|Image retrieved from UCP case study report|
Working together for their community to promote peace, the women in South Sudan are helping to combat domestic violence and creating a safe environment for women to simply live their lives as normally as possible during a time of conflict.
The CSW60 session on Women Peacekeeping Teams using Unarmed Civilian Protection (UCP) in South Sudan, focused on building well-trained, large-scale professional forces. Wearing pink shirts, these teams live in communities where people are directly affected and are made up of women from the community that are non-partisan and are there to protect civilians. These teams are proving that the presence of well trained unarmed civilians on the ground works, but it takes time. These efforts are linked to sustainable development goal #16, Promote Peaceful and Inclusive Societies, specifically protecting women and girls from violence in South Sudan.
Mel Duncan, Director of Advocacy and Outreach for the Nonviolent Peace force introduced the efforts and colleagues who are on the ground as international peacekeepers, and shared their experiences. A case study in Bentiu, South Sudan provides specific background and methods for protecting civilians.
The population has risen more than tenfold in South Sudan, with severe overcrowding, clan conflict, political divides and frequent flooding have led to an overall increase of violence. Women and girls forced to leave the camp are at extremely high risk of sexual violence outside the camp. Civilians are not safe, and rape has become, as described by the community as ‘just a normal thing’ for women caught in the conflict in South Sudan. Many say ‘If you run, they will kill you’, ‘We thought women and children would be safe but we were very wrong. Can we do anything?’
There is a proactive presence in direct protection, prevention and response. Peacekeepers patrol frequently and engage the community. Women’s peacekeeping teams in South Sudan aid in protective accompaniments and support to women and girls that are survivors of sexual violence. Thousands of women and girls are supported during firewood patrols, traveling together is a necessary need when leaving the camps for firewood and other materials. This has been in response to extreme levels of sexual violence and requests for women’s protection.
It is a women’s own initiative, made up of mothers, sisters, and daughters. The groups are formed by engaging the local community, specifically women, encouraging community development, and most importantly building relationships with all sides involved in the conflict. Teams are made up of representatives of the host community, international peacekeepers, and a few men (that do not hold leadership positions). They are dealing with issues such as sexual violence, education for girls, protection in the community, forced marriages, and revenge killing.
The methods used are direct protection, construction and execution of pathways, finding additional ways to motivate, and most importantly being there on day to day basis. The woman in Southern Unity, a team in Juba South Sudan, put in place in 2013, called out ‘Are we not human too?’ After begging and pleading for 6 months for the international community to respond, they became a model of what unarmed nonviolent peacekeeping can look like, and is now being implemented in various areas of conflict around the world. South Sudan is continuing to prove that, well-trained, unarmed peace forces can work. It is cost effective and currently with 50 nongovernmental organizations in 35 countries, it is creating a positive message, capacity building and a sustainable method to peacekeeping.