Violence in Emergency: How to guarantee protection of civilians from GBV?

LolaMora Producciones interviewed Nick Lacey about women, emergency situation and humanitarian action in South Sudan, by e-mail. Nick Lacey works as the Gender and Protection Advisor for Oxfam in South Sudan; with a Human Rights Law background and professional experience focused on Gender Based Violence (GBV) prevention and response programming.

About the work Oxfam is doing in the country, Nick Lacey says: “In South Sudan, Oxfam is focused on water, sanitation and hygiene activities with food security and livelihoods. Through these core areas, Oxfam strives to mainstream protection and gender and mitigate the risks women, men, boys and girls face as they cope with the difficult realities of the current conflict. With emphasis on the understanding of gender roles and responsibilities in all of our program areas, we attempt to empower women through transformative leadership and gender justice, including advocacy at the local, state and national level on issues affecting women alongside local level initiative such as financial literacy trainings”.

LolaMora: What is the meaning of a humanitarian action under a gender perspective?

Nick Lacey: For humanitarian action to be effective and efficient it must be designed by affected people’s specific needs. Approaching humanitarian action from a gender perspective means acknowledging that different gender´s have different needs and that understanding these needs is crucial in providing quality humanitarian programming. All actions we take should have this gender perspective from latrine design to HR [Human Resources] policies.

During the famines in Ethiopia in the 80s, humanitarian actors saw a hunger population and leaped to the generalized conclusion that everyone just needed food. This didn´t take into consideration the varied needs of the different population demographics such as pastoralist that could benefit from de-stocking or peri-urban populations that only required cash to access food. Humanitarian responses began to be tailored to the demographic (rural, urban, pastoral, agricultural...) but still generalized these groups into homogenous units requiring a single kind of response. The gender perspective, while still generalizing, looks at splitting these groups into smaller gender and age separated demographics and examining how social constructs, systems and expectations affect these smaller groups while simultaneously addressing physiological needs of the different groups (eg. Menstrual hygiene for females, lack of schooling pushing young males into the military, persecution against LGBTI individuals or groups….). The flaw in the current way gender perspectives are applied is often in not addressing the varied and heterogeneous aspects of these smaller demographics. There are as many different situations as there are people in a group and addressing these needs individually is often not possible in a large scale emergency so the gender perspective offers the best compliment to the humanitarian response.

LM: What Gender Based Violence in Complex Emergencies is?

Nick Lacey: Gender based violence is any form of, including the threat of, physical violence, deprivation or coercion that is perpetrated based upon a person or a groups gender and the social constructs that dictate roles and responsibilities that are attached to that gender. In complex emergencies the systemic gender based violence that exists in every context on earth is compounded by a dramatic change in vulnerabilities, capacities and threats. Addressing Gender Based Violence in Complex Emergencies required the understanding of the prior norms and systemic violence and then the change that the emergency has caused in this. Because of the large social change that emergencies produce, the most affected are often the most vulnerable but this is also an opportunity to address some of the more normalized violence that occurs. In the immediate response, Oxfam attempts to reduce the vulnerabilities and the threats while building on the capacities to reduce the risks to affected populations. Over time this can transition into more transformative leadership work as the emergency stabilizes.

LM: How to guarantee protection of civilians from Gender Based Violence?

Nick Lacey: Guaranteeing protection is a complicated concept. Guaranteeing the systems are in place and the information is correctly disseminated is a more achievable aim. At Oxfam, we actively map all protection, health and general service providers, either state or non-state, in all the areas we operate. If correct and up to date referral pathways are not established then we can create these and assist in their dissemination to the community at large through our networks of community health promotion volunteers. This only guarantees a protection system when the individual protection structures exist and are functional including robust rule of law. When these structures do not exist then these gaps are highlighted and advocated upon at the local, national and international level. This cannot always produce a timely response from those mandated to protect, primarily the state. In a context like South Sudan where there is an active civil war alongside protracted inter and intra communal violence, those mandated to protect civilians are often unwilling or unable to provide the structures necessary. When protection cannot be guaranteed in cases like this, the best course of action is often to give voice to those who are unprotected in a way that doesn´t expose them to any new threats.

LM: What is the situation of women and girls in South Sudan?

