On Saturday, Pope Francis joined other Christian leaders and the U.N. in calling for the protection and progress of women in South Sudan, where child marriage is frequent, rape has been used as a weapon of war, and the majority of girls do not complete secondary education.
The penultimate day of the pope’s journey to South Sudan, which included an unprecedented joint “pilgrimage of peace” with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Church of Scotland Moderator Iain Greenshields, the rights of girls and women again came up.
“Please, protect, respect, appreciate and honor every woman, every girl, young woman, mother and grandmother. Otherwise, there will be no future,” the pope said during a meeting of the three leaders with people displaced by conflict.
Later, Welby returned to the theme in his address to about 50,000 people at an ecumenical prayer vigil at a mausoleum to South Sudan’s liberation hero John Garang.
“Young men, you will value and honor women, never raping, never violent, never cruel, never using them as if they were there to satisfy desire,” he said.
“Women of South Sudan, I know that on top of the grief of conflict and the responsibility to provide for your families, many of you live with the trauma of sexual violence and the daily fear of mistreatment in your own homes”.
A United Nations report on South Sudan issued last March condemned widespread sexual violence against women and girls in conflict and said it was “fueled by systemic impunity”.
According to the report, “all armed organizations across the nation are engaged in widespread rape, frequently as a component of military operations, for which government and military authorities are accountable.”
South Sudan declared its independence from Sudan in 2011, but a civil war broke out in 2013 as different ethnic groups turned against one another. Even after the two main adversaries reached a peace agreement in 2018, interethnic conflicts have continued to claim many civilian lives and force them to flee their homes.