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Women’s Representation in South Sudan State Governments Misses Mandated 35%

FILE - Women march carrying placards with messages demanding peace and their rights, on the streets of South Sudan's capital, Juba, July 13, 2018.

Women’s and human rights activists in South Sudan say parties to the 2018 peace deal are violating a provision that calls for 35% of government positions at all levels to be allocated to women.

President Salva Kiir’s decree reconstituting Western Equatoria state’s government was read on state television on February 25. Out of 17 ministers appointed to the state Cabinet, only four are women. Out of 10 county commissioners, only two are women. All five state advisers are men. Although seven women were appointed commissioners on independent commissions, all five chairpersons of the commissions are men.

South Sudanese President Salva Kiir attends a press conference on Feb. 15, 2020 in Juba.
South Sudanese President Salva Kiir attends a press conference on Feb. 15, 2020 in Juba.

Tambura County women’s activist Clementina Anite said that while she is pleased the parties are finally forming a state government, she is concerned about women’s representation.

“The concern is we are talking about our representation of our 35% of women in all entities because women are educated in South Sudan and all over public places like the market, you find almost 100% of them trying to make a living. The more we are represented, women can do a lot,” Anite told VOA’s South Sudan in Focus.

While most seem to agree women should be equitably represented in government, the appointing authorities often do not put that belief into practice, said Anite.

Jackline Nasiwa, founder of the Center for Inclusive Governance, Peace and Justice in South Sudan, said the 35% participation of women provided for in the peace deal was “far from being met.”

Out of the six reconstituted state governments, Western Equatoria state has the highest number of women appointed to high-ranking positions.

“The few women who have been appointed so far make up less than 20% at the national and state levels. In some states including Warrap, Jonglei, Northern Bahr el-Ghazal and Unity state, women representation is 11% to 17% while at the county level, women make up only 2%,” Nasiwa told South Sudan in Focus.

Women walk to the market in Udier town, in South Sudan on March 7, 2019.
Women walk to the market in Udier town, in South Sudan on March 7, 2019.

Information minister and government spokesperson Michael Makuei denied Kiir’s office was part of the candidate selection process, saying it was the responsibility of the state governors and the chairpersons in the various parties to the peace deal.

"We had some allocation of portfolios. As to who would occupy them, [that] was not our problem. This was the office of the governor's and the chairperson of the parties, not the office of the president," Makuei told South Sudan in Focus.

Mary Nawai, who represents Ibba County at the National Legislative Assembly, said she is disappointed to see women so poorly represented in the new Western Equatoria state government, even though the law requires that women be represented as part of affirmative action.

Nawai argues South Sudanese women are development-minded, noting most still manage to put food on the table despite the country’s economic crisis. She said women would perform as well as men or even better if appointed to government positions.

“I am urging the state government to at least appoint a woman to the chair of the speaker so that we women can feel we are capable of holding top positions,” she said.

Nabeel Biajo contributed to this report.