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Ending Gender Based Violence is our collective responsibility
By Dr. Sinead Walsh
Despite the tremendous amount of resources and time invested in the prevention of Gender Based Violence (GBV) globally, women and girls continue to suffer from enormous abuses at home, in the workplace and worst still in conflict. Women and girls have been raped, abused, sexually harassed, married against their will and some have died as a result of complications during child birth. While statistics on the situation faced by women and girls in South Sudan are not readily available, the United Nations reports that in the first half of 2018, some 2,300 GBV cases were reported to service providers. More than 20% of survivors who have come forward have been children. We know, however, that the actual number of cases is far higher as GBV is severely under-reported in this country and adequate services are not available and accessible.
Last week, I joined my EU colleagues and wider international community in expressing our deep concerns on the report of rape and sexual assault, beating and robbery of approximately 150 women and girls near Bentiu. We called for a thorough investigation into these reports in order to hold the perpetrators responsible and accountable and ensure that the necessary assistance is provided to the survivors without delay.
Unfortunately this was not the only incident concerning women and girls in South Sudan which made headline news worldwide in the last month. The auctioning of a 17-year-old girl which was posted to Facebook highlighted the tremendous amount of work yet to be done to protect the rights of the girl child in South Sudan. This is a country where 40% of girls are married below the age of 18. These reports serve as a reminder to us all, that women and girls face daily threats of violence and abuse in South Sudan and that we must work together as the International Community, Government, parties, religious and traditional leaders, civil society and communities to bring the impunity for such crimes to an end and to work towards a fair, safe and just South Sudanese society.
On this day, 10th December, which marks the end of the 16 Days of Activism against GBV, I want to assure you that the EU has and will continue to play its part both at the global level and here in South Sudan to end this violence.
The EU, through its humanitarian department, last year took over the leadership of the global initiative 'Call to Action on Protection from Gender-Based Violence (GBV) in Emergencies', from Sweden. The 'Call to Action on Protection from Gender Based Violence in Emergencies' is a global initiative which brings together 82 members, including states and donors, international organisations and NGOs striving to ensure that GBV is addressed in humanitarian crises. Its goal is to drive change and foster accountability so that every humanitarian effort, from the earliest phases of a crisis, includes the policies, systems and mechanisms to mitigate GBV risks, especially violence against women and girls and to provide safe and comprehensive services for those affected by GBV. Its work is guided by the Call to Action Road Map 2016-2020. The EU has been an active member of the Call to Action since its launch in 2013. The EU is the fourth lead of the Call to Action following the United Kingdom, the United States, and Sweden. On 1 January 2019, the EU will hand over the leadership to Canada.
During its 18-month leadership, the EU focused on strengthening awareness and implementation of the Call to Action by the humanitarian community. The EU has been supportive of piloting the Call to Action Road Map in Nigeria and Democratic Republic of the Congo. The EU has also, through its humanitarian field-network, organised 10 awareness-raising workshops at country level. In line with the Call to Action Road Map 2016-2020, the EU advocated for the need to prevent and respond to GBV during each phase of an emergency. Furthermore, during its leadership, the EU has also welcomed 18 new partners to the initiative, created a website for the initiative, and published a 2017 Progress Report on the Call to Action Road Map.
In South Sudan, much of our work is focused on providing support to Sexual and Gender Based Violence services within primary healthcare facilities including training and technical support on emergency case management and psychosocial support. The EU also works to eliminate violence against women and girls through programmes designed to address women’s empowerment, access to legal rights and legal literacy. The EU also works to raise awareness among women groups, women leaders, local traditional chiefs, leaders and elders, judicial and prison staff at all levels in order to ensure that communities are equipped to prevent, protect and respond to violence against women and girls.
We must continue to invest in the fight against GBV but also work in collaborations with governments, traditional and religious leaders, civil society and communities to ensure our collective efforts have maximum impact.
Dr. Sinead Walsh is the Ambassador Designate of the European Union to South Sudan.