South Sudan 10 years on: Local women leading change

By: 
CARE
Aker Kiir Machar, 65, poses for a portrait, at her home in Yida, Ruweng Administrative Area, South Sudan.

As South Sudan celebrates 10 years of independence, it faces the worst humanitarian crisis in its short history. As a result of localised conflicts, extreme weather and a deepening economic crisis, 8.3 million people now need humanitarian assistance, with thousands already facing extreme hunger. Gender-based violence is endemic, with 65% of women and girls reporting having experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. Meanwhile, the country remains one of the most dangerous places for aid workers.  

Despite these huge challenges, local, women-led initiatives continue to demonstrate leadership, hope and resilience in the face of crises. South Sudanese women are working tirelessly to tackle sexual and gender-based violence and pervasive gender inequalities that are fuelling the humanitarian needs in their country.  

We need to break this cycle of violence and vulnerability amongst women and girls

says Rosalind Crowther, CARE South Sudan Country Director

More funding is urgently needed for local Women’s Rights Organisations and networks. These are the groups best placed to deliver culturally appropriate and sustainable interventions to shape a better future for their country. 

CARE South Sudan currently supports over 30 women-led organisations and networks that are promoting women’s rights and leadership in their country. Here are three ways local women are leading change in South Sudan.

Building a peaceful future

Jackline Nasiwa is not only the founder of her own women-led organisation, but she has been involved first hand in influencing the country’s Peace Process, bringing women’s voices to the table and combatting intercommunal tensions that are rife in South Sudanese society. 

One of the biggest areas where women have played a role in the South Sudan story is when the conflict erupted. The country was chaotic, but despite this, women mobilised to have a voice and came out to influence the different parties involved to negotiate and find a peaceful way to solve the conflict. Our pressure helped lead to the roundtable peace discussions that ensued. We have also been instrumental in helping regular citizens – especially women – all over the country understand the wording and implications of the Peace Process agreement so they can also take ownership of it and implement it at a grassroots level. 

Jackline Nasiwa

Jackline Nasiwa, Founder of the Center for Inclusive Governance, Peace and Justice (CIGPJ) 

Claiming economic independence 

Until recently, Mrs. Poni was a stay-at-home mother of two with no income. Her late husband, a casual labourer, did not earn enough money to take care of the family’s basic needs. "Sometimes we went with a meal a day and sometimes none," she recalls. After receiving tailoring training by Women for Change, Mrs. Poni plans to earn her own income.

I will start my own tailoring shop to earn money to support my children and family at large. I will keep my premises clean by collaborating with those making soap and help to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

Women for Change equips women with skills such as tailoring and soap making, as well as educating women and girls on gender-based violence, by engaging community leaders and using existing support structures.

Mrs. Poni concentrating on the tailoring classes at Kemiru Juba, Central Equatoria ©WFC 2021 /Elizabeth

Breaking gender norms 

After taking part in leadership trainings organised by Women Association Eastern Equatorial State, first-year medicine student and mother of three Aloya Lillian was elected by her community to be a sub-chief in her area. It's uncommon for women to be chiefs or sub-chiefs in South Sudan, so initially Aloya refused the nomination. But feeling it was an opportunity to address some of the gender issues in her community, she changed her mind and accepted the role. 

In this work, I have a lot of challenges: my role is to handle neighbours arguing or helping victims report gender-based violence (GBV) cases to police. I can be called any time - night or day. It is not easy work, but the training I did with Women Association Eastern Equatorial State helped me a lot: we talked about GBV, leadership skills, and I am applying those skills in my work as a sub-chief. These training sessions have empowered me so much, I am finding strength.

Sub-Chief Aloya Lilian
Sub-Chief Aloya Lilian

The Women Association Eastern Equatorial State was founded in 2005, in Torit, South Sudan, with the objective of building the future of women and girls so that they know their rights.

More investment in - and support for - female-led initiatives is urgently needed if women are to help craft a brighter future for South Sudan. By supporting CARE’s work today, you will join our global community of changemakers pushing for a more equal world.

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News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.