12 October, 2007 – A three-day conference on women and the 2011 referendum was convened today at the Southern Sudan Legislative Assembly building in Juba by the Office of the President of the Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS) and the GoSS Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Welfare.
Held in conjunction with UNMIS, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the conference seeks to provide accurate information to Southern Sudanese women about gender-related aspects of the referendum and post-referendum arrangements regardless of the vote's outcome.
GoSS Gender, Child and Social Welfare Minister Agnes Kwaje Lasuba said the conference would address voter education issues and attempt to identify recommendations for developing a work plan that incorporates gender into the referendum process.
Speaking during the opening session, GoSS Vice-President Dr. Riek Machar reminded conference participants that women make up approximately 60 per cent of Southern Sudan's population.
"If you register and vote during the referendum, you alone can determine the future of this country," said the GoSS Vice-President
But he warned the audience about citizens who might register and then fail to vote, thereby endangering the prospects of achieving the 60 per cent turnout level among registered voters needed to make the outcome of the referendum legal and binding.
Scheduled to end on 14 October, the conference has drawn 140 women from across Southern Sudan, the diaspora, the disputed Abyei region, and the states of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile.
UNMIS Regional Coordinator for Southern Sudan David Gressly asked participants to actively engage in the vote.
Mr. Gressly briefed conference participants on the role of UNMIS and UNDP in the referendum process.
"We will do everything possible to provide technical and logistical support, including facilitation of movement of international observers in the monitoring and observation processes," he said.
"The balloting process should be generally gender-friendly and free from domestic violence and security threats directed against women," said Hodan Addou, the UNIFEM Sudan Programme Coordinator.
Ms. Addou urged participants to share information they received during the conference with their families, friends and co-workers.