Feature

Breaking the silence on GBV, women encouraged to speak out

Melania Itto, Executive Director of Solidarities for Women’s Rights Association (SOWA) (photo by Jale Richard):

By Jale Richard

Gender Based violence (GBV) is a vice that is breaking up women and it is time that the women speaks out about it, so that they can seek both medical and financial supports according to Melania Itto, the Executive Director of Solidarities for Women’s Rights Association (SOWA) speaking to Juba Monitor in her office.

“Time has come for them to speak out and not to feel ashamed about sexual gender based violence because even the government has realized that women have to be protected from all kinds of violence.” Ms. Itto added

“If women do not come out to speak, they will keep suffering from gender based violence. When they come out to speak, people will be alarmed and the government will pay more attention than it used to do.”

The Executive Director for Solidarities for Women Rights Association is a non-profit organization which focuses on child protection, women empowerment, peace building and reconciliation, awareness creation for prevention of Gender Based violence and capacity building training for women and men. Speaking to Ms. Itto it is difficult for women to talk about GBV due to lack of information.

“It was not easy for women and girls to come out openly to report cases of GBV because they were not informed about the risks of GBV but after many people came to realize the importance of reporting, people are really reporting and we came to realize that actually there are very high rate of Gender Based Violence in particular sexual gender based violence,” said Ms. Itto

According to Ms. Itto, reduction in Gender Based Violence is not only the responsibility of women actors or civil society organizations rather a collective responsibility of all citizens to end GBV in the country.

“We have some laws in place; we have policies in place and other regional and international instruments. It is very important for us to know exactly what these legal policies say,” she said.

In recent years, the government signed the Convention on Elimination of all Forms of Violence against Women, and the government developed a National Action Plan for the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325. The government also signed and ratified the Maputo Protocol.

The Maputo Protocol guarantees comprehensive rights to women including the right to take part in political processes, social and equality with men, improved autonomy in their reproductive health decisions, and an end to female genital mutilation.

“We have a lot of instruments, treaties, and policies. We want to see all these come in to action and implemented,” Ms Itto said.

Drabuga Dorothy, the Executive Director of Voice for Change (photo by Jale Richard):

Drabuga Dorothy, is the Executive Director of Voice for Change, a Women’s organization focusing on good governance, encouraging women in decision making, and fighting GBV she said South Sudan still has a long way to go to prevent cases of Gender Based Violence.

“We still have a long way to go even though we have some changes but still we need to do a lot. I know that change is not a one-day thing but with time maybe all will be over. Especially with the crisis in this country, it is really a little bit difficult” said Ms. Drabuga

She revealed that people who live outside the town (rural areas) suffer more violence especially after the South Sudan conflict broke out but they fear to report the cases.

“Before the crisis, if anything happens in the villages they could report to the police but with this crisis, it is really difficult to report but for those ones who are within the town, if it happens they report it to the police or rush to the hospital,” said Ms Drabuga.

Breaking the silence on GBV

“At least I am happy to say that the silence on Gender Based Violence especially rape is broken. People now speak out freely not like those days where whenever somebody is raped they keep quiet. They don’t want people to know but now at least I am happy that people are opening up,” she said.

Speaking to the Juba Monitor, Ms. Drabuga revealed that during the crisis in Yei, issues of rape alleged to have been perpetrated by people in uniform, were hard to be handled. The survivors had to be relocated from their places for fear of being targeted by those accused.

In rural areas where there are no police stations, people respect the cultural norms and still cases of GBV continue to increase.

“They (people in the rural areas) really adore their culture so much that sometimes if a girl is raped, she is not supposed to speak out because she will spoil the name of the family so they keep silent over such cases. They believe that women are not supposed to talk, they keep quiet. We really need to do a lot,” she emphasized.

Prevention of GBV Cases

The women activist said government, civil society organizations and all community leaders should do more awareness campaigns so that negative societal norms could be identified and eliminated from the society.

The government of South Sudan this year launched a campaign to end child marriage in the country.

Drabuga appealed to the government to make uniform payment of dowries to avoid seeing girls as property by their parents.

She attributed the continuous cattle rustling in some communities to high bride prices paid with cattle and called mothers to take care of their daughters.

“After paying a lot of cows, the girl is taken as property and she will be mistreated. This thing has to stop,” Drabuga stressed “If it happens, you should speak out. Don’t keep quiet.”

Gender Based Violence cases are reducing according to the police

The National Police Spokesperson, Brigadier General Daniel Justin Achor, said cases of Gender Based violence in the country has reduced.

According to him the police created the Gender and Women Affairs Desk of the police includes female police officers who are trained on handling rape and domestic violence cases. The Unit also has social workers and counselors from the Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Welfare to handle such cases as well as separate cells for women leading to reduction in GBV.

Brigadier General Daniel Justin Achor, the National Police Spokesperson (photo by Jale Richard):

“Generally the cases are very rare. On daily basis we may get one or two cases but they are very sensitive,” Brigadier General Justin said “From 2013 up to now, a lot of work have been done, so the rate of violence against women and other vulnerable groups is becoming less, and another thing is that we become involved all up to the level of the presidency.”

The South Sudan National Police Service created a Special Protection Unit (SPU) to handle issues related to vulnerable groups such as women, children and people living with disabilities with its headquarters in Juba, after the December 2013 crisis. The SPU is in all the Police units in all the defunct ten states of South Sudan.

Brigadier General Justin said through the Police Community Relation Committees involving community leaders, women organizations and community members are encouraged to beware of GBV and report cases immediately to the police and abandon negative cultural beliefs and respect the rights of women.

“Cases of violence against women happen but given our traditions where by people treat them as private issues that have to be handled at the family levels; that stage is over,” he emphasized “Our cultures are saying something else but GBV cases are connected with people’s rights and with the law and as such, it has to be reported to the police so that the law takes its course,”

He said whatsoever the case of domestic violence, it has to be reported to the police so that the suspect faces the law.

“For investigations, we need to get evidence so that the accused can be punished in court depending on the evidence produced,” Brigadier General Daniel added “This is helping a lot because of the privacy. If the investigator is a lady (a lady talking to a lady), she will feel at home and reveal a lot of information about the case.”

However, the police spokesperson said many survivors of rape do not report to the police as such the police are engaging in awareness campaign together with community leaders and civil society organizations such that victims realize they have a right protected by the law. He revealed that the police also assist the survivors to access medical care.

Before the SPU was created, Brigadier Justin said the police used to treat women, children and other vulnerable groups equally without considering their special needs.

“We faced some difficulties in investigations because they needed some privacy because of the trauma they had and concerns about gender issues, we looked at the region and established this Special Protection Unit to handle issues of vulnerable groups,” Brigadier General Justin said. “The Unit is very important for the police, women and vulnerable groups because in a very short time, issues (rape and gender based violence) can be handled properly in terms of investigations and the court process.”

According to the National Police Service, the SPU receives cases such as domestic violence, children’s cases, child marriage cases, pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases. The officers in the Units are well trained on investigation and case management to make sure that the law takes its course in terms of prosecuting the suspects, the police said.

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