Youth, Gender, And The Environment: A Look Into Peacebuilding Efforts In South Sudan

South Sudan has a violent history, and peace agreements and humanitarian efforts for gender, youth, and the environment, thus far have failed to establish lasting peace.

Background: Recent Situation of South Sudan

South Sudan Flag
South Sudan Flag. Instagram

Ethnic and political tensions have always been a determinant in the establishment of South Sudan. Even before Sudan’s independence from Britain in 1956, the main debate in the South was how to establish a unified nation across a distinct heterogeneous population.

Children and youth have always been an intrinsic element in these efforts – in which education had a leading factor. The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which was meant to end the Second Sudanese Civil War, was negated by the resurgence of population displacement and ethnic tensions.

Efforts to promote sustaining peace have failed to resolve the needs inflicted by the decades of conflict fought largely by the youth, resulting in violence remaining as a prominent feature of Sudan’s socio-political climate.

In 2011, as South Sudan gained its independence from Sudan, it established the South Sudan Nationality Act. While this act was intended to “protect children against statelessness,” it remained extremely difficult for abducted women and children to establish their rights to nationality. This rendered a large portion of the population unable to access fundamental rights and protection, as nationality is required in order to benefit from education and healthcare services.

In 2013, South Sudan had once again been engulfed by widespread violence, resulting in South Sudan’s Civil War – a power struggle that exacerbated the ethnic divisions in South Sudan. This ethnic identity was and has remained an easily manipulated structure for exploiting inter-tribal differences and for maintaining or gaining power.

South Sudan. Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash
Rumbek, South Sudan. Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

Since CPA, 1 in 3 South Sudanese have been displaced, with more than four million citizens having to flee their homes. Over 2.4 million people are uprooted – having to escape to neighboring countries in search of safety, and 1.7 million people internally displaced – making South Sudan the third-most fled country in the world.

Youth and Gender

Not only does this wartime violence and displacement provide an insight into the youth’s struggle in protection, but it also shows how this conflict is deeply gendered and affects girls and boys differently. The youth must navigate through this environment of adverse humanitarian conditions, while also being faced with pronounced gender and age-based inequalities that characterize their society.

The youth in South Sudan are central to the success of peace efforts and the future of South Sudan, but this group has grown up with war and violence as the norm. Youth were encouraged and expected to partake in violence. For example, in 2012 political leader Paul Akol “call(ed) upon all youth in all bomas, payams, and counties all over the states of South Sudan to unite as one. ‘It’s time to defend the country and you should be ready to do so when called upon.’” 

In 2018, the post-war period, over “two million children, or over 70%,” are not in school with the majority of this group being comprised of girls. In South Sudanese nation-building efforts, the policies and acts often target educational reform; this is based on the assumption that education is a key factor for empowering youth and giving them an alternative to violence-based livelihoods. While these priorities are rightfully present, the schooling received is often led by unqualified teachers without a core curriculum or any linkage to employment opportunities. This has been found to frustrate students and exacerbate violence.

In addition to education initiatives, child and gender directive approaches must be protected and embraced for a more balanced recognition of girl’s efforts to coping in these conditions. Security Council Resolution (SCR) 1325 is the first time that a security council recognized that peace and security is about individual security, specifically women and girls. Not only that, but it was the first time a security council linked women and girl’s experiences of conflict to the maintenance of international peace and security.

The United Nations in South Sudan
The United Nations in South Sudan. Photo by chetan sharma on Unsplash

Environmental Justice

The safety of the South Sudanese way of life is dependent on the environment. Over 95% of the population relies on activities affected by climate change for their livelihoods. As a result, the protection and preservation of natural resources is necessary to maintain the way of life for most South Sudanese. In addition to forestry and other livelihoods, the majority of households rely on agriculture (85%) and/or cattle rearing (65%.) Massive deposits of charcoal make it the cheapest and most common fuel. Unfortunately, the South Sudanese way of life is threatened by several factors.

The fragility of the situation in South Sudan is mirrored in the environment’s susceptibility to climate change. Studies show that the nation is dangerously close to ecological catastrophe. The Climate Change Vulnerability Index 2017 places South Sudan in the top five most vulnerable countries in the world. Frightening statistics reveal the importance of protecting the remaining resources. While rainfall becomes more scarce, the U.S. Agency for International Development also measures a significant increase in temperatures when compared to other areas.

Deforestation has reduced forests from 35% of land to only 11%, and it is predicted that in around 50 years forests will be depleted. More recently, city-sized locust swarms are devouring crops and plants, which further threatens the erosion of topsoil and food security.

While almost 95% of South Sudan is suitable for agriculture, less than 4% is cultivated. Conflict in South Sudan and the resulting diaspora of the South Sudanese places a significant burden on the environment and people’s ability to sustain themselves. Food insecurity is a perennial threat.

The USAID predicts that 5.5 million people (47% of the population) may face acute food insecurity and require urgent food for the foreseeable future. Despite the turmoil gripping the South Sudanese, significant effort can help them rehabilitate their forests and revitalize agriculture. Food security for children and youth is crucial for South Sudan as it helps address a current resource crisis and allows the country to take steps toward addressing other issues and achieving peace.

South Sudan Army
South Sudan Army. Image by Jaroslav Šmahel from Pixabay

South Sudan has a violent history, and peace agreements and humanitarian efforts thus far have failed to establish lasting peace. Now, after the conclusion of its latest civil war, South Sudan must overcome ethnic tensions, environmental challenges, reintegration of displaced persons, and perennial violence during its nation-building process. Historically, at least at the normative level, peace efforts have been aimed at educating and protecting the children and youth of South Sudan. A focus on the young is important, as they are the future of the nation, but these efforts should focus on empowering these young people.

Lily Adami

Content Editor Associate

Having a silly and hard-working personality, Lily loves getting to know people and is passionate about human rights around the world. She is enthusiastic about other cultures, history, and international affairs. Lily has a deep appreciation for traveling, her favorite places include: Amsterdam, Amalfi Coast, and South Africa.

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