Nick Lacey: As I said above, gender perspectives are also often a generalization and as such there is no one situation for women and girls in South Sudan. The situation is varies wildly across urban and rural, government and opposition, educated and uneducated, and ethnic and cultural contexts. There are some underlying themes in South Sudan that occur through most of the country however. Most of the cultures of South Sudan address women and girls in terms of monetary value. They are often viewed as a productive asset and traded and bartered over as such. This is a culture shared across most of the world but the dowry system that many cultures use is not applicable here. Marriage is a bride price financial transaction and ownership of females is clearly defined by customary law. This general situation prevents many of the women’s empowerment initiatives from gaining traction. Education and literacy rates were improving up until the end of 2013 but this is always a secondary indicator to female empowerment over their decision making within the household where they are forced to marry a selected individual and then subsequently required to produce a certain number of boys and girls. This has been further ingrained over the last 50 years as the south fought for independence with Khartoum and women became viewed as part of the war machine, kept far from the front line producing fighters. Not only has this affected the type of value placed on females but it has also created the relatively new phenomena of females being targeted during conflicts as it is only now that they are viewed as directly contributing to military efforts.

LM: Could you name differences between women living in non conflict areas and women refugees in South Sudan?

Nick Lacey: The different regions of South Sudan have very diverse ways of life and different gender relations under normal “peaceful” times. The biggest difference now in conflict affected states are the high rates of targeting of females for sexual violence and the large scale breakdown in traditional justice mechanisms. SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict] Zainab Bangura, stated that South Sudan currently has the worst rates of CRSV [Conflict-Related Sexual Violence] that she has seen in her 30 year career with intentional targeting of women and children being perpetrated by both sides. Displacement has not just caused women to cross front lines in the military conflict, exposing them to extreme risks, but has also left them without many of the community based coping strategies that were in place to both prevent and respond to instances of violence. There are also increased risks that must be taken by females, as the primary providers, to keep their families fed in times of crisis and displacement. There are high levels of survival sex being reported and, as always, it can be assumed that reporting rates are very low. In non-conflict areas there continues to be a growth in civil society and women´s voice. The international women´s day celebration in much of the country was a tribute to the gains made over the last 10 years since the signing of the CPA [Comprehensive Peace Agreement]. Women in government and public service positions are increasing and the literacy gap is decreasing. There are now laws in place that make it possible for females to own land although this is still not culturally accepted. These gains have not entirely been knocked back by the current conflict but the unfolding economic crisis in South Sudan and social trauma will undoubtedly have damaging impact for several generations. As in any situation on earth, women are showing leadership in large and small ways from changing official government policies to looking after their family but the conflict has forced a large proportion of the population to, for over a year, only operate on survival strategies limiting both their voice and their collective power.

LM: Are there statistics and registration of victims of sexual violence, and other types of GBV?

Nick Lacey: Gender-Based Violence Information Management System (GBVIMS) has officially been rolled out in South Sudan but it is still in its infancy with only a handful of agencies using it. The numbers reported are not at the threshold yet where geographic information can be publically shared as there is too high a risk of survivor identity being exposed though jig-sawing. It will take time to grow into a useful source of data on sexual violence. Registration of GBV instances by state actors, namely the police is a very sensitive issue. The police require a hard copy piece of documentation (Form 8) to register cases of GBV including rape and unfortunately the production of this form is a prerequisite to receiving medical care. It is a law adopted from the Khartoum government. Despite years of advocacy by civil society to abolish this practice in South Sudan and even a government decry stating it is not necessary for a survivor to go through this process in order to receive medical care, the practice is still widespread and police will actively block medical care in some cases until the form is created. Due to the stigma around rape in South Sudan and the general requirement that it is a marriage contract, many survivors do not want to report the crime. For this reason many gender focused civil society organizations have stopped pushing for any statistics on GBV, especially if they come from the state.

LM: The most common form of sexual and gender-based violence is Intimate Partner Violence, even in a crisis. How is the situation now in South Sudan?

Nick Lacey: Despite the lack of reliable data, IPV [Intimate Partner Violence] is almost definitely the most common form of SGBV [Sexual Gender Based Violence] in South Sudan and both its occurrence rates and impact have been affected by the current crisis. Loss of the standard male ability to provide for the family has caused intra household tensions to increase the risk of IPV along with the associated difficulties of females to fulfill their culturally expected roles. As many family units are fractured and husbands are often not near their families, the violence is not always solely in the form of IPV but can also be domestic violence between family members across generations and extended units. This is often because females in the household, whatever the age are expected to take care of all food, water and cleaning related activities. During displacement, it is often impossible to fulfill all these household needs which can lead to DV [Domestic Violence]. An unfortunately common coping strategy in this crisis is for fathers to attempt to replenish their damaged livestock numbers by forcibly marrying away their daughters at unconventionally young ages. This is due to the abnormally high bride price that can be obtained in this lean period where cattle numbers are diminished and the value of a bride is high. There are though, many examples of women showing extreme resilience during displacement and removing themselves from abusive situations and we are working with groups of female headed households who are now self reliant in their new location and considerably more empowered within their household than pre-crisis.

