South Sudan is the world’s youngest nation and the most vulnerable. The ongoing civil war has not spared anyone, and women are the most impacted. Despite all of the problems that make this country undesirable to live in, the women have not gone to sleep – they are trying their best to make it a better place to be.
Meet Nyuon Suzan Sebit. Suzan is a law graduate from Juba University and the Executive Director of the South Sudan Women Lawyers Association.
It took Suzan a long time to reach her dream of becoming a lawyer. Repressive gender practices in South Sudan constrained Suzan. Women cannot speak publicly or express themselves and are overlooked. Even worse, many women are ignorant of their own rights as a result of limited education. Women are also challenged by not having enough resources to facilitate their work. In South Sudan most resources are owned by men, which makes it hard for women to do the work that would make it possible for them to rise above the challenges they face.
However with the moral and financial support of her family, Suzan was able to become a lawyer. She studied gender studies at the Studies of the US Institute (SUSI) and women in leadership and politics both overseas and in Africa. For the last three years Suzan has been practicing as a lawyer in litigation and commercial fields.
As Executive Director of the South Sudan Women Lawyers Association, Suzan advocates for justice, peace and equality for all, especially women and children. In addition, Suzan has been lobbying with the Women’s Caucus in Parliament to promote sexual and reproductive rights and ensure 25% of public office positions are filled by women. She is also working with the Center for Conflict Resolution, based in South Africa, to advocate for gender equality, security and peace in South Sudan. Despite the challenges in South Sudan, there is light and hope at the end of the tunnel for women – because of women like Suzan. Women are organizing themselves into groups that, although they are few, are steadily making their voices louder. Women host monthly and annual meetings to discuss the issues pressing them and come up with solutions that they then present to their leaders for intervention. Women are coming together at all levels, from grassroots to national, from small village women’s committees to mothers’ unions in churches.
The international community should consider involving the grassroots women of South Sudan in all aspects of growth and development and specifically the peace processes. Women are a part of the big umbrella of our country and it is important to include them.
Riya joined us in Ottawa for the 2015 Sister-to-Sister Mentorship Program. She completed six weeks of communications and advocacy training alongside two young women activists from Burma and Honduras. Riya is now continuing her work to promote women’s rights in South Sudan.