Since Sudan gained independence from British rule in 1956, Sudanese communities have experienced ongoing civil war, tribal conflict, and displacement. South Sudan has been home to some of the most extreme violence and insecurity within what was once a united Sudan. The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) granted the South a six-year period of autonomy to be followed by a referendum. The January 2011 referendum favored secession of South Sudan and resulted in the independence of South Sudan from Sudan on 9 July 2011 .
During periods of protracted conflict, as in South Sudan, gender-based violence (GBV) is one of the most pervasive forms of violence [2, 3]. The United Nations defines GBV as “any act that results in, or is likely to result in physical, sexual, or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life” and can include intimate partner violence (IPV), sexual violence, and rape among other forms of GBV [4, 5]. In South Sudan, prolonged conflict has exacerbated and created new security risks for women including disruption of community and family structures, presence of arms, weakened legal and security institutions, and heightened tensions related to displacement [6, 7].
The extent of GBV occurring in South Sudanese communities, both during the war and following the 2005 CPA, has not been systematically evaluated. In regard to conflict-related GBV, a 2004 survey of South Sudanese refugees living in Uganda revealed that 33% had witnessed the rape of a woman, 10% had been raped, 9% had traded sex for food or security, and 8% reported sexual slavery or forced prostitution . A 2011 report from South Sudan reported that 25% of all women surveyed were involved in war-related activities, including traveling with arms and food and providing sexual services .
In regard to GBV occurring within households and communities, numerous incident and anecdotal reports indicate GBV to be a widespread problem in South Sudan. In a 2009 study, 41% of respondents reported they had experienced GBV in the past year and 29% reported knowing someone who had experienced GBV in the past year. The most commonly reported forms of GBV included physical violence (47%), psychological violence (44%), economic violence (30%), and sexual violence (13%) . Evidence collected from interviews in a 2011 report revealed that 59% of surveyed women reported GBV in the home and 19% reported GBV in the community . Reports from human rights groups indicate that there is evidence of extensive domestic violence, sexual harassment, and sexual assault in South Sudan .
While studies and reports indicate GBV to be a widespread problem in South Sudan, there are limited data about how gender dynamics and gender inequities contribute to GBV in South Sudanese communities. GBV is rooted in gender inequality and GBV prevention and response interventions are encouraged to address underlying gender dynamics . During humanitarian crises, GBV increases due to an acceptance of violence against women in communities, breakdown in law and order, the use of GBV as a weapon of war, and polarization of gender roles . Gender inequality data specific to South Sudan are limited given its recent independence, but development indices for Sudan, including the Social Institutions and Gender Index, the Gender Inequality Index, and the Gender Parity Index indicate low equality between women and men in terms of reproductive health, empowerment, education, and employment [14, 15]. The ratified 2011 Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan includes specific gender priorities , and the country is working towards achieving Millennium Development Goal 3 by 2015: to promote gender equality and empower women .
The primary objectives of this study were to provide data on gender inequitable norms related to GBV and to understand the effects of gender, age, and education on these attitudes and beliefs. A secondary objective was to estimate the frequency of GBV in the communities identified to be priority areas for GBV programming in South Sudan. The American Refugee Committee (ARC), a non-governmental organization, conducts GBV prevention and response programming in five states and seven counties in South Sudan. The assessments, performed as part of ARC programming in 2009–2011, aimed to provide baseline GBV data in terms of the 2011 independence and to inform future gender and protection policies for South Sudan.