As the world celebrated International Women’s Day, many women in the remote rural areas of South Sudan went about their day as normal, unaware of the global day to celebrate the ingenuity and struggles of women. Around 90 percent of women in South Sudan cannot read or write and they face many challenges, yet this does not prevent them from playing active roles in building their newly independent nation and helping to develop their communities. Or from taking on roles traditionally filled by men.
Rebecca recently graduated at the top of her male-dominated class in masonry and carpentry.
Studying at the Don Bosco Vocational Training Centre in the town of Wau, in western Bahr el Ghazal, she is one of very few women to take the course. She now plans to set up her own business and encourage other girls in the community to go to school.
As I work in South Sudan I see many other stories like this – of women breaking down stereotypes and boundaries.
Veronica Amou Mariano – from Kuajok in neighbouring Warrap state – is one of the first women to train to be a water mechanic and now rivals any of the local men in fixing breakdowns of hand pumps and water points.
Like other women who face criticisms and even mockery, Veronica defied social misconceptions about the capacity and role of women in society: “I believe that there will be no more suffering from our community and other communities when hand pumps break down. I have the skill to repair them.”
Elsewhere in Warrap, women are at the forefront of fighting diseases such as diarrhoea and malaria, which kill thousands of people every day worldwide – mostly in Africa. Alihok Makuc has successfully constructed an innovative model latrine (read more here) that has been popularized and replicated among local communities.
Women like these are at the forefront of development in the new South Sudan – not just on International Women’s Day but throughout the year. Oxfam’s work in the country aims to give women more space to make their voices heard, and to make decisions on matters that affect their lives and their communities.