The Strong Women of South Sudan

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By Nivi Mohanraj

Being at war does not grant the right to rape the so-called enemy. There is no situation in which rape is justified; it is wrong. By raping someone, you are taking away their voice and invalidating their “no”. When someone says “no,” it means no. Unfortunately, this is not the case in South Sudan. The Civil War between Sudan and South Sudan dates all the way back to 1962.

In 1956, Sudan declared its independence from the British and the Egyptians. There were tensions within the southern states of Sudan because they did not feel like a sovereign nation. In 1962, the First Civil War broke out and the fighting continued until 1972. This was when a peace agreement was signed and gave South Sudan a degree of autonomy. This momentous achievement was short lived because the Sudanese government canceled the agreement in 1983 and the Second Civil War broke out.  In 2011, South Sudan was declared an independent nation after a landslide vote. As of February 2017, parts of South Sudan were going through a major famine. According to BBC News, the UN describes this as, “man-made catastrophe caused by civil war and economic collapse.”

Being at war for over six decades has taken a toll on South Sudan, and the citizens, as well. Sexual and gender based violence has increased sixty percent in the past year. In the UN camp in Juba, seventy percent of the women in the camp had been raped since the beginning of the conflict. Located in the Amadi state, Mundri is the center of all the problems. With a population of 47,000 people, a lot of the fighting between rebel groups and governments troops has been occurring here. Between August and October, there were 29 rape cases reported in Mundri. In The Secret War Crime by Aryn Baker, she states that, “Rape is one of the most underreported war crimes that there are.” Considering this, the number of reported cases above must not be an accurate representation of the situation in Mundri.

In the UN camp in Juba, the rape victims range from young girls to elderly women. The situation is South Sudan is slowly improving and in time, hopefully, the conflict will end. Two important lesson from these women are, their unwavering hope and refusal to be defined by their circumstances. In Rape reaches ‘epic proportions’ in South Sudan’s civil war by Sam Mednick, one of the survivors aspires to be a nurse. “I can’t give up,” she said. “I need to continue going to school and fighting for my rights. When you get the woman, you get the nation.”

Under Rule 156 by the International Committee of the Red Cross, rape is a war crime. However, that has not stopped it from occurring because the shame and stigma surrounding rape leads to it being undocumented. Society and its values are evolving with time. In 1998, rape was prosecuted as a crime against humanity because of the rape camps used by Serbian soldiers during the Bosnian War. In 1994, some Rwandan officials were charged with rape as a war crime during the Rwandan Genocide. In more recent times, the kidnappings of young girls by Boko Haram and ISIS’s sale of Yezidi women as sex slaves in Iraq and Syria have motivated activists and survivors to speak out and demand a global response. Talking about rape should no longer be a taboo. Being a woman is empowering and inspiring. The stigma is only as powerful as we make it. So, keep the conversation going and remember to appreciate the women in your life because they are stronger than you think.

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