Hope, Pain and Patience - The Lives of Women in South Sudan

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Given the personal nature of the subject matter, several interviewees preferred not to be named, and a decision was then made to use pseudonyms for all interviewees. For this reason, details about the date and place in which interviews were held have also not been included. In many respects, marriage holds a different place in South Sudanese society to that which it holds in the West. In South Sudan, a marriage is not understood as an arrangement between two individuals and the culmination of a love affair.

Rather marriage is a social institution, involving whole families, that ties together separate kinship groups Benesova, Power and wealth are often important factors guiding the choice of a prospective partner, with marriage playing a part in helping a family to increase their social status.

Friederike Bubenzer

Thus, the institution of marriage shapes the social relations of entire communities, conferring on marriage a central and critical place in society. Not surprisingly, this impacts on the ways in which marriages operate. Since marriages are family arrangements, families have a say in who their family members should marry. Once a couple is married, the wider social networks still significantly influence the marriage.


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  • For example, extended families often play a role in guiding children's formation, and may provide financial support if needed. As will be shown, extended families certainly have a financial as well as a social stake in ensuring that marriages remain intact.

    Voices of South Sudan Refugee Children and Women in Refugee Settlements, Northern Uganda

    Thus marital disputes are perceived as community problems rather than as private issues SMLS, This can have both positive and negative implications for women. While on the one hand, it means that supportive relatives have an interest in assisting couples to resolve their problems, it can also mean that, for the sake of social cohesion, relatives prevent women from seeking to escape serious marital problems, such as domestic violence.

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    In terms of finances, marriage has significant implications for individuals, families and communities. Perhaps the most important aspect of this is that men have to pay a bride price in order to marry. Bride price is a crucial economic feature of South Sudanese society and, as will become clear throughout the chapter, it has many possible ramifications. Significant sums are paid in bride price, which can be important sources of income for families, and the need to afford bride-price payments gives men an important motivation to accumulate wealth.

    Furthermore, the acquisition of several wives is seen as important for socio-economic advancement, as many wives can bear many daughters, who in turn can bring in many cattle from bride price when they eventually marry Beswick, Rose Akol, one of the women interviewed for this chapter, describes the central relationship between marriage and wealth as follows: 'Lives are structured around cows, marriage and children: cows give you marriage, marriage gives you children.

    Therefore there is a circle. As in many African countries, civil law and customary law operate concurrently in South Sudan. Civil law is the formal written law of the country, codified in legislation, and drafted by parliament and other state structures. Customary law is the country's indigenous body of law. It is unwritten, and shifts and evolves to meet changing circumstances SMLS, Customary law varies between tribes and clans, and there are over 50 of these in South Sudan, each with their own systems and laws pertaining to marriage.

    It has been argued that it is 'impossible to identify a single concrete set of practices relating to marriage and assume that this definition accords with all marriage practices in South Sudan. However, despite the differences, there are also many commonalities. It is some of the more common elements that this chapter attempts to examine.

    Civil law in South Sudan guarantees equality to women under Article 20 1 of the Interim Constitution, which states, 'Women shall be accorded full and equal dignity of the person with men. Unfortunately, despite the protection afforded to women by civil law, customary law remains the dominant body of law in most parts of the country.

    This is partly because, as of , there were very few civil law courts and structures around the country, and partly because few citizens have any real knowledge or experience of civil law. The result is that the provisions of customary law continue to flourish, and these tend to discriminate against women. Central to an understanding of marriage in South Sudan, is an awareness of the respective roles that men and women play within society. The distinct roles played by men and women are clearly understood by all, and children are socialised into these from birth. Behavioural conventions are strictly enforced and anyone breaking the mould is subject to intense societal pressure.

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    Women in South Sudan typically marry around the age of 18, while men usually marry between the ages of 20 and Most young men and women live with their parents until they marry. Many married couples stay with their families until they have had two or three children of their own SMLS, For most women this means being under the authority of their father and then of their husband, without ever having an opportunity to become independent.

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    Friederike Bubenzer | Institute for the Study of Human Rights

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    Mar 18, Mpho Kubjane rated it it was amazing. A real and honest encounter of the struggles for survival many women are forced to live through e everyday.. Nov 25, Kay rated it it was amazing. An academic yet accessible collection of women's voices on topics raging from sex workers to female combatants, highly recommended to all with an interest in women's studies or South Sudan. James Carlisle rated it really liked it May 06, Colleen rated it liked it Jan 12, Serena rated it it was amazing Apr 13, Bianca rated it it was amazing Dec 29, Matthew Raketti marked it as to-read Jan 11, George Wani marked it as to-read Apr 14, Sarah Nedolast marked it as to-read Apr 14, Martin Aher marked it as to-read May 02, Sisto Pione marked it as to-read May 26, Wieu Matouk dit marked it as to-read Jun 16, Linda Linda marked it as to-read Jun 17, Amet Ayii marked it as to-read Jun 27, Amak marked it as to-read Jul 24, Ngor De added it Oct 17, Teresa marked it as to-read Dec 05, Megan marked it as to-read Jan 06,