Friday, December 3, 2021

Sudan Tribune

Plural news and views on Sudan

Women, affirmative action and justice

By Suzanne Jambo

April 3, 2013 – The discussion or debate on Affirmative Action, AA has been quite controversial and may have been unfairly judged or misconceived by many. I subscribe to Affirmative Action application subject to periodical review. Below I shall only share ‘success’ stories of Affirmative Action, in a bid to see the humane aspect of it and not the ‘bull dozing’ characterization of what many may wrongly perceive AA for. Its about bringing justice to all and especially the socio-culturally-economically and legally, interalia, excluded-more-than half the population, often.

I shall begin here by sharing with you the overwhelming feeling I got, very emotional indeed, seeing and watching Kenya’s Supreme Court and only Lady Justice Njoki Ndungu. In the just concluded Kenya’s March 2013, a precedent was set by six distinguished Supreme Court, SC judges, all male except for one lady justice. The SC is Kenya’s highest court and is part of Kenya’s new constitution promulgated in 2010 and has set record with its first most remarkable ruling on March 30th, 2013 on a presidential petition. Perhaps, the youngest judge among the six judges, the only Supreme Court Lady Justice Njoki Ndungu, watching her during a highly publicized SC proceedings, the graceful lady justice for seven days, hearing her legal comments, remarks and ‘feminine’ appeal, I am even more convinced that Affirmative Action for a more concious women’s inclusion in decision and policy-making processes is the way to go.

Several months ago, I followed a highly debated public outcry on the need to include a COMPETENT, yes, competent but FEMALE judge in the Supreme Court of Kenya. Apparently, the Kenya’s judicial system then was ‘gender equity blind’ not to have noticed that there was no female judge in the original suggested list of names of the SC judges. Hence, came the name of Lady Justice Njoki Ndungu of Kenya’s SC and her name was ‘added’. The simple logical but constitutional argument was Affirmative Action. Lady Justice Njoki became Kenya’s first female Supreme Court Judge. History and JUSTICE was made. Women make up more than 50% of Kenya’s population and Lady Justice Ndungu comes with a long track record on women’s and girls’ rights including the ‘famous’ Sexual Harassment Act.

Other examples abound, Rwanda with its at least 50% representation in Parliament and in government came through a determined political will after its horrid 1994 Genocide to include women and Affirmative Action to heal, reconcile and build Rwanda. We all know how Rwanda is today considered one of Africa’s fastest growing and stable economy and development. Sure, time will tell us more. So is Uganda, another post-conflict example which has overcome the ‘5-year relapse to war stigma’, more so its record fight against Hiv/Aids; ‘Who was very instrumental in curbing the scourge and How?’ It has been Ugandan women and through its constitutional and political-willed Affirmative Action. Botswana’s ‘Kutla’ traditional rule system presided over currently (for quite a few years now) by a paramount female chief, this also came about through Botswana’s success story of Affirmative Action. The Female Paramount chief, per her own story, lost her paramount chief father so it was decided that her younger brother (being a male) to succeed the father. Her brother also died shortly, and her uncle begun ‘lobbying to succeed’ but and given the AA, she decided she is capable and today she presides over tens of small ‘kutla’ ruling alongside Botswana’s ‘modern’ government; Africa’s ‘shinning democracy’ and extremely prosperous economic plans. The ‘Kutla’ rule in Botswana is powerfully instrumental.

The Republic of South Sudan history with Affirmative Action officially begun in August 1998 with the SPLM 1st Women’s Conference, a conference called for by the late Hero Dr. John Garang and fully attended by H.E. Cde President Salva Kiir. The conference brought more than 700 delegates including women leaders and chiefs who deliberated and mandated the SPLM to formulate a policy on women’s greater participation in the public domain through an affirmative action policy. I was an advisor to the said conference as appointed by the Late Hero Dr. John Garang. ‘Mama’ Kezia Layinwa, the then SPLM Secretary for Gender and Child-welfare, in a letter (which I still keep) requested me to draft the said Policy based on the August delegates’ resolutions. A policy was subsequently formulated and deliberated on during a December 1998 National Liberation Council meeting. It was passed unanimously paving way for the ‘famous 25% SPLM Affirmative Action’.

Some fundamental clarifications; firstly, women have thus been reserved the 25% AA due to traditional and historical multi-layered injustices. To protect and preserve the rights of women and girls including in education, training, public participation etc. Not because women are lazy, incompetent or incapable —- its because not all societies, cultures, customs and even personal beliefs of those in power (traditional and ‘modern’ or even military) do not regard women as ‘equal’ period! Regardless of a woman’s competence or her ‘counterpart male’s incompetence’ for that matter. She is just not equal and capable to do ‘xyz’ assignment. The younger she is, the more negativity against her ‘incompetence’. Secondly, the way women and girls are socialized, LARGELY, as I personally found out 1998-2000 in a book titled; ‘Overcoming Gender & Conflict Bias, The Case of New Sudan Women’ that in several societies in RSS as insubordinate to men. So women and girls themselves in significant parts of RSS grow up feeling inadequate regardless of whatever the odd one/two ‘brave female’ role models maybe.

Today, AA is thus a ‘large scale, multi-faceted including economic commitment and a constitutional obligation’ on first and foremost, the RSS government to commit itself to justice, equal social order and nation’s HEALTHIER and certainly sustainable building processes and secondly on the South Sudanese society at large.

The SPLM, by passing the then AA 25% has committed itself to socio-econo-cultural-legal and development justice to women. The SPLM in 1998 had set a historical record for being the only liberation movement which had adopted such a policy. The onus on it now to fully develop bench-marks to review how much has been achieved and what are the gaps to be addressed. In addition, viable monitoring and evaluation mechanisms need to be developed to facilitate for periodical review.

Review; by arguing AA here, am not saying we stay with AA for ever! Its a guiding justice principle for as long as the ‘problem’ persists and for as long as policy-makers and ‘beneficiaries’ alike not doing their part.

Women of RSS are not only the very few handful ‘privileged’ educated ones (like myself, BUT WE TOO, HAVE OUR MANY PAINFUL STORIES TO TELL, some day..), BUT she is the rural woman who is responsible for child-bearing under no medical health care, she has to walk long distances to fetch water, fire wood, she has to dig in the farm and she is also expected to overcome socio-cultural barriers, YES BARRIERS to get noticed, to be heard let alone go to school, get some education, training and a job? HOW?!?!

Having positive discrimination for women and the other socially excluded including the youth, the physically challenged and minority people is about justice and justice must be seen to be done. It is through Affirmative Action and its various verifiable re-viewable instruments.

Suzanne Jambo is a South Sudanese lawyer, communities & human rights activist and is the current SPLM Secretary for External Relations and can be reached via email: [email protected]