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Opinion

What North and South Sudan need now: more women at the negotiating table

Sudan may have split into two new countries, but the violent disagreements continue. New talks must include more women. Their exclusion from these negotiations is a cause of instability, not its cure.

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On issues like oil, negotiators struggle. The majority of petroleum deposits lie in South Sudan, while most refineries, pipelines, and export ports are in the North. Women realize the communities that will be deeply impacted by oil drilling and transport need to be involved in the decisions that affect them – and have pushed for them to have a voice. Women have identified ways in which entire communities could determine how and where to build oil transport routes and drilling facilities so that impacts on farmland and the environment are mitigated.

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Women want countries to avoid past mistakes

The need for women to be involved in high-level decisions is just as acute after separation. Both countries are writing new constitutions, reforming laws, and redesigning elections. Fortunately, women are preparing for these challenges as well. They’re organizing to preserve decades of hard-fought gains, such as laws requiring state and national legislatures to comprise at least 25 percent women.

They’re also working to ensure that their new countries don’t repeat old mistakes: They want foundational documents like constitutions to accommodate religious, tribal, ethnic, and other forms of diversity. Ultimately, they want to avoid the practices of marginalization that contributed to war in the first place.

In a climate where almost no one – Sudanese or not – will go near the topic, several women have already called for joint reconciliation and healing processes. They assert that to break the cycle of violence, relationships can’t remain frozen where they were when the war ended. Women want both countries to engage in truth telling, accept accountability, show remorse, and commit to not offend or avenge again. They want it to happen between and within both new countries, and they want their leaders to accede that as neighbors, there won’t be genuine stability without it.

Secretary Clinton, US Special Envoy for Sudan Princeton Lyman, and others in the administration understand that to end the current fighting and prevent more, women need to be at the negotiating table. They’ve called on the new nations to take decisive steps to consolidate progress. Returning to talks with significantly more senior-level women negotiators would constitute just that.

Jacqueline O’Neill is the director of The Institute for Inclusive Security. The Institute uses research, training, and advocacy to promote the inclusion of all stakeholders, particularly women, in peace processes. Previously, she worked at the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) and at Sudan’s Ahfad University for Women.

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