Violence against women in UN base camps in South Sudan

By Sania Faizi, Staff Writer

 

South Sudan, the newest state in the world, plunged into conflict in 2013 following a power struggle between the incumbent president and his sacked deputy, each belonging to a different dominant ethnic group of South Sudan. Since then the unrest and constant fighting between government troops and rebel factions has paralysed the normal functions of the state, killed thousands, and forced countless civilians to flee their homes. There is significant ethnic tension in the country and this has amounted to mass killings along ethnic lines.

The UN has more than 7,500 troops on the ground through the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS). It has vowed to protecting the civilians of South Sudan, monitoring the human rights situation in the country, supporting the delivery of humanitarian assistance, and implementing the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement. An important aspect of the UN mission are its Protection of Civilian (POC) camps which provide a space for internally displaced persons to seek refuge away from conflict ridden areas.

However, these camps are not a safe haven for everyone that uses them, particularly women and girls. According to humanitarian groups sexual and gender based violence is present in varying degree across the camps. Women and girls find it difficult to move around without the fear of being harassed, assaulted, and raped by men, often drunk men. The dangers are particularly high at night when females get out to use toilets or fetch water. Women and girls have resorted to desperate measures to defend themselves such as using bags instead of using bathrooms late at night and covering the entrance to their tents with large heavy objects. However, such measures further restrict the freedom of movement of these women and girls.

There is an immediate need for UNMISS to put in place strategies for gender based violence interventions in humanitarian settings like the one in South Sudan’s camps. These include lighting up communal areas, creating accessible latrines, creating spaces where women can seek help, as well as involving women and girls in the processes and measures being implemented to improve their condition.  It is also important to involve more local and international NGOs in providing facilities that safeguard the lives of women in these camps. Oxfam, for instance, was able to provide solar lamps in one of the camps to make it easier for women to go to toilet at night. Moreover, it is also equally important to provide camp settlers the means to organise themselves and find localised solutions to tackling sexual and gender based violence, such as community watch groups that have already started to take form within some camps.