Pope Admonishes Nation Over Treatment of Women

Future of South Sudan, where sexual violence is rampant, depends on change, Francis says
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 4, 2023 2:45 PM CST
Pope Admonishes Nation Over Treatment of Women
Pope Francis meets with a group of the Catholic faithful from the town of Rumbek who had walked for more than a week to reach the capital on Saturday.   (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

Pope Francis warned Saturday that South Sudan’s future depends on how it treats its women, as he highlighted their horrific plight in a country where sexual violence is rampant, child brides are common, and the maternal mortality rate is the highest in the world. On his second and penultimate day in Africa, Francis called for women and girls to be respected, protected, and honored during a meeting in the South Sudanese capital Juba with some of the 2 million people who have been forced by fighting and flooding to flee their homes. Women, girls, and children make up the majority of those displaced, the AP reports.

The encounter was one of the highlights of Francis' three-day visit to the world's youngest country and one of its poorest. Joined by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and the Presbyterian head of the Church of Scotland, Francis is on an historic ecumenical pilgrimage to draw global attention to the country's plight and encourage its stalled peace process. The aim of the three-way visit is to encourage South Sudan's political leaders to implement a 2018 peace accord ending a civil war that erupted after the overwhelmingly Christian country gained independence from mostly Muslim Sudan in 2011. Greeted by song and high-pitched ululation, Francis urged the hundreds of people gathered at Freedom Hall to be "seeds of hope" that will soon bear fruit for the country of 12 million.

"You will be the trees that absorb the pollution of years of violence and restore the oxygen of fraternity," he said. The head of the UN mission in South Sudan, Sara Beysolow Nyanti, told Francis that women and girls were "extremely vulnerable" to sexual and gender-based violence; the UN estimates that some four out of 10 are assault victims, per the AP. She said women and girls were at risk for rape when they were just out doing their daily routines and chores. In his remarks, the pope said women are the key to South Sudan's peaceful development. "Please, protect, respect, appreciate and honor every woman, every girl, young woman, mother and grandmother," he said. "Otherwise, there will be no future."

(More Pope Francis stories.)

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