Canadian Jesuits International: A just future, from a South Sudanese perspective
A Just Future for All” is the theme of Canadian Jesuits International’s (CJI) 2020 Giving Tuesday campaign. It is a response to the deep inequalities in our society revealed by COVID-19 and the urgency to build a new future that is based on equality, justice and dignity for all. This is the last of a series of three blogs submitted by CJI and its overseas partners to explore this theme. Please support CJI’s “A Just Future for All” campaign by visiting: canadianjesuitsinternational.ca/givingtuesday.
South Sudan is my country so I love it of course. I love my hometown of Yei. I love coming together and having a good time with my family. I am currently working with Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) and learning to drive. I am also doing a degree in Political Science, although my studies have been interrupted by COVID-19 and I don’t know when I will be able to continue.
Beyond the pandemic, life in South Sudan has been severely affected by a lack of peace and justice. I think that peace is a fundamental requirement for justice and a just future for all. With peace there can come stability and development in different areas, including education. With education and development in different areas can come the rule of law based on a culture of respect for human rights.
Coming out of the civil war in South Sudan, I believe that the slow progress of the peace process is due to the inability of two men who are political opponents (the President and First Vice President) to put the past behind them for the good of the whole country. I really think that if two women were in these positions, even if they somehow shared the same history as these men, we would now be in a different place. Because with women, it’s different. Women have forgiving hearts and a caring view of the entire country.
From what I have observed, women are the ones who take care of the family, and try to make sure that at the end of the day children have something to eat and are fine. Women will always do whatever needs to be done to help others. And yet many women in South Sudan are fearful and very shy. In some ethnic groups and cultures women are not supposed to stand in front of men. There are many such beliefs and customs that govern them. Some women are not allowed any independence outside the home and are not given access to education. So these women are kept down. There are also differences between the village and the city, with the latter generally allowing women more freedom.
Today’s young generation, depending on where they come from, really feel some of the old institutions and ways of doing things must be disbanded. I think peace comes when structures enable it, yes, but also when people are peaceful in themselves at an individual level. You have to try to understand situations, you have to have peace in your heart, before it can be realized in society. You also have to be able to say sorry for past mistakes. I think it’s really very hard for many men to say sorry. There is a culture of having to be the winner, of proving “I am the strongest.” There is a lot more pressure on men than on women to project this image in South Sudan. It would be good to see it change.
I believe that better support for women and for leadership by women will help bring a just future for all. It is important for girls and women to be exposed to different things. If that doesn’t happen then they end up having a very narrow idea of their role and possibilities. A lot of women like to see women in leadership positions. Though some will be jealous or feel it is just not right for women to be in those roles, most women will admire them. It’s different for men. I think many of them feel threatened by women in leadership positions.
The international community can support the effort to advance peace in South Sudan by supporting women’s involvement in the community and in the political process from the grass roots up. I would suggest that NGOs and church organizations are especially helpful because they have a heart for supporting people and good ideas about what to do.
It can begin with things like involving girls and women in sport, because they are being left behind. I was involved in establishing a local football team in my parish and I have seen the positive impact it has on the girls. Involvement in sport takes you out of all the other issues and pressures that are at home. It helps you feel physically strong and confident and gives you a sense of what else you can achieve in life.
At the village level, support for women can also lead to greater involvement in other areas, such as customary courts. Most of the leaders in the customary courts are men, so it is men who make decisions on issues impacting women — but without hearing their voice. This also needs to change.
At the national level, the international community can help by ensuring that the Human Rights Commission in South Sudan is active and operating. I don’t think it is really being taken seriously. Encouragement could also be given to leaders to follow the rule of law and the constitution. The Constitution of South Sudan is good, but it is not being applied. For example, it says that 35% of parliamentarians should be women, but that’s not happening. The international community can help advocate for meaningful access for women.
There are many good things the international community can learn from being in solidarity with South Sudan and South Sudanese women. Solidarity between organizations and people enlarges our hearts and contributes to a good life for all.
CJI is a member of the Xavier Network for mission and development.