Update from Tiffany Easthom, Nonviolence Peaceforce County Director in South Sudan
Women in South Sudan are not waiting for peace to be delivered, they are making peace happen. They are tired of the violence and the sense of helplessness that the chaos of war brings. Women from both the Dinka and the Nuer communities sheltering within the UNMISS (United Nations Mission in South Sudan) base in Bentiu, Unity State came together as a women's peacekeeping team (WPT) - a force for real peace. They started their work together by having both Dinka and Nuer women meet for tea. This simple act of sharing tea and conversation challenged the notion that Nuer and Dinka could no longer be together. This has been the foundation for a rapidly escalating agenda of women's participation in peace and security.
They share the common knowledge that both communities have been deeply affected and have experienced heavy loss as well as suffering every day. The Nonviolence Peaceforce (NP) team in Bentiu has been working to support this women's peacekeeping team. On January 21st, 2014 the women's peacekeeping team drafted a letter to the Governor of Unity State, Joseph Maytuil Wjang asking for an end to the conflict and for protection of civilians. They gathered together in order to march 12 kms from the UNMISS base to the governor's office in Unity State. There they presented the letter and they are making further plans for action. The NP team provided accompaniment for this march, walking silently with the women through the devastated town of Bentiu. One NP peacekeeper told us it was deeply emotional to see the destruction through the women's eyes. During this march they saw the extent of the damage for the first time since fleeing to the base. NP together with UNMISS colleagues are providing ongoing support for this inspirational group in implementing local reconciliation and peacekeeping efforts.
Nonviolence Peaceforce has supported women all over the country to form women's peacekeeping teams. Recently two representatives from the Bentiu women's peacekeeping team traveled to Juba to met with the Juba based women's peacekeeping team. This was the first full meeting of the Juba women's peacekeeping team since the crisis began. During this meeting the women from the two states representing more than 5 tribes shared their experience of events since December 15th, 2013. The air was heavy with a combination of grief and resolve. One woman shared that she has been too scared to leave her home since the fighting started last month. She said "I fear to leave my children because things can flare up at any moment and I need to protect them. I am scared all the time but when this meeting was called, I had to come. I am a woman peacekeeper, that is the commitment I made and I had to come today." One woman left the meeting early because her brother had been shot and killed the night before in Juba. This is another senseless death that happens in the nightly gun battles. She apologized for leaving. Who should be apologizing to whom? The two women's peacekeeping team spent nearly 4 hours together sharing ideas, learning from each other and making plans. As the world waits for the powerful figures to make and abide by agreements, women's peacekeeping teams are taking control of their own lives, one day at a time.
Nonviolent Peaceforce is an unarmed, paid civilian peacekeeping force, it fosters dialogue among parties in conflict and provides a protective presence for threatened civilians.
With the headquarters in Brussels, NP peacekeeping teams are presently deployed in the Philippines, in South Sudan, and the South Caucasus. Our peacekeepers include veterans of conflict zones, experienced peacekeepers, and those new to the field with the right combination of experience, skills, aptitude and attitude. Nonviolent Peaceforce USA is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
Within every combat zone we enter, and throughout our work worldwide, we want to achieve four overarching goals:
- To create a space for fostering lasting peace.
- To protect civilians, especially those made vulnerable because of the conflict.
- To develop and promote the theory and practice of unarmed civilian peacekeeping so that it may be adopted as a policy option by decision makers and public institutions.
- To build the pool of professionals able to join peace teams through regional activities, training, and maintaining a roster of trained, available people.
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This article appears in:
2014 Catalyst, Issue 4: Season of Nonviolence