One of the courageous women on the frontline of local-level peacebuilding is Mama Harriet Baka, Provincial Coordinator at the Mother’s Union, the largest women’s ministry in South Sudan. Harriet works closely with church and community leaders to promote peace and economic development for women, such as income generating programmes. I met Harriet during a visit to Juba earlier this year.
‘When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers,’ says Harriet. ‘In South Sudan, women and girls carry a disproportionate burden of the conflict. When I travel across South Sudan, the stories I hear from women and girls are heartbreaking.’
Armed conflict and displacement has intensified violence against women and girls in South Sudan. Research by the International Rescue Committee and Georgetown University’s Global Women’s Institute in South Sudan shows that up to 65 per cent of the women interviewed had experienced either sexual or physical violence in their lifetime.
‘Many women told me that they are no longer human beings, as they have lost their dignity,’ Harriet continues. ‘The most important thing for everyone in South Sudan is peace.’
Harriet highlights the importance of building the capacity of women in mediation and leadership skills. It is vital that they are fully included in both high-level peace negotiations and local reconciliation and peacebuilding initiatives.
‘Women, youth and traditional leaders at grassroots need to be supported to bring communities together and find common interests across political and ethnic divides,’ says Harriet.
She adds: ‘It is also important to strengthen the feedback mechanisms from the high-level peace agreements to ordinary citizens and ensure that their voice is heard in peace negotiations and initiatives.’
Harriet is part of the South Sudanese Women’s Network for Peace. She says that women in South Sudan engage in peacebuilding in many ways, from taking part in monthly peace prayers to organising peaceful processions. Women are also active in writing peace statements and sharing them with the media, as well as raising awareness of peace agreements with citizens across the country.