‘Be the spark’: South Sudanese women call on Canada for help

No Mas Tour II - Agnes and Awak

“Women are used like tools in war,” but with help they could be peacemakers, says Agnes Wasuk Petia

Photo: Agnes Wasuk Petia (right) and Awak Hussein Deng are both involved in national women’s programming for the South Sudan Council of Churches. They are touring Canada sharing their stories about the grassroots organizations – largely run by women – which are working to create a sustainable peace in the war-torn African country. (Cathy Alex/CBC)

Originally published by CBC News on November 30, 2017.

Listen to the full interview

Two women from the South Sudan Council of Churches (SSCC) are asking Canadians and the federal government for political and financial help to end gender-based violence, and create a lasting peace in the war-torn African country.

Women in South Sudan are not only the victims of the decades-long conflict, but they are running the grassroots organizations which are striving to bring a sustainable peace to the country.

“I have never experienced peace,” says Agnes Wasuk Petia, the coordinator of the SSCC’s national women’s programme, who adds “women are used like tools in war.”

Married in war, a mother in war

“I got married in war, gave birth to children in war, they grew up and now I have become a grandmother in war.”

Seeing and experiencing all that pain, she asked herself “how long will we be living in this situation?” That question prompted her to take action.

“Can I do something? Yes. I can not say I will do everything but I believe that one person can start and one person can bring about change,” said Petia, who has been joined by many other women, including Awak Hussein Deng, in the struggle for peace.

Deng, the SSCC’s women’s programming youth coordinator, said it’s vital for the younger generation, who are “the future of the country” to be involved in this movement for peace.

Being the spark for change

“Every change starts from one spark, so if you can be that one spark, it is really important,” she said. “Change is happening, it’s small but tomorrow it will be big.”

The programs she runs are aimed at everything from eliminating gender-based violence to building a more equal, caring society.

Deng said she is noticing people treating each other in a new way.

‘You are a human being’

“People are treating each other like ‘you are a human being’, regardless of where you’re coming from or what you’re doing, or what are your thoughts, you are a human being and that is how things will be done.”

Petia said the SSCC is committed to a strategy which involves advocacy, a neutral forum for speaking and reconciliation with the goal of convincing South Sudanese leaders to change the narrative “from the narrative of war to peace.”

Her work includes offering workshops that recognize the trauma people have suffered in the war, and helps them heal.

‘Women are the peacemakers’

“Women are peacemakers,” said Petia, “and we are doing it from the bottom of our hearts.”

The ecumenical organziation, KAIROS Canada, is sponsoring the women’s speaking tour, as part of its international social justice advocacy. They will be making presentations in seven cities between November 24 to December 10.

The tour is asking the Canadian government to devote 0.7 per cent of its Gross Nation Income (GNI) to foreign aid, an international standard. According to KAIROS, in 2016, Canada contributed 0.26 per cent GNI to foreign aid.

You can hear the full interview with Petia and Deng on CBC’s Up North program here.

Filed in: Africa, Gender Justice/Women of Courage


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