No safe place
A lifetime of violence for conflict-affected women and girls in South Sudan
As part of the What Works to Prevent Violence against Women and Girls consortium, the International Rescue Committee (IRC), the Global Women’s Institute at the George Washington University (GWI) and CARE International UK sought to obtain rigorous data on the prevalence, forms, and drivers of violence against women and girls (VAWG) in South Sudan. The study used quantitative and qualitative methods to explore the situation of women and girls in five settings in South Sudan: Juba City, Juba County, Rumbek Centre, two Protection of Civilian (PoC) sites in Juba, and one PoC site in Bentiu. The household survey was conducted in three sites: Juba City, Juba PoCs, and Rumbek Centre. By using local partners trained to accurately and sensitively gather data from women, men, girls and boys across multiple diverse settings, the researchers were able to provide quantitative evidence demonstrating the widespread and severe nature of both non-partner and intimate partner violence, in addition to qualitative evidence that tells a clear story of the lifetime of violence women endure and the devastating consequences for their health and wellbeing.
The study found that VAWG is pervasive in these conflict zones with up to 65% of women and girls experiencing physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime. These are among the highest rates of VAWG in the world.
The research results show that up to 33% of women in these areas experienced sexual violence from a non-partner, and many of the incidents were directly related to a raid, displacement or abduction. Women and girls who live in Juba PoC sites are the most vulnerable to this type of assault—almost a quarter of women who experienced this violence reported that they experienced multiple incidents of sexual violence.
While women and girls were often subject to sexual violence by armed actors, they also felt the impact of conflict in a number of other ways. Experiences of displacement, the breakdown of rule of law, increases in crime and the normalisation of violence also a affect VAWG.
These indirect experiences of conflict have an impact on violence in the home. Intimate partner violence (IPV) was the most common form of VAWG. In Rumbek alone, 73% of women who are or have been partnered reported they experienced IPV in their lifetime. Times of conflict exacerbate IPV, as women reported increased brutality and frequency of assaults due to the chaos and economic insecurity of war.
Long-standing discriminatory practices such as bride price, child and forced marriage and polygamy, in addition to years of war, have created an environment where violence against women and girls is common in these parts of South Sudan, with many subjected to violence at the hands of family members from infancy. Bride price is the custom of a man giving money or cattle in exchange for a girl to marry, a practice that a affects VAWG throughout the lives of women and girls. Many patriarchal practices, such as child marriage, wife inheritance and abduction are all closely linked to bride price.
Most survivors of violence in South Sudan do not seek help after experiencing an assault due to shame, stigma and a culture of silence. A breakdown in the rule of law has also contributed to an environment of impunity where there are no consequences for men who commit acts of violence. To reduce violence against women and girls in these areas of South Sudan, humanitarian efforts need to address the root causes and drivers of VAWG as well as provide direct service delivery to these communities.
Implications for Action
Specific Recommendations for Donors and Policymakers
- Prioritise funding for specialised VAWG protection programs from the earliest stages of a crisis
- Allocate additional funding to support longer term VAWG programming
- Develop and/or adapt VAWG policies and strategies to ensure they meet global commitments under key VAWG and localisation policy frameworks
Specific Recommendations for Practitioners
- Focus on safe spaces for women and girls and informal support structures as part of a VAWG response programme
- Recognise and address the multiple barriers survivors face in accessing services in South Sudan
- Provide targeted training and institutional capacity building to security and legal support services
- Engage with women and girls throughout the programme design and implementation process
- Prioritise VAWG in all humanitarian action
- Ensure VAWG programming and policy address the multiple forms of violence experienced by women and girls
- Invest in specific programs targeting the unique needs of adolescent girls
- Promote the integration of programs addressing VAWG and community-level violence and long-term peacebuilding
- Fund and deliver gender-transformative programming that addresses discriminatory practices and gender-inequitable norms
- Support women’s groups and the women’s movement to build local capacity to improve the status of women