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Women to Play Key Role in New South Sudan Government

Violence is marring the run-up to July 9, the day when South Sudan will formally declare its independence from the north and become a new nation. More than 70,000 have been displaced from disputed border regions. Hundreds have died. The South's oil industry is under threat from the north.

However, it's important to remember that South Sudan becoming an independent nation is a foregone conclusion. And with that independence will come new opportunities for the women of South Sudan, and for organizations like Five Talents.

In a recent interview with TrustLaw, Anne Itto, deputy secretary-general of the ruling Sudan People's Liberation Movement, expressed optimism about the outlook for women in the new country. The freshly-minted South Sudan constitution requires that women make up at least 25 percent of all decision-making bodies. For Itto, this is only the beginning of a massive revolution.

"The idea was that because of history and culture women were left behind. Giving them 25 percent representation would be like a stepping-stone so that they can catch up," she told TrustLaw.

What's more, women in South Sudan appear ready to make an impact: About 70 percent of voters in the most recent elections were women. "We believe we can use those successes in negotiating for a better position in an independent Republic of South Sudan, so we are not going backwards," Itto said.

SudanblogphotoFor several years now, Five Talents has been contributing to the empowerment of women in South Sudan.

In 2007, Five Talents helped to set up the first-ever community-led bank in the region, along with its partners World Concern, the Mother's Union, and the Episcopal Church of Sudan, Diocese of Wau. While the recent violence has displaced some partner staff, the community-led bank still remains in operation because it is run by locals.

The bank allows women like 30-year-old Joyce (pictured here) to continue saving money and providing for her family, even during times of uncertainty.

The mother of six children recently joined a savings group and is looking forward to participating in literacy training when it is offered in her diocese. As a child, she was never allowed to go to school.

"I was the only daughter and my family needed my help at home and in the fields," said Joyce. "When I was alone I would pretend that I could write. I would hold a blade of grass between my fingers, and act as though I was writing with a pen in my hand."

In the new South Sudan, stories like these will slowly become the tales of past generations. But it will take time. "These are not things we change overnight," Itto told TrustLaw. "You can have the best of laws, but when something becomes a habit, a practice, a tradition, it will take five, ten years to move people out of it."

Five Talents, meanwhile, will continue contributing to the empowerment of women in this new country by fighting poverty, creating jobs and transforming lives.