7th March 2012: Jo Crouch, SIHA Regional Programmes Officer.
Being in South Sudan always brings a multitude of emotions, but on this trip, an overarching one is a sense that, despite a multitude of challenges facing the country, there are some things to smile about. On the 1st March, SIHA launched its latest publication, Falling through the Cracks, a piece of research which interrogates the parallel statutory and customary legal systems in South Sudan and their impact on women’s access to justice. It’s been a long time in the making, and in spite of delays to its production, it’s certainly a piece we’re proud of.
The launch itself was attended by around 60 members of South Sudanese civil society, NGOs, International NGOs and UN agencies. Key speakers included Dr Aleu Garang, 1st Legal Consul to the Ministry of Justice, Dr Dong Samuel from the South Sudan Law Society, Dolly Anek, Chair of SIHA’s Board of Directors, Kuer Gideon from New Sudan Women’s Federation and Deirdre Clancy who compiled the report itself. It was a resounding success with key issues related to dowry, adultery, cultural dynamics and the roles of men and women in society coming out during the course of the discussions.
The constructive debate held was a pre-cursor to my journey to Wau, where I would meet SIHA members, Women’s Organisation for Training and Promotion and Women’s Development Group and conduct preliminary work for SIHA’s coming projects in Wau which will focus on strengthening community engagement in customary law and on civic education on women’s human rights and their protection. Although violence and civil unrest has marred Wau in recent months, the place feels quiet and calm with daily life is seemingly returning to a subdued norm.
Being here has allowed SIHA to speak to a growing number of actors, both local and international agencies, working on customary and statutory law as well as on women’s human rights. The proliferation of efforts in this field brings hope in that the impetus for change and development is in the air. Certainly this will not come about through talk alone, but people seem keen to find ways of improving the system. SIHA too with its emphasis on enabling women to advocate for their own rights and integrating both men and women into the discussion on rights hopes that it can sit alongside these efforts and help to create a coherent push towards improved rights and access to justice for women.
For the coming weeks though, SIHA looks forward to creating a permanent presence in Wau, with SIHA’s South Sudan Focal Point relocating here and a new staff member soon to embark on project work and outreach to the communities. The publication we hope will serve as a basis for well guided activities and assist our navigation through a complex environment of competing authorities, clan politics and interpersonal conflict within the domestic sphere.