Since 2011, South Sudan has gained a disapproving reputation for the frequent violations and abuse that are committed against women and girls. Women and girls living in Wau have, and continue to experience severe sexual violence, exploitation, abuse and harassment in the present-day conflict. In addition to ethnically targeted rape and other crimes of sexual violence, women and girls have suffered from various gendered inequalities that commenced before the recurring outbreaks of war and were also produced by social norms and practices that promote discrimination and subordination.
There are multitudes of reports and accounts that reveal the rate and scale at which the bodies of women and girls continue to be used as sites of war during the civil conflict that has wrecked the country on and off since independence. That said, it is not only conflict-related sexual violence that has not been the only negative impact on the well-being of South Sudanese women and girls. There continue to be multiple forms of violence that exist and has deepened in recent years due to a number of cultural and socio-economic factors.
Through the qualitative research that was undertaken in Wau Town at the end of 2018 through to early/mid 2019, “Caught in the Middle: Gender Inequality and Rampant SGBV in Wau, South Sudan” critically examines the dynamics of violence experienced by women and girls, to understand the root causes, and provide policy recommendations on how this can be addressed. The key observations from the paper range from sexual violence, bride-wealth based marriage practices, transactional sex, to disproportionate burdens to provide financial and care work for the family. Consequently, this has significantly undermined the freedom and safety of women and youth in Wau.
The results from the research also demonstrate that addressing this violence will require concerted efforts to transform the ingrained patriarchal customs and practices that have shaped the response to conflict and poverty in the country.