Women in South Sudan face harmful traditional practices, development challenges, and limited political representation, according to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay. Pillay visited South Sudan in May 2012, where she met with civil society groups and individual women to discuss the state of gender equality in South Sudan, as well as other human rights issues.
Among provisions that address women's rights, the South Sudan constitution sets the legal marriage age at 18 and outlaws forced marriages. Yet harmful marriage practices continue, including the tradition of forced marriages of girls as young as nine years old as compensation for blood feuds. The dowry system perpetuates young and forced marriage. According to a 2006 government survey, up to 57 percent of girls in the Unity province of South Sudan are married by age 18.
Women and girls in South Sudan also face limited access to education and healthcare. The United Nations reports that South Sudan has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world – 2054 per 100,000 live births. The country also has the world’s lowest female literacy rate – less than 20 percent of women over the age of 15 are literate. This figure reflects the fact that only 37 percent of girls in South Sudan attend primary school.
Women’s groups in South Sudan are organizing to combat these trends. Given the low literacy rates, many believe that education is a key strategy for improving women’s rights and wellbeing. They also argue for the adoption of a family law that will strengthen marriage laws, establish conditions for child custody, and address gender-based violence in the country.
Compiled from: Mark Tran, Can South Sudan under Salva Kiir Become A Better Place To Be A Woman?, The Guardian (10 July 2012).