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Farm Radio Weekly

South Sudan: Women fearful in camps for internally displaced people (IRIN)

Julie Francis starts her self-imposed curfew at sunset. Since December 2013, the widowed mother of four has been living at the United Nations base outside Malakal, 40 kilometres from the Sudanese border.

Mrs. Francis is one of more than 17,000 people who came to the camp to escape violence in Malakal, the capital of South Sudan’s Upper Nile State. But the overcrowded camp has its own dangers, especially for women and girls.

Mrs. Francis hears drunken teenagers hound women walking on the site’s dark paths. She sees the holes men cut through the tarpaulin walls of the showers to peep and leer at women. She comforts survivors of rape.

She says, “It is too much. They attack us at … the toilets or at night where we collect water.”

There were twenty-eight reported cases of sexual assault in the camp in the first half of 2014, according to the Global Protection Cluster. But aid workers say it is probable that the vast majority of attacks go unreported.

Nor is the problem limited to this one camp. Since renewed fighting broke out in in mid-December, nearly 100,000 people have crowded into 10 camps in the eastern half of the country, all administered by the UN Mission in South Sudan, or UNMISS.

There are no official statistics, but humanitarian groups say sexual and gender-based violence is present to varying degrees in all the larger camps. Women and girls feel a growing resentment at the lack of action to protect them from rape, assault, harassment and domestic violence.

Nana Ndeda is the advocacy and policy manager for Care International. She says, “[Women are] getting very frustrated by the fact that UNMISS is not able to provide the kind of security that they would want provided.”

Malakal camp was established nearly nine months ago and Ms. Ndeda says it is high time that UNMISS, aid agencies and camp leaders figure out how to better protect women. As she points out, “There’s no end in sight to the [camp] world.”

In 2005, UN agencies and humanitarian groups produced a booklet entitled Guidelines for Gender-Based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Settings. The booklet makes detailed recommendations on creating safe spaces for women to seek help, and provides guidelines for encouraging women and girls to be involved in improving their own situation.

But with the sudden, massive movement of people to hastily constructed camps, UNMISS employees have been unable so far to implement the UN guidelines.

Every night, Mrs. Francis pushes a bedframe in front of the entrance to her tent as soon as it gets dark. When she or her daughters need to go to the bathroom, they use a bag.

Mrs. Francis thinks the situation is unfair. She says, “People should take this seriously. There are still people who need to know that it is not right to rape.

To read the article on which this story was based, Women fearful in South Sudan camps, go to: http://www.irinnews.org/report/100591/women-fearful-in-south-sudan-camps

To read the handbook, Guidelines for Gender-Based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Settings, go to: http://www.refworld.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/rwmain?docid=439474c74

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