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South Sudanese Officials Call for End to Sexual Violence

FILE - Women and girls speak to members of a U.N. peacekeeping patrol as they walk to get food in Bentiu, fearful of being attacked on the way, near Nhialdu, South Sudan, Dec. 7, 2018.

On International Women's Day, South Sudan's minister for gender, women, and social welfare called on the government to invest in education as a way to build South Sudanese society and improve women's lives.

South Sudan Minister for Gender and Social Development Awut Deng Acuil takes part in a press conference on Aug. 17, 2016 in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.
South Sudan Minister for Gender and Social Development Awut Deng Acuil takes part in a press conference on Aug. 17, 2016 in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.

"This is a time that we should be thinking to invest more in educating the young generation of females which will be leaders of tomorrow," said Minister Awut Deng Acuil at the Nyakuron Cultural Center in Juba on Friday.

Sumedi Kejo, acting director general at the Jubek State Ministry of Gender and Welfare, said many women have suffered sexual violence during South Sudan's civil war and perpetrators are rarely held accountable. Kejo said the government must make sure the rule of law is enforced and see to it that the perpetrators of sexual assaults are punished.

"These things are happening every day, especially during the war and even now because there is a breakdown in the rule of law. Anybody can do anything; you cannot be held accountable," Kejo told VOA's South Sudan in Focus.

She said the war forced many women and children to flee their homes. Many women and children are returning home because they are hopeful peace will endure after last year's signing of the revitalized peace deal. Fighting, however, continues in parts of the country and women are still being sexually assaulted.

Government should do more

Kejo said the government should do more to restore stability so that displaced people can return home.

"We really want to see results on the ground, we want to see that we are peaceful, we can access our villages peacefully, we can access even the forests so that we can get firewood for cooking and we can travel at night and during the day without anybody jumping out from any bush with a gun to harass people. We want peace that can be seen, not peace that is on the lips," Kejo said.

Discrimination is systemic, widespread

Juba resident Lucia Bianza said discrimination against women is systemic and widespread in South Sudan.

"Most of the time at work place, you find that the women can be employed at the same level with a man but you find that a man will be paid higher than the woman and yet you are doing the same job. Then there are issues of gender imbalance, you find that there is a tendency, those technical jobs within the workplace, they tend to think that women cannot do even if you have gone under that course," Bianza told South Sudan in Focus.

South Sudan marked International Women's Day under the theme, "Think Equal: Make 35 Percent of Women's Participation Count."

South Sudan's ruling SPLM once promised to increase the percentage of women from 25 percent to 35 percent to empower women. That was in 2013.

South Sudan's women activists have been calling for a 35 percent allocation in government positions ever since.