Erickson (2011). Transitional Feminism, Neoliberal Citizenship, and the Gendering of Women's Political Subjectivity in Postconflict South Sudan
Download this report
In a small plane en route from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, thirteen delegates of the South Sudan Women’s Empowerment Network (SSWEN) waited in anticipation to land on Sudanese soil. Following the signing of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), they had begun to organize a conference to promote women’s participation in the period of tentative reconstruction. In August 2008, they traveled from across the United States—from Texas, Arizona, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Washington,DC—to host the event in Juba, the capital of the South. Filled with both trepidation and excitement, some of the women wept openly as they prepared to visit their birth country for the first time in twenty years. A documentary filmmaker disembarked ahead to capture the first welcoming moments as a delegation of government personnel and local SSWEN members greeted the women in the intense heat. A group of elder women sang and performed traditional Southern Sudanese dances while print, radio, and television journalists hovered with their cameras and microphones, awaiting the first official interview in the airport’s VIP lounge. There a representative of the new arrivals announced, “We are
here to meet with women at the grass roots. We want to share ideas, to enlighten them with workshops, trainings and discussion . . . and to learn their side too. Then you empower them. We want empowerment for our women.”
This dramatic entrance into Southern Sudanese politics by women from the diaspora speaks to the growing importance of transnational connections in the contemporary post-CPA moment. Moreover, it demonstrates the ways in which this transnationalism is deeply gendered. The actions of SSWEN that day sent a powerful message to the public, international development organizations, and the new government that Southern women, including those in the diaspora, should be recognized as political subjects and included in the building of the new South Sudanese nationstate. In addition, SSWEN’s work indicates a transnational shift in the South Sudanese women’s movement and, by association, new strategies, tensions, and opportunities emerging through organizing efforts along diasporic and local lines. Positioning themselves as both privileged educators and students, and promoting a particular form of self-empowerment, diasporic Sudanese women emerge as new and increasingly important citizens and activists in the post-CPA era. In this article we explore this case of transnational feminist engagement, highlighting how female practices of citizenship and activism are articulated and enacted, both publicly and privately, through the scales of the body, family, community, and the (trans)national. Our work focuses on South Sudan, where a new and fragile peace is in place and where tentative nation-building efforts are in process. In this moment of social and political tumult, we suggest
that new subjects and spaces for political activism and engagement are opening up for women in the diaspora and at home, revealing new opportunities but also tensions along lines of ethnic-regional-, faith-, and class-based difference.