The residents of Yei woke to an early morning colourful procession of boda boda motorcyclists wearing bright reflective jackets and safety helmets, carrying only female passengers in a symbolic gesture of their united efforts to end sexual violence against women and girls.
The boda boda riders were joined by a peace caravan, sponsored by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, which is touring the streets of Yei town, promoting messages of peace and raising awareness about the need to prevent violence and discrimination against women. The messages touch on issues such as domestic violence, early and forced marriage, female trafficking and genital mutilation as well as discrimination based on gender.
The peace caravan and boda boda procession signaled the start of both a local and international campaign known as the 16 Days of Activism to prevent and end sexual and gender-based violence. The event at the Youth Garden in Yei was greeted by a jubilant crowd who jumped to their feet, singing, dancing and ululating, as cultural and modern artistic performances rocked the venue. Artists included Kakwa, Moru, Otogo and Catholic women’s groups as well as innovative local musician Dr. Johnson.
Speaking at the launch, the Team Leader of the UN peacekeeping base in Yei, James Mugo Muriithi said gender-based violence had become a global pandemic that required a collective effort to end.
He urged all stakeholders in the country to protect the rights of women, girls and boys and said that the United Nations supported all endeavours to end the suffering caused by the civil war in South Sudan.
“I strongly believe that real men don’t rape or abuse women and girls,” said James Mugo. “Everybody must take due ownership in addressing all forms of violence against them.”
“Gender-based violence has its origin right from the individual feelings and radiates into the family, impacting negatively on vulnerable members of the family, including women and children,” said Christine Anite Phllip, the local Minister of Gender, Child and Social Welfare. “The end to this requires an about-face in the violent attitudes and cultures that men have against women and children in their families and society more generally.”
The Minister said one of the greatest challenges facing women in South Sudan was the lack of recovery time between bearing children. Many women give birth every year which creates a high risk of developing reproductive health complications, such as fistula. The high birth rate also denied many women the opportunity to pursue important life skills through education.
“An educated girl is likely to provide more support for their parents and relatives than what the parents would gain as a dowry,” she said. “The fact that young girls are forced to get married to old men puts the parents of the girls in a difficult situation as well, because they must prepare to bring up their grandchildren because such families are less likely to remain together.”