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Women vote for peace in southern Sudan’s referendum to give their children a bright future

Alice Zekia in the queue to cast her vote in Southern Sudan's referendum
© UNICEF Sudan/2011/Modola
Alice Zekia in the queue to cast her vote in Southern Sudan's referendum to decide whether to remain united with the north or separate.

By: Swangin Bismarck

Juba, Southern Sudan, January 10, 2011- Southern Sudanese are voting in a referendum to choose whether to remain united with the north or to separate and form their own country.

The referendum is a key plank of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in 2005 ending two decades of a civil war in Sudan.

Thousands of voters including women braved the early morning cold and later the scorching afternoon sun heat to cast their votes.

The women say they bore most the brunt of the war and are the most affected with the limited access to social services.

The civil war left South Sudan’s social infrastructures in tatters, creating a chronic shortage of social services. Only half of the population have access to clean drinking water, a decimal 6.4 percent access improved hygiene and only 10 percent of the deliveries are assisted by skilled medical staff.

Elizabeth Tiko, a young mother of two says she is voting for peace. “This is my contribution to lasting peace”, she said as she waved her voters card.

Ms. Tiko who arrived at the polling centre at 6:00 am said she was motivated by a desire to ensure that peace holds and by voting in the referendum she is doing her part, however little to implement the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

“If this is what it takes to ensure peace and therefore prosperity for my children and their children in future, then why shouldn’t I be part of it”, Ms Tiko added.

About 3.9 million registered southerners both from within and in the Diasporas are expected to vote in the week long exercise which could see the birth of Africa’s newest country.

Southern Sudanese, President Salva Kiir Mayardit, openly called for calm and patience among the voters, saying those who may not get the opportunity to vote on Sunday, could still do the same another day. Voting officially ends on January 15.

The women, keen to add their voice to the growing call for peace in Sudan, sang songs of peace in tremendous unison as they queued to vote.

Women carrying babies, pregnant mothers, the elderly and the sick are given special consideration and are assisted to quickly vote without going through the long queues.

Alice Zekia carried along Nathan Zekia, her one year old baby. She said she was voting with the hope that her son will have a bright future.

“We want to bring those accountable close to us”, she said. Zekia echoed the voice of many Southern Sudanese women who say all they need is an increased investment in education, health, water and agriculture.
“I want a better life for my children. A life free of wars and where they can stay healthy, go to school and grow up to live comfortable lives”, Zekia said. “Ours was a wasted life of 20 years”, she further said referring the two decades of war that ended in 2005.

Since the signing of the CPA in 2005, UNICEF continues to deliver vital services in Southern Sudan to support the consolidation of the peace process and promote the progressive realization of the rights of children to survival, education, protection and participation.

“Children have been the hardest hit by the war; their rights to survival, education and protection have gone unfulfilled”, said Nils Kastberg, UNICEF Representative in Sudan. “Peace gives a chance to raise the current generation of children in an environment that nourishes and protects them”“Peace gives a chance to raise the current generation of children in an environment that nourishes and protects them”, he added.

UNICEF believes that sustainable peace is the only viable path for improved quality of life, increased prosperity, growth and development for the people of Southern Sudan in line with the aspirations of the people themselves.



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