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“We want empowerment for our women”: Transnational Feminism, Neoliberal Citizenship, and the Gendering of Women’s Political Subjectivity in Postconflict South Sudan

Jennifer Erickson and Caroline Faria
Signs
Vol. 36, No. 3 (Spring 2011), pp. 627-652
DOI: 10.1086/657494
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/657494
Page Count: 26
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“We want empowerment for our women”: Transnational Feminism, Neoliberal Citizenship, and the Gendering of Women’s Political Subjectivity in Postconflict South Sudan
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Abstract

Following the signing of a 2005 peace agreement, connections between South Sudanese women in the diaspora and at “home” reveal new and gendered forms of female political subjectivity, citizenship, and activism. This article explores the emergence of transnational women’s organizing efforts through a focus on a 2008 conference held in Juba, South Sudan, and hosted by the U.S.-based South Sudan Women’s Empowerment Network (SSWEN). We describe the membership, mission, and goals of SSWEN, focusing on the challenges and opportunities in organizing as women across lines of class-, faith-, ethnic-regional-, and diaspora/home-based differences. We highlight the emphasis on spiritual notions of self-empowerment and feminized forms for activism in SSWEN’s work, which are prioritized as a way to gain wider inclusion and recognition in society and to promote grassroots care for the community. We suggest that these emphases may be viewed as potentially liberatory, offering new opportunities for engagement in a deeply strained and politically fragile period. However, we also point to some of the limits of this approach, highlighting the ways in which an emphasis on the self and the spaces of the home and body divert responsibility from the state for postconflict reconstruction, care, and the dismantling of patriarchal systems. Our work seeks to move beyond conceptualizations of refugee women as politically disengaged in the nation-building process, instead highlighting the dynamic, overt, and yet contested organizing work of women to promote gender equality in the new South Sudan.

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