South Sudan (SSB) – Before I joined Makerere Law School in 2010, I used to view women like any other men. What comes to the minds of many men whenever they see women is sex. This objectification of women is the product of culture. Men are culturally oriented to look at women as sexual objects that are available for men to satisfy their lusts whenever they want.
It is in relation to the above, majority of South Sudanese men and especially, men in cattle keeping communities do not see women as human beings who can contribute positively to the welfare of the society. But they only see them as sexual objects that can be turned around at any time as they wish and if they refuse they have to be raped or forced to have sex with them.
It should, however, be noted that even though men in the abovementioned communities view women as sexual objects, it is not their faults. Their way of looking at women is culturally predetermined, and just finds themselves culturally directed. Thus, the way women are viewed in our communities is the product of culture as it puts men above women.
The above fact is supported by the definition of culture. Culture is defined as distinctive patterns of ideas, beliefs, and norms which characterize the way of life and relations of a society or group within a society. It implies that the way women are treated in our cultures is something culturally determined based on gender ideologies that define rights and responsibilities and what ‘appropriate’ behavior is for women and men.
In that regard, some writers have observed and correctly that cultures are the ones that influence access to and control over resources, and participation in decision-making. Because of that the strength of culture is often enforced by gender ideologies that further reinforce male power and the idea of women’s inferiority.
The bottom-line is that gender ideologies are the ones that define our understanding of culture and society and because of that we turn to understand culture narrowly. We understand culture in term of ‘custom’ or ‘tradition’, which by implication makes cultures appear natural and unchangeable.
However, despite this assumption of culture being unchangeable, culture is something which is fluid, dynamic and enduring. It is nonetheless this fluidity of the culture which is a major weakness as it can provide for a room for manipulation by men.
The men therefore deal with cultures selectively by taking what favours them and leave out what favours women. Hence, such selective approach to culture is the foundation of patriarchal ideology. This ideology is a negative force to women’s rights as it affects their role and potentials in our communities.
But when it comes to correct understanding of women, they are potentially positive force in the economy production. Women are natural entrepreneurs as they are able to feed the family even in the situation where things are unthinkable or where it is hard to get something to cook. It is for this reason our people develop saying that “Tiik athal paap.” “Paap” in Dinka language means desert but figuratively means where there is nothing a woman can still find something to cook for the family. Women are good managers and caretakers. If their rights are protected and their roles promoted the economic production in the country can increase.
The positive economic power of women and their contributions are still visible in South Sudan today even when things are extremely. In Juba and other towns in South Sudan for instance, women are the sole breadwinners as men spend their time under trees playing games but later come home to demand for food even when they left in the morning without leaving any money with women to buy food with.
The truth of the matter is that women are the backbones of economic development in many countries. In those countries where rights of women are protected and their roles promoted, there is always peace and strong economic growth. It is for this reason Rwanda is likely to witness strong economic growth and peace given the fact that it has put interests and rights of women as a priority in the development agenda.
The disadvantage women face in participating in economic activities has its roots in the economic establishment in the world not only in South Sudan. The economic and business systems in general in most countries of the world are established based on patriarchal line and ideology. This is why they appear naturally to favour men more than women. It is for this reason majority of billionaires are men. Despite this fact women constitute large working force and major contributors to the economy of any country.
It means that though women are ignored and viewed as less productive, they are reliable, productive and cheap labour that makes homes depend solely on their economic contributions. This has led to proper management of the households which has further led to poverty alleviation as well as reduction in mortality rates in some countries. This provides the basis of the argument that women’s rights to participation in business and their role in economic development should be put as the top priority in any country and specifically in South Sudan.
The important role women play in economic development and poverty reduction has led to different countries picking interest in the development of women potentials in economic development, investment in their human capital, health and education. The rationale for promotion of women social, cultural and economic rights is grounded on the fact that ‘educated, healthy women are more able to engage in productive activities, find formal sector employment, earn higher incomes and enjoy greater returns to schooling than are uneducated women’.
Moreover, promoting rights of women to education is important for any country and for South Sudan in particular. This is because educated women are more likely to invest in the education of their own children, and they are also more likely to have fewer children that they can afford in educating them to have quality education, which means quality citizens and quality development.
In summary, as can be understood in the foregoing discussion, it is important to conclude by saying that protecting women’s rights and promoting their roles economic development in South Sudan is the best way of promoting development in general. However, it is hard to promote the rights of women in South Sudan because of cultural influence. Cultural leans heavily on the side of men against women. In order to ensure that women realize their rights in full and be able to effectively contribute to economic development, South Sudan should work hard to eliminate those barriers to women rights to take part in a business so that the system of economy that disproportionately affects women creativity or entrepreneurial ability is reformed and turn to means of empowering women.
This report prepared by Daniel Juol Nhomngek for PaanLuel Wël: South Sudanese Bloggers