What’s Missing in Our Coverage of South Sudan’s Civil War
In South Sudan, a civil war has now entered its fourth year of tearing open ethnic divisions and displacing millions. Since its onset in 2013, the conflict has threatened to pave a path to genocide and has led to the mass rape of countless women. Journalists covering the conflict — and the often unsuccessful peace negotiations seeking to extinguish it — frequently highlight the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war in South Sudan. Yet the discussion about sexual violence and conflict often stops there, and observers may have little idea about the circumstances of South Sudanese women otherwise: What are women’s responses to sexual violence when it occurs? Why is it considered such a potent weapon by both sides of the conflict? What other obstacles might women currently face in South Sudan, and why might these be ignored by Western journalists and media — at the expense of our own pursuit of justice?
These are questions I’m looking to answer. According to media analyses, including New America’s Global Gender Parity Initiative’s “A Guide to Talking Gender in the U.S. Security Establishment,” within United States coverage of South Sudan women are often presented exclusively as victims of gang rapes and other forms of sexual violence. Further, media give little opportunity for these women to speak about events firsthand — journalists and aid workers often speak on their behalf. All of this should prod us to dig a bit deeper to understand U.S. media’s difficulty with imagining diverse representations of women in conflict zones.