An Analysis of the Realities of SGBV in Wau (Western Bahar El Ghazal), South Sudan

    1. Executive Summary:

The report offers an in-depth examination of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in Wau. It critically analyzes the gradual emergence and complex nature of rape and other forms of SGBV in the context of ongoing conflict and cultural norms. It utilizes a mixed-methods approach, combining qualitative and quantitative research methods. Data sources include firsthand accounts from SGBV survivors, local community surveys, and analysis of existing legal and policy frameworks. This comprehensive approach allows for a nuanced understanding of the multifaceted nature of SGBV in Wau.The report employs a feminist political economy perspective to understand the systemic challenges and the impact on victims. Key findings highlight the pervasive nature of SGBV, the barriers to justice, and the societal implications. The report also emphasizes the need for multi-faceted approaches to address these issues, integrating legal, social, and cultural strategies to support survivors and prevent future violence.

  1. Background and Study Overview

Wau State, South Sudan, is ethnically diverse, with 21 groups constituting 32% of South Sudan’s ethnic population. The region’s prolonged conflict and socioeconomic realities have deepened vulnerabilities, particularly for young women and girls, leading to issues like forced child marriage, influenced by loss and poverty. Cultural norms and customary laws often perpetuate gender inequality and human rights violations, creating a complex web trapping women in subordination. Despite this, the study recognizes the potential for negotiating these customary relations, as they are deeply rooted in community social structures.

This study, conducted in August 2023, presents a detailed analysis of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in Wau, South Sudan. This instability in the State has fostered an environment where sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) is rampant and often used as a tool of war and oppression. The report explores how these factors contribute to the underreporting of SGBV cases and the difficulties in pursuing legal action, further exacerbating the vulnerability of women and girls in this setting. It explores the nature and implications of violence, particularly against girls under 18 and women, investigating factors influencing the reporting and legal pursuit of these cases. The study aims to address gaps in data for women over 18, examining the effectiveness of existing mechanisms and processes in SGBV cases and the participation of women and girls in these processes. It also considers how resources flow within devolved structures from central governments and organizations through civil society within the community.

Among two tribes in Jur River county there are many rapes – Luo and Balanda in Wau county. They put rape in terms of marriage. They marry off the girls at a very young age and say it is not rape.

Using a feminist political economy approach, the study highlights the challenges and gaps in reporting and accessing services, aiming to advocate for better protection and support among various actors, including local and international organizations. The background of the study delves into the historical context of war and post-secession social and political dynamics in the region, discussing the structural nature of SGBV and its effects on various groups, including women and girls. It examines the instrumentalization of GBV during war and ethnic tensions, the economic paradigms of wartime rape, and the political economy of rape as a strategy in civil conflicts. The report also discusses the response infrastructures and mechanisms related to SGBV, emphasizing the importance of a comprehensive approach that integrates legal, social, and cultural strategies.

  1. Key Findings and Analysis:

The key emerging themes from the study include an increase in rape reporting in Wau despite cultural stigma, limited medical capacity affecting GBV response,

My 9-year-old daughter was raped in June 2023, and it was one week before I knew. I realised there was a wound in between her legs. One night I woke the girl up and asked her about the wound. She said it was an infection. I told her that I would kill her if she did not tell me the truth and took a knife. I told her that “you are my daughter, and you want to disgrace me.” After this the girl said it was my uncle who had done it. I opened the case with the police and was told to bring the girl to hospital. There, we found the penetration was not deep. A warrant of arrest was issued, and my uncle was imprisoned for only one week. Then the police said that since the penetration was not deep and this was an uncle, we should discuss the matter at home. We were told to sit at midnight when there are no people and we did so and agreed on some customary cleansing/norms, and a cock was slaughtered. The girl is now going to school and has received counselling. The uncle testified that he had taken tramadol drugs.

 categorization issues of survivors leading to unequal treatment, mixed community views about the One Stop Centre (OSC), legal limitations impacting sexual and reproductive health rights, poor medical infrastructure undermining GBV response, complex dynamics of rape reporting influenced by economic hardship, ethnic dimensions in GBV, and challenges in the effectiveness and authority of traditional leaders in handling GBV cases. It sheds light on several key dimensions of this critical issue, as detailed in the following findings:

  1. High Reporting of Rape: Despite societal stigma, rape reports in Wau have increased due to sustained awareness campaigns and growing community cooperation.
  2. Low Medical Capacity: Wau’s medical facilities lack key equipment and personnel, relying on NGOs for GBV response, leading to referrals to less-equipped hospitals.
  3. Categorization of Survivors: The One-Stop Center (OSC) primarily assists GBV survivors under 17, leaving adults with less specialized care and confidentiality issues.
  4. Community Views on OSC: There are mixed perceptions about the OSC’s impact on GBV, with some fearing it might inadvertently encourage perpetrators.
  5. Legal vs. Health Rights: Legal restrictions, like the ban on abortion, create dilemmas for medical professionals and survivors, leading to unsafe practices.
  6. Poor Medical Infrastructure: Inadequate government support results in under-resourced medical facilities, affecting GBV services.
  7. Problematic Survivor Classification: Age-based classification impacts perceptions and support for GBV survivors, with older victims often marginalized.
  8. Increased Awareness and Reporting: Greater community awareness leads to more rape reporting, despite persistent fears of stigma and retaliation.
  9. Economic Hardship Influencing Reporting: Economic factors drive some families to falsely report rape for compensation.
  1. Ethnic Dimensions in GBV: Ethnic tensions contribute to GBV, with cultural norms affecting perceptions and reporting of rape.
  2. Authority of Traditional Leaders: The Council of Elders, with blurred roles between customary and statutory law, faces challenges in effectively addressing GBV.

