At a recent consultative meeting held by UNMISS Gender and Human Rights sections in Kapoeta, Eastern Equatoria, to identify projects of benefit for local communities under the mission’s Quick Impact Projects (QIPs) programme, providing survivors of sexual- and gender-based violence ((SGBV) emerged as a key area requiring intervention. “This is a major challenge here; often we have more than three cases reported every day. Many of these involve minors,” said Joyce Laker, Senior GBV Officer, American Refugees Committee International (ARC).
Women, civil society representatives and human rights defenders lobbied hard for a safe house for girls and young women who had been subjected to such violence at the meeting, which also saw participation from parliamentarians, the judiciary and international organizations in the area. Such violence, according to women’s representatives, is rising in the state, aided and abetted by harmful traditional practices such as marrying off underage girls. “Our priority as community members living in the greater Kapoeta area is to ensure the safety of young women and girls who have been forcibly married by their families," said Samira Ayens Louis, a parliamentary women’s representative.
Additionally, local activists as well as members of international organizations were of the opinion that while they are trying to provide psycho-social support to victims, the lack of a shelter is hampering their efforts to ensure all survivors report such incidents; they underscored that a safe house is essential not only to protect survivors who report while the abuse against them is under investigation by law enforcement agencies but also for those trying to help survivors. “Many case workers that deal with gender-based violence survivors are at risk from the families of the girl or young woman in question. They monitor everyone who handles such cases. One of my colleagues working on a case related to forced marriage was followed at night by the girl’s relatives; intimidation of this sort is common. Therefore, we need a structure, an official shelter, so that we can continue the important work we do without fear of reprisal, said Ms. Laker.
Ms. Louis had a similar tale to tell. “In Namurunyang, my constituency, we recently had a case that involved a 12-year-old girl. We have taken her into our homes but there is always a great risk of retribution or retaliation against us from families. An official shelter is a priority because then such victims would be provided the sanctuary they need without putting themselves or others at risk,” she revealed.
For his part, David Eriga Enodius, a local official from Kapoeta, highlighted the government’s commitment to support and sustain the project, if approved. “I think we have a consensus here that our girls and women need to be safe from harmful traditional practices as well as from any sort of sexual violence. The government, therefore, reiterates that we will do everything we can to support this worthy cause,” stated Mr. Enodius.
The UNMISS Quick Impact Projects programme involves small scale, low cost and rapidly implemented projects to benefit South Sudanese civilians as well as increase their confidence in the mission’s mandate implementation.