Women's Security in South Sudan

Human security can be said to have two main aspects. It means, first, safety from such chronic threats as hunger, disease and repression. And second, it means protection from sudden and hurtful disruptions in the patterns of daily life—whether in homes, in jobs or in communities.
- United Nations, Human Development Report 1994
As South Sudan emerges from over 50 years of war, traditional notions of security inevitably dominate this deeply patriarchal society. While tensions with Sudan continue to simmer, and militia group assaults and tribal clashes threaten local and national stability, external threats to security are numerous. Yet for women, threats to their well-being are even more prevalent in the home—a fact that is often overlooked.
For the women of South Sudan, the concept of ‘human security’ best addresses the challenges that threaten them on a daily basis. It is a term that recognizes that a person’s well-being is determined by a much broader range of factors than just conflict and crime. Human security encompasses access to food and health care, economic stability, and respect for human rights. It also includes the ability to live free from the fear of violence.
By these measures, the lives of South Sudanese women and girls are highly insecure. One in every seven women dies in pregnancy or childbirth. In fact, South Sudan’s maternal mortality rate is the highest in the world, and is largely due to the lack of access to medical practitioners and facilities, particularly in rural areas. In a culture where the number of offspring is one of the most important indicators of a man’s success in life, the pressure is high on women to produce as many children as possible, often regardless of the risks to the health of mothers.
Violence against women is also widespread in South Sudan, especially in the domestic setting. Fifty-nine per cent of the women interviewed by the HSBA stated that violence occurs in their homes, according to a recent survey undertaken in urban areas by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. In many parts of South Sudanese society, violence by a husband against a wife is tolerated—indeed, expected—and its prevalence is compounded by the practice of paying a bride price, whereby husbands often feel they own their wives as possessions. Anecdotal accounts also indicate that the incidence of domestic violence has increased since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in 2005.
According to the Government of South Sudan’s Statistical Yearbook for Southern Sudan 2010, 84 per cent of females in South Sudan are illiterate. This is compared to 60 per cent illiteracy among men. In South Sudan’s desperately weak post-conflict economy, women—largely uneducated and unskilled—have few chances to achieve economic security. The low literacy rate among South Sudanese women is also a contributing factor to their low representation in national and local politics.
Over the coming months, the Small Arms Survey will publish a series of short papers exploring these issues (see links below). The series will look in greater depth at the factors that threaten the human security of South Sudanese women and the responses to these threats by the government, the international community, and South Sudanese women themselves.
January 2012