Protect, advance women for a better South Sudan, pope says

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The rights of girls and women was a recurring theme on the penultimate day of the Pope’s visit to South Sudan, an unprecedented joint “pilgrimage of peace” with the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Church of Scotland Moderator Iain Greenshields.

“Please, protect, respect, appreciate and honor every woman, every girl, girl, mother and grandmother. Otherwise, there will be no future,” said the Pope during a meeting of the three leaders with people displaced by the conflict.

Welby later returned to the theme in his address to around 50,000 people at an ecumenical prayer vigil at a mausoleum for South Sudan’s liberation hero John Garang.

“Young men, you will value and honor women, never rape, never violent, never cruel, never use them as if they were there to satisfy desire,” he said.

“Women of South Sudan, I know that in addition to the grief of the conflict and the responsibility to provide for your families, many of you live with the trauma of sexual violence and the daily fear of treatment wrong in your own homes”.

A United Nations report on South Sudan released last March condemned the widespread sexual violence against women and girls in conflict and said it was “encouraged by systemic impunity”.

The report said that “widespread rape is being carried out by armed groups throughout the country, often as part of military tactics for which the government and military leaders are responsible”.

South Sudan broke away from Sudan in 2011 but ended in civil war in 2013 with ethnic groups turning on each other. Despite a peace agreement in 2018 between the two main antagonists, attacks by inter-ethnic fighting have continued to kill and displace large numbers of civilians.


At the event where the three religious leaders heard stories from children living in displaced persons camps, the UN resident humanitarian coordinator in South Sudan, Sara Beysolow Nyanti, also raised the issue of violence widespread sexual violence against women and girls.

The Pope responded by appealing to everyone in South Sudan “to ensure that women are protected, respected, appreciated and honoured”.

Francis said that if women are given opportunities “they will have the ability to change the face of South Sudan, to give it a peaceful and cohesive development!”

Sister Orla Treacy, an Irish member of the Loreto Sisters religious order who runs a school in Rumbek, north of the capital, and works to prevent child marriages, said that less than 5% of girls end up in -secondary school. About 10% of 15-year-old girls and 52% of 18-year-old girls in South Sudan are married, she said.

Treacy and a group of students had walked about 200 km (125 miles) from the Lake State to see the Pope. She said that the governor of that region had recently signed a decree promising to stop child marriages.

South Sudan has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world, according to the World Bank, and poverty and hunger are widespread across the country, with two-thirds of the population in need of humanitarian assistance as a result of conflict as well as three years of catastrophic flooding.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Estelle Shirbon and Frances Kerry)

By Philip Pullella

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