UN Women Executive Director speaks on South Sudan

Press statement by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka during an official mission to South Sudan, Juba, 19 February 2014.


[Check against delivery]

Good afternoon,

I am near the end of a two-day visit to South Sudan where I had an opportunity to see for myself the impact of the recent conflict on women and the efforts that are being taken to advance women’s rights, participation and gender equality in this young country.

I came here to support women’s full participation and inclusion in the political talks that began last week in Addis Ababa. I came to ensure that women and girls’ needs are fully integrated in the humanitarian response to the crisis. And I came to assess how we could strengthen our essential work to support South Sudan in its efforts for nation-building and development.

I have had an opportunity to discuss the situation with the President [Salva Kiir], key Cabinet Ministries, donors, UN agencies, Members of the Legislative Assembly, and with women leaders in the country.

The ongoing crisis in South Sudan is of grave concern, and women, girls and children are particularly affected by the crisis.

The conflict has resulted in untold suffering; 3.7 million people are in need of food aid. Since mid-December 2013, more than 716,000 people are estimated to be internally displaced, including some 75,000 seeking shelter in UN bases across the country. An additional 156,000 are displaced in neighbouring countries – the vast majority of them are women and children.  And thousands more people have been injured or killed.

Humanitarian access remains a major constraint owing to armed violence. From 15 December, 2013 to 15 January, 2014 at least three humanitarian workers have been deliberately killed in the course of their work.

Parties to the conflict must respect the Cessation of Hostilities agreement so that aid organizations can reach more people in need. Humanitarian activities must be protected and respected. This includes the safety and security of national and international staff, as well as relief organizations’ installations and property, and the aid they deliver.

I call on all parties to protect civilians and not to harm them in any way. No person should be targeted or violated based on who they are, what they believe, or where they come from.

At this time, stronger efforts are required to address the precarious situation faced by women and girls in the IDP and refugee camps and to bring their needs and interests to the centre of the political negotiations.

During my visit to the UN compound and the civilian protection units, I spoke to women who had left their homes and belongings behind and are struggling to care for their children. They told me about their suffering, the violence they had endured, the children and husbands they had lost or been separated from. They told me about the lack of food, water and medication and the lack of safe spaces for them and their children to receive some form of education. They told me about disease and death. And they told me about their yearning for peace for South Sudan.

What I heard and saw in the camp goes beyond my wildest fears. Despite the incredible efforts and work of UNMISS and UN partners who have to be commended, the reality is that the UN bases in South Sudan were not designed to host large numbers of civilians for long periods. For example, the camp in Juba should at most host 4,000-5,000 people, but it now holds approximately 27,000. The number of people dying each day in Juba is far above emergency thresholds. While partners are scaling up access to water, health, sanitation and nutrition support to avert a looming public health disaster, durable solutions must be found, including the provision of additional land for expanded Protection of Civilian Areas, and restoration of confidence in the rule of law, so that people can return to their homes when they feel safe to do so.

Aid agencies require USD $1.27 billion to assist 3.2 million people up until June. This is an extreme emergency, a matter of life and death, and the response from the international community has so far been vastly insufficient. I urge the international community to respond to the appeal launched by the aid community earlier this month.

For our part, and together with our partners, UN Women will make sure that the humanitarian response fully takes into account the special needs of women and girls.

For peace to take root in South Sudan, women and men and young people must play a full role in a national dialogue, peace negotiations, nation-building and strengthening social cohesion in the country.

I commend the South Sudan Women for Peace for their various initiatives aimed at resolving the conflict. Women continue to make strong calls for peace, protection and participation and the women leaders that I met were clear in their desire to bridge differences to build a better future for all the people of South Sudan.

I am encouraged by the political negotiations that are underway in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, which include women on both sides. I hope they will lead to an environment where people will feel able to return to their homes and rebuild their lives.

Beyond the humanitarian response and peace process, it is essential that the international community continue to support South Sudan, in its development efforts with a special focus on women.

As in too many places in the world, the women and girls of South Sudan are still largely left behind.

Extremely high rates of violence against women continue to pose a serious threat to health, development and peace in South Sudan.

The most recent survey finds that more than 40 per cent of women have suffered physical or sexual violence. Women have told me that this violence takes many forms and includes domestic violence and wife battery, abduction of women and children during cattle raids, rape and sexual assault, wife inheritance, forced and child marriages, and the practice of giving a girl child in compensation for a crime or a wrong committed by her family. 

Another major concern is the high rate of illiteracy experienced by more than 8 in 10 women in South Sudan.

I call for increased funding for the safety and protection of women and girls, for women’s participation in peacebuilding and humanitarian response, for women’s empowerment and education, and for women’s access to justice.

UN Women remains committed to the realization of a peaceful, just and prosperous South Sudan.

Thank you.

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