South Sudanese women have faced the brunt of years of violence, abuses, and repressive gender norms, and their voices have too often been silenced. A new anthology of poems, short stories, and artwork by South Sudanese women, “No Time to Mourn”, seeks to provide personal insight into gender inequality and related abuses in South Sudan. It highlights the resilience of South Sudanese women and girls and their efforts to challenge barriers restricting their advancement.
In the book, pieces like “This is How to Stay Married” and “Good Girl from a Good Family” reference the gender norms that restrict women’s roles to wives and mothers in claustrophobic ways. Such perceptions, coupled with poverty and the absence of legal clarity on the age of marriage or political will to end it, have allowed early and forced marriage to persist. Female activists have also been harassed and attacked because they are seen as trespassing outside their rightful roles into public and political spaces.
In “Here Chickens Are Not Vegetarian”, the author reflects on the arduous journeys of displaced pregnant women and girls and the lack of choice over their sexual and reproductive health. South Sudan has among the world’s highest maternal mortality ratios, highlighting under-investment and lack of prioritization of women’s right to health.
Another piece tells of a woman who, after almost being beaten to death by her husband, finally decides to leave him, despite pressure from her family. Sexual and gender-based violence, including during conflict, is widespread and normalized. Cases of sexual abuse are too often settled customarily or within the community, denying the survivor any real chance of justice or healing.
These poems and short stories are among a series of efforts in South Sudan to combat structural and cultural inequalities and address the social and psychological impacts of war, trauma, displacement, and abuse. Last year, South Sudanese women and girls around the world started #SouthSudaneseSurvivor, on Twitter, providing a rare platform for survivors of sexual violence to share their experiences and call for accountability. Women are also fighting to be included in political processes beyond gender quotas.
The road to emancipation may be long and hard but South Sudanese women and girls are clearly not standing by and waiting for help to arrive.