#16Days: South Sudan, Women and Demilitarisation

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Soldiers of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) redeploy to form a new Joint Integrated Unit (JIU) battalion with the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF), under the terms of the agreement of the Abyei road map in 2008. Photo credit: Tim McKulka / United Nations.

 In 2001, in his discussion paper “Demilitarising Minds, Demilitarising Societies”, Howard Clark suggested that demilitarisation should be viewed at two different levels, the surface level and the deep level. The surface level demilitarisation concerns the actions taken to put an immediate end to the fighting, such as “disbanding forces, surrendering arms, implementing ceasefire agreements”. It is the effort of diverting the conflict and pushing “the personal, political or other agendas… from the military to the political arena”. It does not, however, require fundamental attitude changes. On the other hand, deep demilitarisation “seeks to address the roots of militarisation and undo the legacy of war and militarisation as part of an effort to reconstruct society on a different basis”. It requires “social struggle” and seeks to “address causes of violence and offer alternative, non-military approaches”. It must be led by the communities in conflict and cannot be forced by international community.

It is useful to apply this distinction to South Sudan’s case. The protracted war with Sudan has entrenched militarisation in the society with great ramifications for the people. As a result, the people are more likely to resort to violence instead of discussion in order to solve political and/or everyday disputes. Transparency is reduced and military needs trump over civil rights. Moreover, divisions between different ethnic groups are widened as suspicion and intolerance of the Other grows. Although the international community is working hard on the surface level demilitarisation, South Sudan surely needs deep level demilitarisation if it wishes to find sustainable peace.

To achieve deep demilitarisation, the initiative must be locally generated and everyone from the community needs to be involved. Since almost half of the South Sudan’s population is female, their exclusion from the peace talks is detrimental to achieving sustainable peace and deep demilitarisation. Luckily, South Sudanese women are taking steps towards correcting that. South Sudan for Peace and Development and other women coalitions organized a public debate “Women’s Action for Peace”, which will “provide stakeholders with first-hand accounts of the realities for women, and for their families and communities on the ground, as a means to foster effective dialogue and develop lasting solutions.” The lead coordinator of the event and former Deputy Minister for Gender, Child and Social Welfare Priscila Nyanyang said that the purpose of the event was to come up with ways “to advance the cause of peace, healing and reconciliation”.

The emphasis on healing and reconciliation is important as it complements the current attempts at reaching a peace agreement. The current surface level demilitarisation efforts such as establishing peace talks and arms control management are integral and, to an extent, a pre-requisite effort for the deep demilitarisation efforts such as Women’s Action for Peace and the general disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration initiatives. South Sudanese women organizations are showing the potential and an interest in leading deep demilitarisation efforts in South Sudan, which should be avidly encouraged and supported by the international community. With the international community and the government focusing on the surface level demilitarisation and supporting women organizations’ efforts on deep demilitarisation, South Sudan is much more likely to achieve sustainable peace.


Margaryta Yakovenko is a recent graduate from the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa. She specializes in peacebuilding, conflict resolution, and security sector reform. She is currently interning with Women, Peace and Security Network – Canada.

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