Early results from the election in Sudan show that a split between north and south is likely. A referedum held over the past week allowed Sudanese citizens around the world to vote on independence, and the results that have been streaming in over the past few days show that secession is extremely likely. A BBC report said that more than 97% of the European Sudanese diaspora had voted for a new state, although full results from the vote are not expected until next month.
The elections are the culmination of a decades-long conflict between the north Sudanese Arab government and Christian rebels in the south. The separation can’t happen, however, until an American-backed peace agreement expires on July 9.
Vote counting started immediately after the polls closed on Saturday evening, and continued through the night. According to the New York Times, however, by Sunday “independence seemed palpable.” The south Sudanese president congratulated war veterans and called for forgiveness toward the north.
“For our deceased brothers and sisters, particularly those who have fallen during the time of the struggle, may God bless them with eternal peace,” Mr. Kiir said, according to the Associated Press. “Like Jesus Christ on the cross, forgive those who have forcibly caused their death.”
Women in particular have expressed a strong desire for secession, saying that a split would allow them to stop being second-class citizens. The expectation is that in independent southern Sudan, women would be in a stronger position to challenge limitations on their rights. And a final end to the conflict would also be welcomed by women, who are often the most victimized in the violence. A survey of women found that during the conflict, “36 percent of women had been gang-raped, 28 percent had been raped during abduction; other women reported being forced to have sex in exchange for food.”
There are other inequities that will need to be addressed as well; there are high levels of domestic violence, as well as forced, early marriages. Women have few reproductive rights or access to reproductive necessities like contraception and abortion. Women say that they want the new government, if it is formed, to prioritize their welfare and rights.
“Women’s rights – especially protection of women from sexual violence and rehabilitation of those who suffered in the war – will need a lot of attention,” said a female member from south Sudan to the legislative assembly. “With the war, we didn’t have much time to push for other rights. Being alive was what mattered. We don’t expect the government to deliver all this there and then but we will be expecting improved efforts.”
We’ll keep you posted as more information about the election comes in, but now, we can hope that the vote counting continues to go smoothly, and that if secession is the final result, that the south Sudanese government does indeed focus its attention on women’s health and freedom.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.