At a negotiating table for the conflict in South Sudan, Rita Lopidia Abraham is a rare sight. As a woman, she sits across from mostly male representatives of warring parties. Some of them have questioned why she is there at all.
“You will see that it is mostly those who carry guns that are given space to negotiate,” she said in an interview with One Earth Future.
Her group, EVE Organization for Women Development, was formed to speak for women and girls in the crosshairs of violence. Many of these women live in camps for internally displaced people. Some have lost loved ones in the war and are the sole breadwinners for their families.
“It only makes sense that in any resolution of conflict, that women are part [of it] in terms of giving their thoughts and sharing their experiences of conflict to shape the discussion that leads to peace,” she said.
Abraham has been a delegate to South Sudanese peace talks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and Khartoum, Sudan. She signed a peace agreement in 2018 on behalf of the South Sudan Women Coalition for Peace, an umbrella group of 50 women’s organizations, Voice of America reported.
In 2020, she received the Women Building Peace Award from the United States Institute of Peace. The award comes with a $10,000 prize. She said she plans to use some of the money to fund a project to help young women pursue leadership roles. Another part of the money will help South Sudanese orphans and street children.
She plans to continue to lend her voice to the quest for peace in her home country. There is much work to be done to include women in the peace-building process. A United Nations review of 14 peace processes from 2000 to 2010 found that only 8% of negotiators and 3% of signatories were women. Few peace agreements even mention women in the text.
“What really motivates me has been the situation that we all are living in — the struggle of women in the face of violence that we all share,” she told the institute.