JUBA, May 12 (Xinhua) -- More and more South Sudanese women are inspired to participate in their country's peace and reconciliation efforts thanks to an essay writing competition launched by the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) early this year.
The annual competition attracted over 100 candidates from the 32 states of South Sudan where only ten people emerged winners.
Gladys Arek, a 15 year-old student of Don Bosco School in Juba who was the overall winner, said women should form local associations which will act as vehicles to spread the message of peaceful settlement to the conflict and help mobilize communities.
"Men have been trying a lot to bring peace but have failed and they should bring women on board to help sensitize and mobilize local communities on peace and cohesion," Arek told Xinhua during a recent interview.
The theme of this year's essay competition was about how women can contribute to durable peace in South Sudan.
Arek noted that women like former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf helped post-conflict reconstruction in her country and that South Sudanese women can borrow a leaf from those role models.
"South Sudan citizens should forget about their past political and ethnic differences and concentrate on the present (peace) because our past will hold us hostage," she said, adding that women leaders rarely embrace violence to settle political differences compared to men.
The UNMISS and several international NGOs have been increasingly pushing for gender balance by encouraging more women participation in peace talks.
Khana Kockedhie Magel, 16, from Loreto girls' school in the central Lakes state, said intermarriages among the 46 ethnic groups of South Sudan will help unite communities and diffuse ethnic violence in the country that has contributed to death of thousands and displacements.
"If the Dinka man marries a Nuer woman in future their children will be able to discuss when differences arise among the two tribes instead of resorting to violence," said Magel who came second in the UN Essay competition.
"Intermarriages among ethnic groups will help to reduce possibilities of conflict as children born from these mixed marriages are most likely not to embrace violence but instead dialogue is used to solve differences," she added.
Jacob Mach Kuany, 20, from the eastern Kapoeta day school, said women should fight for their rights and also take on various roles like mediators, counselors to help solve the conflict that has caused trauma and largely harmed women and children.
"We must collectively participate in advocating peace in South Sudan and women should take on the role of counseling and mediation in communities," said Kuany.
The Minister for Education Deng Deng Hoc said that women are already involved in peace building through their positions in the government.
He said the constitution of South Sudan provides for at least 25 percent to be reserved for women in the public service.
However, women leaders of late have been increasingly demanding a share of 35 percent in the transitional unity government.
Intermarriages have been happening in South Sudan, it's something to be encouraged for the nation building and stability, according to Hoc.
He added that bringing peace to the youngest nation should not be left to only politicians and that South Sudanese women should fully participate.
"To achieve long term peace and development we must invest in social services and the knowledge sector so that every South Sudanese is educated," Hoc said.
The UNMISS gender unit officer Maria Nakabito said the theme of the essay writing competition advances the provisions of the UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution 1325 which calls for women participation in peace building, and prevention against gender based violence.
"We are actually recognizing the policy framework that informs women on peace and security. The strategy ensures that we get engaged to ensure the UN Security Council is popularized in South Sudan," she said.
South Sudan descended into violence in December 2013 after political dispute between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar led to split within the SPLA, leaving soldiers to fight alongside ethnic lines.
The 2015 peace agreement to end the conflict was weakened after the outbreak of renewed fighting in July 2016.