Academic journal article Prism : a Journal of the Center for Complex Operations

Engendering Responses to Complex Emergencies: Lessons from South Sudan

Academic journal article Prism : a Journal of the Center for Complex Operations

Engendering Responses to Complex Emergencies: Lessons from South Sudan

Article excerpt

Like so many before it, the current crisis in South Sudan is a classic example of what humanitarians term a "complex emergency"-a major humanitarian crisis that was not caused by a single natural disaster, but by a combination of political and ethnic conflict, social inequality, poverty, and many other interrelated factors. As such, those looking to end the emergency and pave the way for long-term peace in South Sudan have a range of dynamics to consider, from the causes of the conflict and the protection of civilians to addressing basic humanitarian needs and building a foundation for a stable society. Yet, whether they are delivering security assistance or food aid, national and international organizations frequently overlook another dynamic that runs through all of these areas: the gender dynamic.

Over time, strategies such as gender mainstreaming have been devised with the aim of integrating gender issues into development programming; however, incorporating gender into humanitarian efforts and efforts aimed at resolving conflict are still challenged by a perception that one must choose between efficiency and gender sensitivity during crisis. Understandably, emphasis tends to be placed on addressing the immediate needs of affected communities, such as saving lives and providing water, food, and shelter, at the expense of addressing gender issues which are thought to require a concerted medium- to long-term vision. However, integrating a gender perspective into responses to complex emergencies from the outset can help security, humanitarian, and development organizations to better understand the nature of the crisis at hand and bolster the effectiveness of their response-for both women and men-in the affected communities.

But what do the gender dimensions of a complex emergency look like? And how can they be addressed? This article explores some concrete examples from South Sudan to shed light on what gender-sensitive approaches to restoring security could look like in South Sudan, and possibly in other protracted situations of humanitarian crisis and conflict, such as those in the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Mali, to name but a few in SubSaharan Africa. In this article, I will draw on my own experience working with men and women in the midst of crises, as well as cases and insights documented by others. I offer examples that illustrate how a gender lens can be applied in analyzing the causes of a complex emergency, improving the protection of civilians and humanitarian responses, and supporting efforts to resolve conflict and restore security and stability.

A Gendered Lens on the Causes of Conflict

The people of South Sudan rejoiced when they gained their independence from Sudan in 2011. However, alongside ongoing tensions and conflicts with their newly separated neighbor to the north, numerous low-intensity tribal wars within South Sudan became more pronounced in the years that followed. These conflicts between and within cattle-owning pastoralist communities spilled over into neighboring agriculturalist communities and have left thousands of people dead and many more displaced. These tensions have, to a large extent, paralyzed the young nation.

Although political leaders have played a significant role in the most recent outbreak of war in South Sudan, inter-tribal conflicts frequently characterized by cattle raiding, unresolved political and tribal animosities, pillage of resources, and human rights abuses have also contributed to this and other complex emergencies in South Sudan in recent decades, which have frequently coincided with natural calamities such as floods, cattle diseases, drought, and major famine (in 1998 and 1999). While others will examine the role of elites and exclusive governance in the outbreak of war, the locus of recurring inter-tribal conflict at the community level also offers an illustrative example of gender dynamics that contribute to the root causes of conflict, but may not be immediately visible to international actors seeking to restore stability. …

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