The year 2010 is a milestone year for women’s rights and gender equality—marking the 15th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action, the 10th anniversary of the Millennium Declaration and Security Council resolution 1325. Only five years are left until the target date for achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Women all over the world especially in developing countries, continue to face the enormous challenges of food insecurity, domestic violence, economic hardship, natural and man-made disasters and climate change. Southern Sudan is no exception. Our women, who struggled immensely during the war, continue to face an enormous social and economic burden, as well as ongoing discrimination, lack of opportunities, and totally unjustifiable and unacceptable forms of sexual and domestic violence. If we are to have any chance of succeeding as a strong nation which can be genuinely proud of its record on equal human rights, this has to change.
It is also a sad and unenviable fact that Southern Sudan has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. One in seven of our women who become pregnant will die from pregnancy-related causes. It is for this reason that I have declared 2010 as the Year of Maternal and Child Health in Southern Sudan, and I have asked our Minister of Health to ensure that there is concrete progress in putting in place the range of measures needed to reduce maternal deaths before the end of 2010. We cannot enter our new future in 2011 as a strong and proud Southern Sudan if we are losing our women unnecessarily through avoidable pregnancy and childbirth related deaths.
As Southern Sudan focuses on the forthcoming challenge of Elections and the Referendum on the self-determination of the people, we have more reason than ever to focus on Gender Equity in Southern Sudan. The Government of Southern Sudan is fully committed to promoting the full participation of women in public life. As I stated in my elections campaign messages, I am committed to increase the women participation to 30% in my cabinet and I will encourage the elected governors to do the same in their state governments. The future of our beloved Southern Sudan will be bright if we can empower our women to play an active role as leaders, members of national and local government and assemblies, professionals, academics, in our armed forces and police, as well as in civil society. The Ministry of Gender and Social Welfare is taking forward a number of important programmes to implement a National Gender Policy, address the needs of vulnerable women, and enhance women’s participation and leadership. I am hopeful that by the end of 2010, thanks to the efforts of our development partners, we will see a marked enhancement in the status and quality of life of our women.
This year, Unicef has announced International Women’s Day as a Time to Focus on Adolescent Girls. Unicef believes that it is time to tackle the unacceptable levels of sexual violence, oppression, abuse and exploitation of women and girls, and that every girl has the right to a childhood that provides her with the opportunity to reach her full potential. I also share the same passion and commitment to improving the future of the lives of our young women and girls in Southern Sudan. Let us join hands to end once and for all the unacceptable forms of abuse of young women and girls which are currently so widespread, ensuring that those who perpetrate such acts face the appropriate penalties and prosecution, and in ensuring that all girls have access to the education and health services which can deliver not only a better future for themselves, but also for the whole nation.