Did the South Sudan DDR program leave women behind?

By December 2010, which was almost the end of the initially planned time period for South Sudan’s comprehensive DDR program, only 9,736 of the originally thought 90,000 ex-combatants were at least demobilized according to an independent evaluation. This number includes an almost equal share of female ex-combatants and women associated with armed groups. However, the meager result has of course contributed little to actual military downsizing, not to mention the anticipated security sector reform (SSR). Quite the contrary happened: with conflict looming on the horizon, and subsequently breaking out, the number of combatants even increased to an estimated number of 130,000.

As documented in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the 2008 National DDR Strategic Plan, and UNMISS’s mission mandate, the South Sudan DDR strategy has endorsed a gender-sensitive approach and called for the full and equal participation of female ex-combatants and women associated with armed groups (WAAG) right from the beginning. However, the implementation of the ambitious DDR agenda was heavily flawed and led to very mixed outcomes, particularly for WAAG.

The South Sudan National DDR Commission has early on recognized the importance of the social network component in successful reintegration processes and therefore aimed to actively involve the returnees’ home communities. However, community-based reintegration (CBR) must be sensitively adapted to the various special needs groups (SNGs).

As the 2010 Stockholm Policy Group report mentions, the inclusion of WAAG in the reintegration process is mandatory, but doing so through the official DDR channel might be rather harmful if it increases stigmatization in the home/host community. Returning from active conflict sites has a very different notion for women who might have engaged in activities that very much challenged traditional gender stereotypes. Women returnees might have a particular difficult time resuming their traditional roles and reintegrating into their previous lives.

The IDDRS framework suggests community-based reintegration with dual targeting, meaning that community members and ex-combatants with a similar profile should be targeted together. With regards to female ex-combatants and WAAG, dual targeting can, for example, simultaneously address economically disadvantaged women in the community by creating and supporting women-run cooperatives and microfinance projects. This allows ex-combatants to re-establish their livelihoods and local women to engage in income-generating activities. Such concerns highlight the importance of permanently deployed Gender Advisors as part of the UN mission.

Additionally, forces can be joined in regard to tackling the pervasive sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) that women civilians, WAAG and female ex-combatants are equally confronted with through offering comprehensive psycho-social support for survivors of SGBV as well as workshops on women’s health and HIV/AIDS prevention. The deployment of Women Protection Advisors as part of UN missions is clearly necessary for these aims.

The South Sudan DDR experience shows that reinsertion packages do not only need to be reoriented towards a needs-based approach so as increase flexibility and offer more choices (i.e. cash vs. food aid), but also have to be specifically tailored to the needs of women. Women’s circumstances, such as their setting (urban or rural), the number of their dependents, and the nature of their income-generating activities, have to be fully taken into account. Gender training for peacekeeping personnel and mission staff as well as the full and equal participation of women who are representative of their community and women’s civil society organization in the design and implementation of DDR strategies is therefore mandatory.

Ultimately, while reintegration programs have a limited timeframe, reintegration processes can take forever, which leads to the broader DDR and development nexus. Inclusive development can only happen if women participate as equal stakeholders in political, economic and social processes. The reintegration of female ex-combatants and WAAG in order for them to regain their livelihoods and make their voices heard is only the beginning.

By Nadine Lainer.