Man on a mission: A lifetime committed to protecting the rights of women and girls
Patrick Vuonze is a Gender and Protection Manager for CARE South Sudan
"Since I was young, I defended those who could not stand up for themselves. I would more than once confront others in school to stop bullying young girls. This never made me very popular but I just did not like to see others suffering.
I grew up with this trait and now I am using it to fight for women and girl’s rights in South Sudan. For hundreds of years, women and girls were not encouraged to take on greater roles in South Sudan.
Until today, women are not included in critical issues even though they are affecting them more than anyone else in the country.
Peacemaking and conflict resolution in South Sudan are still pretty much a Man’s World.
This is what inspired me to become a gender expert and today, I am working with CARE as a Gender and Protection Manager. My work as a gender specialist is exciting while at the same time challenging in the context of South Sudan, where millions of people are in need and have been suffering more than our years of civil conflict.
More than 5 million people required food assistance in the beginning of this year, an increase of 40 percent from the same time last year. Communities are displaced, livelihood activities disrupted and humanitarian access to vulnerable populations difficult.
My job is to empower women and girls to claim their rights.
Empowerment means enabling more women and girls to take greater responsibilities in their communities and voicing their concerns on broader issues of interest.
So few women in aid sector but lots of opportunities
However, it is quite a challenge as there are not so many women role models to inspire young girls to believe in themselves. Most women and girls in South Sudan leave school early and do not attend university. The cultural and structural setup of our society does not value women’s rights and decision are often in favor of boys.
In my day-to-day job, I also tackle issues to do with early child marriages. This is a very contentious issue in South Sudan but as humanitarians, we have to speak out against it.
Many girls have seen their future crumble because they marry early to escape poverty.
In the worst instances, they are forced to marry wealthy old men so that their parents can get dowry.
A need for cultural change
It is, then, not surprising that we have few women working in the humanitarian sector. Although there is still some work to be done, people are opening up to new ideas.
However, it takes courage to convince especially conservative communities to accept that a girl child is as much equal to a boy.
People fear that their old ways are being challenged. This is why we always first talk with the community leaders and speak with them about human rights and gender equality. It takes time to change behaviors but most of the time they understand why change is needed. With their support, we are also able to convince the communities to abandon such cultures.
My wish for women and girls of South Sudan
For all my work and sacrifices, I would like to see a South Sudan where girls are able to pursue their education to achieve their potential and influence decisions at the family and household level.
This is the only way women and girls can become empowered. This is also the only way South Sudan can become a place of peace and prosperity.
Education opens so many doors including opportunities for employment. If that happens, the women and girls in South Sudan will have financial independence and an opportunity to live a life free from all forms of gender based violence.
My South Sudan dream
I dream of a South Sudan where all people are treated fairly and equally irrespective of their gender or where they come from.
It’s a tall order but I will work hard to see this come to fruition. Thousands of humanitarians are working day and night to make this a reality. When this happens, I will say I have ably contributed to a country that not only truly respect the rights of women and girls but supports them to realise their potential."
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