Women’s Security and the Law in South Sudan

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Customary laws of South Sudan’s many tribes play a critical role in regulating South Sudanese society. During the civil wars customary law provided an important source of cohesion and order in families and communities; it became a means with which responsibilities were enforced and family support was ensured. Yet the reliance on customary practices has also had negative consequences for women. In many countries customary laws do not provide sufficient protection for women, are deeply patriarchal, casting men as the undisputed heads of their families, with women playing subservient roles. While South Sudan’s 2005 Interim Constitution guarantees human rights and equality for all (GoSS, 2005), there is a conflict with numerous rules of customary law which continue to violate women’s rights. As the new state develops its justice sector, drafts new laws, and establishes a functional legal system, it faces the challenging task of reconciling customary law with the guarantees of human rights that are enshrined in the constitution. The UN Handbook on Legislation on Violence Against Women specifically addresses this situation and recommends that “where there are conflicts between customary and/or religious law and the formal justice system, the matter should be resolved with respect for the human rights of the survivor and in accordance with gender equality standards”