"I dream of a South Sudan where we can laugh together," says Dolly Anek Odwong, women human rights defender who recently visited Sweden. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Karin Råghall.
"I dream of a South Sudan where we can laugh together," says Dolly Anek Odwong, women human rights defender who recently visited Sweden. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Karin Råghall.

Working for a peace with women's voices in South Sudan

After decades of civil war, South Sudan on July 9, 2011 declared its independence from Sudan. Despite a formal truce, the conflict in has continued and the UN reports of mass murders, rapes and widespread destruction and looting. Dolly Anek Odwong is dedicated to getting women’s voices into the peace negotiations.

“We carry all the burdens of the war. We have lost relatives, spouses, children. Some have even lost themselves. The war and political tensions are always present, but as women, we stand united,” says Dolly Anek Odwong.

Her involvement with women’s human rights started during the Second Sudanese Civil War, which commenced in 1983 as a result of the introduction of Sharia laws in the non-Muslim southern parts of Sudan. For a long time she lived in exile in Kenya, while working with helping other women to cross the Sudanese border. The work included walking for several weeks – from the south of Sudan to eastern Congo, to Kampala in Uganda, through South Sudan to retrieve more women, across the border to Ethiopia, crossing the Nile and back to South Sudan.

“Basically, all I did was to walk. It was hard and dangerous, and paid very little, but I did it for the women. I was fortunate to live in Nairobi during the war, but I suffered too. I was a single mom with four children, without sufficient income or anyone to take care of us. But I was stubborn, and I wanted to see change.

Trainer in gender issues

Today, Dolly Anek Odwong is program officer at the organisation Skills for South Sudan, where she trains instructors in gender and civil society issues. A few months ago, she visited Sweden to participate in a three-week training in the UN Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, co-organised by The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.

Skills for South Sudan was founded in Great Britain in 1995. According to Dolly Anek Odwong the organisation has played a critical part in educating women at the grassroots level in South Sudan.

“Give women the gift of education. It is a gift that will keep on giving,” she says.

80 percent women illerate

Currently, over half a million South Sudanese are estimated to be on the run from the armed violence. As a result of the conflict the humanitarian situation in the country has worsened, according to the UN peacekeeping operation in South Sudan, UNMISS. More than 70 000 people have sought shelter at the UN centers around the country.

The consequences of the long periods of war are evident. Much of the infrastructure has been destroyed, as well as hospitals and schools. More than 80 percent of the women in South Sudan are illiterate, and the education of girls is given no priority. Moreover, there is a culture of impunity surrounding the widespread sexual violence, and very few of the survivors are offered help and trauma processing, Dolly Anek Odwong says.

“Women are the ones who suffer the most from this conflict. The only thing that can stop the suffering is peace, and for a peace to be sustainable women’s participation is crucial. This is why we educate women. And we want to provide them with tools that they can continue to use and develop.”

Demands for including women

Dolly Anek Odwong is also one of the founders of the women’s network Women’s Agenda for Peace and Sustainable Development in South Sudan, which primarily works to get women’s voices into the peace processes.

Together, they have developed a document with a number of issues that they demand should be included in the peace negotiations – for example, that women should be granted status as observers at the ongoing peace talks, that the national conferences should have at least 30 per cent women among their participants and that the chief mediator should get assistance from a gender advisor.

Dolly Anek Odwong says that both men and women have reacted in a very positive way to these demands for change. The document is signed by a large number of influential people, both South Sudanese and international stakeholders and it was handed over to the South Sudanese government in January this year.

“We have not yet witnessed any results, but we are still hoping,” she says.

“I dream of a South Sudan where we can laugh together. Where we can sit in the shade of a large tree and watch our children play. That’s all I want. As women and as human beings we need peace and I hope and fight for it to soon return to South Sudan.”

Filippa Rogvall

Updated in: 2015-08-26