Our work as Chiefs is administrative and not political. The difference is that the mayor will not ask us which organisation came to us and what our response was. We give feedback to the community – we are responsible to the community and not the government.

  1. Anatomy of Rape (Under 18 Years): Interviews with parents/guardians of survivors reveal social and cultural factors driving sexual violence. Parents are increasingly bringing their children to the OSC, recognizing the problem’s scale. There’s a willingness to care for children born of rape, though social stigma exists. Educational and socioeconomic factors influence justice pursuit and survivor treatment. There’s a lack of awareness about rape, especially when the perpetrator is known, and police reluctance to pursue cases involving family members.
  2. Funding Women’s Activism: Community and school-based women’s groups are effective in raising GBV awareness and reporting. However, these initiatives heavily rely on NGO funding, highlighting the need for broader support.
  3. Disconnect Between ‘Political’ and Administrative: There’s a gap between the political recognition of violence against women and the administrative response. Chiefs’ councils see their role as administrative, not political, leading to unclear roles in GBV response.
  4. Narrow Focus of Government’s Reproductive Health Agenda: Government budgets focus mainly on maternal care, neglecting GBV issues. This approach minimizes the importance of GBV, impacting service delivery at facilities like the OSC.
  5. Real Drivers of Rape Reporting: Community perceptions vary on what constitutes rape, with material compensation often driving rape reports. This raises questions about the systemic manifestation of GBV and cultural influences on its discourse.
  1. Challenges Identified:

The report identifies several key challenges in addressing sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in Wau:

  1. Integrated System Limitations: Inefficiencies in one department of the GBV response system adversely affect the entire structure due to poor coordination and communication.
  2. Lack of Autonomy and Accountability: Administrative struggles at the government level create bottlenecks, reducing local accountability and impacting public health services.
  3. Perpetrator Privilege and Impunity: Perpetrators from security agencies often enjoy protection, hindering justice for GBV survivors. This also includes political connections and interventions by powerful individuals to undermine the prosecution of rape cases.
  4. Material Constraints in Pursuing Justice: Survivors face economic challenges and systemic obstacles like police incompetence and military interference in accessing justice.
  5. Weak Case Follow-up: Lack of survivor follow-up and societal stigma contribute to cases not being pursued in the justice system.
  6. Donor and Personnel Fatigue: Dependence on donor funding and challenges in medical resource availability affect the long-term operation of support structures.
  1. Recommendations:

Based on the report, the following recommendations to address SGBV in Wau are proposed:

  1. Administrative Structure: Enhance confidentiality for GBV survivors over 18 at OPD. Streamline reporting channels to ensure clarity and efficiency. Expand anti-GBV campaigns to address the burden of reproductive care on households.
  2. Social and Cultural Structure: Address class-based disparities in rape response, use schools to reduce stigma, ensure a comprehensive understanding of rape across all community and institutional levels, and provide holistic support that addresses the broader spectrum of violence in conflict-affected societies.
  3. Judicial/Legal Structure: Increase female police officers in specialized units, provide gender-specific training, and address systemic factors that compromise case validity, such as delayed reporting and record manipulation.
  4. Traditional/Customary Structure: Reevaluate the selection process for the Council of Chiefs to enhance organic community representation and effectiveness.
  5. Community Sensitization and Awareness: Strengthen psychosocial support for survivors, focusing on the challenges of raising children born from rape—target schools for re-education to integrate survivors and challenge stigmas.
  6. Organizational Response Structure: Improve data organization at the OSC, amplify material support for wider SGBV awareness, establish stronger connections between sexual health rights aspects, and centralize survivor services for comprehensive and safe access.


In conclusion, the report “Rape Takes Place Gradually, Not Suddenly” underscores the complex and systemic nature of sexual and gender-based violence in Wau, South Sudan. It emphasizes the need for a multi-faceted approach to addressing these issues, highlighting the importance of improving institutional frameworks, legal systems, and community awareness. The conclusion also stresses the critical role of local and international organizations in supporting and advocating for SGBV victims and calls for more inclusive and gender-sensitive strategies to effectively combat SGBV in the region.


This paper, written by Dr. Lyn Ossome, reflects the contributions of numerous individuals. SIHA extends heartfelt gratitude to Dr. Lyn Ossome, the interview and focus group participants, whose testimonies have significantly shaped the analysis and findings of this publication. Additionally, SIHA is immensely thankful to Wellsprings Foundation for funding support and grassroots women activists and organizations for the collaboration and support in the production of this research. The full paper is accessible on the SIHA website, providing a comprehensive view of the research and its impactful findings.