would entail redefinition of gender division of labor, specification of the appropriate age of marriage in the constitution, and ensuring law enforcement to combat early marriage, investment in early childhood day care to remove the burden of women concentration on child rearing particularly in urban areas, and improvement of basic services in cities as well as in rural communities to ensure women’s enrolment and retention in school, as well as to lessen women’s workload. Simply affirmative action for women would be the best solution. A demonstration on how other countries and institutions have managed to counter gender barriers in politics has to be demonstrated to political parties and communities.  It is also argued that gendered cultural dilemmas can be resolved through intercultural democratic dialogue (Song, 2007).

Conclusively, Faria (2011) alluded that, there is need to realize the pivotal role women can contribute to political stability as they are peace makers in nature hence the need for their participation in South Sudan politics. This has been tested and proven in South Sudan, when a sharp tribal division between Nuer and Dinka in 1991, women groups demonstrated their political impact through peace dialogue facilitation and they successfully reconciled the two leaders who had division along tribal line.

References

Ali N. M, (2011) Gender and State building in South Sudan: United Peace Institute Report
http://www.usip.org/sites/default/files/resources/SR298.pdf, Accessed on 10/18/2014.

Asylum Research Consultancy, (2013), South Sudan Country Report, http://www.refworld.org/pdfid/511bc5f88.pdf, accessed on 10/18/2014

Comprehensive Peace Agreement, (2005), 
http://unmis.unmissions.org/Portals/UNMIS/Documents/General/cpa-en.pdf, accessed on 10/18/2014

Constitution, (2011), The Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan, http://www.sudantribune.com/IMG/pdf/The_Draft_Transitional_Constitution_of_the_ROSS2-2.pdf, accessed on 10/18/2014

Faria C, (2011), Gendering War and Peace in South Sudan: The Elision and Emergence of Women, http://concernedafricascholars.org/bulletin/issue86/faria/ , Accessed 10/18/2014.

Martin O. (2013), The African Union’s Mechanisms to Foster Gender Mainstreaming and Ensure Women’s Political Participation and Representation, International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA), Stockholm, Sweden
http://www.idea.int/resources/analysis/loader.cfm?csModule=security/getfile&pageid=58486

Meier P, Lombardo E, Bustelo M. (2005), Gender mainstreaming and the bench marking fallacy of women in political decision making. http://pendientedemigracion.ucm.es/info/target/Art%20Chs%20EN/ArtPolpart_GRSR_05EN.pdf

National Elections Act, (2012), The Laws of South Sudan, Act Number 39, Juba, South Sudan. http://www.necsouthsudan.org/sites/default/files/resources/National%20Elections%20Act,%202012.pdf, accessed on 10/18/2014

The cut of domesticity and Womanhood, (1910), http://www.historyteacher.net/AHAP/Readings/reading-CultofDomesticity.pdf, accessed on 10/18/2014

United Nations, (1948), Universal Declaration of Human Rights, http://www.supremecourt.ge/files/upload-file/pdf/act3.pdf

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