Sudan’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement viewed through the eyes of the women of South Sudan
May 25, 2010
Although there are problems relating to gender justice in both Sharia law and customary law, this paper focuses its discussion on customary law.
In South Sudan there are more than fifty tribes, each of which has their own customary law system. Despite the many differences between these systems, there are also many commonalities. One commonality is that they all affect women in similar ways. Several aspects of customary law are inconsistent with women’s rights. ‘The majority of southern Sudanese Customary Law systems show plainly a conflict between international human rights laws and rights granted to women and children in Customary Law’ (Jok et al 2004: 6).
The common features of different systems of customary law in South Sudan are around family law, which concerns itself with marriage, divorce, custody of children and inheritance. Customary law therefore determines a women’s personal security at home as well as her access to resources. Unfortunately, customary law perpetuates harmful customs and traditions in the realm of the family, which relegate women to a lesser status. Customs perpetuated by customary law include forced and arranged marriages, forced wife inheritance and bride price (Tønnessen 2007: 7). Customary law therefore perpetuates unjust gender relations that serve the social, psychological and economic interests of men, by bringing women into a position of subordination and inequality in the family and the community....
Customary law is an important feature in the new peace for the South Sudanese people, as it entrenches their cultural identity, strengthening the social fabric and contributing to the peaceful co-existence of families and communities. However, the institutionalisation of customary law in its current highly patriarchal shape fails to transform gender identity to accord with the celebrated peace and liberation. South Sudanese women who were part of the liberation struggle have found themselves without the expected gains of equality and liberation, especially in the private sphere. Conditions for women in this time of peace, are often more difficult than they were at times of war, raising the question as to whether the women of South Sudan really gained liberation from the liberation struggle.