LM: How does your organization manage women's initiatives for conflicts resolution? Could you name some in progress in South Sudan?

Nick Lacey: There is some increasing involvement of women´s initiatives and voice at high level peace efforts but it is minimal. In more local level conflict resolution issues, Oxfam governance programs link women´s groups and committees with community mediation methods, including traditional courts. These linkages have proved to be sustainable over time in non-conflict affected regions of the country with community led conflict resolution regularly and routinely involving and often led by women´s groups. This has to be understood in a non-idealistic manner, not all women are interested only in peace and vengeance and violence are human impulses, not only male (even if they are the primary perpetrators). Just like any committee the community is encouraged to nominate women who are interested in peaceful, non-violent resolutions to issues, not just any female individuals from the community.

We have also assisted in the conflict regions in several forums where women´s groups from ethnically opposing sides have come together to discuss issues and possible mitigation measures for future risks. These have always been peaceful but are not guaranteed to be productive especially if they are artificially created by international bodies who may not understand the lived experiences of these two separate groups of people. The identified risks of these forums often correctly prevent them from convening in the first place.

LM: In general, what are the main challenges Oxfam has in the current situation in South Sudan?

Nick Lacey: Aside from the usual challenges facing NGOs in South Sudan, such as lack of humanitarian access, lack of civil society space, logistical constraints, I would say the main challenge presented by the current situation is that it has made the hiring and retention of female staff very hard. With a history of females being severely marginalized when it comes to education the disparity in literacy rates is huge. For any organization to achieve gender balance across all levels of employment has always been very hard in South Sudan but the current crisis has made this even harder. The scale up of most NGOs and subsequently increased demand for qualified and experienced staff alongside the large scale displacement of local populations have meant we have lost many of the female staff we had prior to the crisis. This is doubly a problem as our target beneficiaries are mostly female and children with, as an example, 93% of households in Minkaman (the largest IDP site in South Sudan) being female headed. The low female staffing numbers makes it very hard for CSOs to interact, collaborate, and coordinate correctly with the largely female population. We have put in place several measures to improve the gender balance within Oxfam, including more internships and part time jobs, which are slowly improving staffing numbers.

LM: Implementation of the 1325 National Action Plan for South Sudan, Is it already ongoing? What balance could you make of the 1325UNRS, regarding South Sudan?

Nick Lacey: Unfortunately the lack of a NAP [National Action Plan] in South Sudan has severely limited any impact that 1325 could have had so far in South Sudan. The draft NAP that has been created will be hopefully be tabled before the house in June but there are many bills that the government will be prioritizing over the NAP. These higher priority bills include not just an NGO bill that sets out space limitations for civil society but also setting a maximum price for bottled water and issuing a public smoking ban. The current draft of the NAP is still considered lacking in some areas, such as it addresses women in peace building measures but does not adequately address the provision of security against violence to the women of South Sudan. It also does not have a budget attached and the concept of money running through the government for an initiative such as this when major donors are all considering sanctions is quite controversial. Oxfam will be producing policy pieces towards recommendations for the global review of 1325 and at a more local level in South Sudan, looking at how aspects of 1325 can be implemented without a government approved NAP and how it can be attached to the DPKO missions [Department of Peacekeeping Operations], especially one with a PoC [Protecting of Civilians] mandate.

LM: Other important issues or comments you would like to express in order to understand the current situation the South Sudanese people is living.

Nick Lacey: Mitigating many of the issues I´ve discussed require many defendant avenues of response. In a context where there is so much institutional and structural violence, international actors often attempt to only address these lowest lying fruit: women in peace negotiations; armed forces targeting women and children; police abuses; dysfunctional statutory courts; gender mainstreaming in humanitarian and DPKO action… In truth, the varied solutions probably lie in holistic and slow changes across communities and these must changes must be lead by the communities themselves. The methods that South Sudanese would like to use to change the situation of women and girls do not make INGOs or donors comfortable but this cannot be a western led change. Understanding the current situation that the South Sudanese people are living in is impossible for a foreigner and, for this reason, we must become more flexible and open to alternative theories of change that might make us very uncomfortable. An example would be the low significance that many South Sudanese put on the individual or the individuals rights while most of our Western values are based upon the inalienable rights of the individual. The South Sudanese often value the community and almost only the community. Empowering these communities over time, while not focusing on the individual, may be the only way to bring about positive change.

Labels: Sudán del Sur  Droits sexuels  Justice de Genre  Leyes  Resolución 1325  Violence  Violencia Sexual