South Sudan Votes for Independence

Date : 07 February 2011

Close to Capital Khartoum, South Sudanese Vote in Historic Referendum

A South Sudanese voter shows her inked finger and registration card after casting a ballot in the South's historic referendum on independence, on the first day of polling 9 January, in Omdurman, near Khartoum, capital of Sudan. Approximately 51 percent of South Sudan's 3.9 million registered voters are women. (Photo: UN/Paul Banks)

Almost 99 percent of South Sudanese voters have opted to secede from the region's north, announced the South Sudan Referendum Commission (SSRC) in its final polling results today. According to the Commission, 51 percent of the 3.9 million South Sudanese registered to vote are women. Gender disaggregated data for the final poll results is not yet available.

In order to ensure gender-sensitive civic and voter registration in the lead up to and during the polling in January, UN Women provided substantive support to the Government of South Sudan, the SSRC, the South Sudan Referendum Bureau (SSRB) as well as to 37 civil society organizations in the region. In particular, UN Women helped to set up an eight-member Gender Unit at the SSRC, which promoted women's participation in the referendum through a number of specialized conferences and dialogues, educational and communications material, positive messaging in the media, and North-South civil society dialogue on the referendum.

Directly educating women about their voter rights and the referendum was a key component of UN Women's referendum programme, especially given Sudan's 24-year electoral hiatus prior to last year's elections in April. Among other challenges, 92 percent of women are illiterate in South Sudan.

Consequently, UN Women worked alongside civil society organizations in both North and South Sudan to get the word out to women. For instance, it supported 24 civil society organizations in South Sudan to reach women in every county of the region's ten states through door-to-door campaigning in villages as well as public venues, such as church gatherings. Education involved sensitizing voters, flagging protection issues and encouraging men to support women to vote.

In northern Sudan, UN Women supported a number of civil society organizations to conduct outreach and civic and voter education in communities heavily populated by southern Sudanese, including settlements for internally displaced persons in urban areas.

“The face-to-face strategy made a huge difference, since it meant we were able to properly clarify the issues, said Kevina Aber, Programme Coordinator for Southern Sudan Women's Empowerment Network (SSWEN)—an organization that worked alongside UN Women to educate women in South Sudan. “It led to women registering in high numbers.

In addition to campaigning to women directly, UN Women worked with civil society to train police and members of informal community protection mechanisms to address the safety of women during the referendum process. It also worked to mobilize key segments of southern Sudanese society in support of women. This included initiating dialogues with religious and traditional leaders on the role they can play to promote women's political rights, as well as women lawyers on how they can make an effective contribution to the referendum and post-referendum activities.

UN Women's Referendum Project is funded under the UNDP-managed referendum basket fund, supported by 10 donors: Netherlands, United Kingdom, Japan, Canada, Norway, the European Union, Sweden, Denmark, France and Australia.

For more information, contact Gudrun Fridriksdottir, UN Women, Reporting and Communications Consultant, Sudan, gudrun.fridriksdottir[at]unwomen.org, +249 (0) 917571071