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Maneno: A Story of Survival

In light of International Women’s Day next week, we would like to draw attention to the issues of insecurity and the ways in which this affects the women we work with. The world is changing rapidly and the role that women have in creating and sustaining peace is also changing. Sometimes, we are not successful. Below is an account of how our work in South Sudan has changed due to the violence and conflict that continues to go unchecked in the country.

Women for Women International works with women and families in extreme poverty and fragile contexts to build networks of support and rebuild confidence. These women are beacons of resilience in the toughest of situations. South Sudan is one of these situations. On February 20th, a man-made famine was declared by the United Nations. Political and ethnic tensions have fueled violent insecurity and have eroded the ability of the government and humanitarian organizations to provide relief for the millions of people affected. The political turmoil that has fueled the famine and insecurity, has also increased incidents of sexual violence, including rape. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights released an assessment in March of 2016 that confirmed the extreme incidence of sexual violence. This horrific violence, insecurity, turmoil is setting the stage for genocide in South Sudan. The United Nations has concerns about the possibility of genocide and has urged the international community to pay attention.

Though Women for Women International has suspended programing in South Sudan for 2017, we stand in solidarity with the women and families who are affected by this devastating situation. We are paying attention and remain eager to resume our work. Before suspending our operations, we had the opportunity to meet Maneno a woman who participated in our program last year.

Maneno is a 22 years old woman who is married with two young children. Through our program, Maneno learned about business and savings. She gathered with other local women to discuss and share common issues. Sometimes they discussed solutions to their domestic or financial questions, and other times, the women offered emotional support and sympathized with each other to get through difficult periods in their life. Maneno learned about saving money collectively as a community of women, and then learned how to loan it to other women when needed. All the money in the savings and loan group started with the stipends provided by Women for Women International and was used to practice business skills and selling crops. When our program was operational, the group collected the savings and kept it in their community bank. Our data shows, across our program in South Sudan, the average monthly personal saving went from just over $1 to $12.09. A success for the community and for the economic empowerment of women.

Today, we do not know where Maneno is. We do not know if she is safe and we do not know if her family has survived through the famine, ethnic tensions, and sexual violence. Currently, we are looking for ways to support and work with local partners to help women like Maneno in South Sudan. Eventually, we hope to resume our operations in the country. And when we do reopen our doors, we will work hand in hand with women like Maneno to bring sustainable peace to their country.

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