OpEd, Politics

Urgent Enactment of Family Laws in South Sudan to Combat Injustice and Bias Against Women

By Gama Hassan Oscas

The Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity in South Sudan needs to urgently prioritize the enactment of robust family laws to address the deeply ingrained injustice and bias against women perpetuated by historical customs and traditions. Under the current situation, women are subjected to customary courts dominated by chiefs who lack knowledge of statutory laws, leading to the application of repugnant customary laws that discriminate against women. These discriminatory practices include denying women the right to remarry or love another man after the loss of their husbands, denying them inheritance rights, making it difficult for them to seek divorce compared to men, excessive bride wealth practices that dehumanize women, and denial of child custody in case of divorce. These practices directly contradict international standards such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Maputo Protocol, and other regional and international instruments that South Sudan has acceded to.

One of the primary issues that urgently requires attention is the denial of women’s rights to remarry or love another man after the loss of their husbands. The prevailing customs and traditions dictate that widowed women must remain unmarried, which infringes upon their basic human rights and autonomy. By enacting family laws that expressly recognize and protect women’s right to choose their partners after widowhood, South Sudan can dismantle these archaic and discriminatory practices.

In addition, the denial of inheritance rights to women is a grave injustice that must be rectified. Despite living peacefully with their husbands, women are often excluded from inheriting their deceased spouses’ properties due to customary practices. This denies women economic security and perpetuates their vulnerability. The enactment of family laws that guarantee women’s rights to inherit property will address this glaring inequality and empower women to assert their economic independence.

The current difficulties faced by women when seeking divorce compared to their male counterparts is another pressing concern. Women encounter numerous obstacles such as societal stigma, lack of legal representation, and economic dependence, making it incredibly challenging for them to seek divorce. Enacting family laws that provide fair and accessible divorce procedures, ensure women’s rights are protected, and promote gender equality within the legal system is vital.

Excessive bride wealth practices dehumanize women and reduce them to mere commodities. The payment of exorbitant dowries reinforces harmful gender dynamics, perpetuates inequality, and denies women agency in their relationships. The enactment of family laws that regulate or eliminate these practices will challenge deeply rooted norms and foster healthier, more equitable relationships based on mutual respect and consent.

Furthermore, South Sudan must address the issue of child custody, which currently tends to favor men in divorce cases. This not only denies women their rights but also disregards the best interests of the child. Enacting family laws that prioritize the well-being of children and promote joint decision-making in custody matters will ensure gender equality and safeguard the rights of both parents and children.

Additionally, women in South Sudan face significant challenges when traveling with their children due to unnecessary restrictions and documentation requirements. These restrictions infringe upon women’s freedom of movement and limit their ability to exercise their rights as equal citizens. Enacting family laws that protect women’s rights to travel freely with their children will bring South Sudan in line with international standards and ensure gender equality.

The Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity must demonstrate its commitment to gender equality and justice by urgently enacting comprehensive family laws. These laws should explicitly address the specific challenges faced by women in South Sudan, ensuring their rights are protected and promoting gender equality within society. By prioritizing the enactment of such laws, South Sudan will take a significant step towards dismantling discriminatory practices, fostering gender equality, and creating a society where all individuals, regardless of gender, can thrive and enjoy equal rights and opportunities. It is time to break free from the chains of unjust traditions and customs and build a future where every woman in South Sudan is empowered to live with dignity and equality.

The writer can be reached on the email: oscarsgama @gmail.com


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