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Feminist or not – Gender equality and women emancipation is a priority

By Kuyang Harriet Logo Mulukwat

I have been called a feminist and to be honest I am not. When I was being interviewed for the post of lecturer at the University of Juba, I was shocked when a panelist at the interview asked me the same thing. He felt that since I had written several articles on gender issues and I had worked on law reform initiatives for women, I would naturally be a feminist and would teach students with a biased mind. Yet if I was a feminist, I would be the first to say it.However, the feminist tag is persistent, so now I kind of enjoy it – after all it’s a passion just like any other. South Sudanese leadership has consistently made their position clear regarding gender equality and women emancipation. The foundational documents such as the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and the Transitional Constitutions had provisions on gender equality. At independence the same affirmative action clauses were transplanted into the Transitional Constitution of South Sudan.

The affirmative action has increased the number of women participating in public life, especially for those who want to participate in parliamentary politics at both the national and state levels –women of all walks of life joined politics in this manner. The rhetoric, legislative and constitutional gestures have been appreciated by all. In terms of numbers, the visibility of women might be equated to a drop of water in the ocean, but overall credit must be duly be given to government and the current leadership for championing such reforms. But then the question that remains to be answered has always been just how effective have the iconic women contributed in terms of leading reforms, tabling bills and the like – but that’s not the object of this article.

I think for me the issue has always been, just how the whole gender equality and women emancipation movement has been received by the general public and by people of all walks of life? For some sections of society – there are positive things to attaining gender equality, such as the obvious increase of the number of women in politics and public life and the resultant economic emancipation that comes with it. Some sections of society have even quoted the saying that “you educate a man and you educate an individual and when you educate a woman, you educate a whole nation.

“There are several women champions – who have made great strides in both their careers and personal lives and through such models gender equality and relations have been reconstructed. However reception of gender equality initiatives has been extremely lukewarm. In patriarchal society, where men hold power and women are deliberately excluded, the space for exercising the new found empowerment is very limited. For instance, social economic advancement of women can only be attained when the conditions are conducive to foster such a right, but where resources and opportunities are concentrated in the hands of men, then the rhetoric on gender equality is at best achieved on paper.

The negativity which surrounds gender equality and women empowerment is not only limited to communities whose customs and cultures largely disregard women, but is prevalent amongst the elite, who perceive affirmative action for women as platforms which at best place incompetent women in positions of influence and power. On the other hand critics of gender equality tend to suggest in their comments that, when women achieve a level of emancipation, they become arrogant and too big for their skins. Perhaps this is right and maybe not – but doesn’t everybody just need to have and enjoy equal rights?

Women role models who have had influence on other women, have also had their share of name calling and just to illustrate – when the female lawyers wanted to establish a FIDA branch in South Sudan, key institutions of the rule of law sought to bar them from naming their association – FIDA. Instead, the female lawyers were advised to form a women lawyers association because apparently FIDA is well known for “spoiling women.” As a lecturer of women and the law at the University of Juba, I engage in interesting discussions with my students – and while their perceptions vary on the status of women and the need for gender equality, some very conservative students tend to regard gender equality as not such an urgent matter which requires national focus and attention.

All the same, given the chance women often move beyond the rhetoric and affirmative action provisions in the Constitutional frameworks to compete equally on the basis of merit. I know a few women who have worked hard and have gotten to where they are purely because of their personal commitments and hard work. I think there was even a feminist consideration when the college of law assigned to me the courses I am teaching!

The writer is a lecturer at the College of Law, University of Juba and is a legal expert on Democratic Governance and the Rule law and a continuing scholar.












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