This week, continued violence prevented the world’s youngest country from celebrating its independence day for the third year in a row. Even as leaders attempt to secure peace and stability in South Sudan, its residents and refugees continue to experience the devastating effects of the civil war.
All parties to the conflict have been accused of widespread violence against citizens, including destruction of property, beatings, torture, forced disappearances, sexual violence such rape and gang rape, and extrajudicial killings. The war has also greatly contributed to poverty and instability as it inhibits sustainable development. On top of these conditions, famine struck South Sudan in 2017 affecting millions and will lead to about seven million more people experiencing “life-threatening hunger in the coming months.”
Women are disproportionately affected by the conflict, especially in terms of sexual or gender-based violence. A study, released in 2017 by International Rescue Committee, found that up to 65% of South Sudanese women and girls experience physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime. These are some of the highest rates of sexual and gender-based violence in the world. Women are often raped by members of the armed forces on each side of the conflict as sexual violence is used as a way to punish or terrorize communities. These violations often take place during day-to-day activities such as going to the bathhouse, farming, collecting firewood, or engaging in other household duties. The study also highlighted how the normalization of violence during the ongoing conflict is contributing to increased rates of intimate partner violence.
The conflict has produced one of the biggest refugee crises in Africa since the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Around two million people are currently internally displaced with about two million more seeking refuge outside of the country. Uganda is now home to one of the largest refugee camps in the world, where over 250,000 South Sudanese citizens reside. Women and children make up about 87% of the refugee population there.
Since the suspension of Women for Women International’s direct programming due to deteriorated security in South Sudan in 2016, we have remained committed to partnering with organizations on the ground to serve South Sudanese women. In the past year we have been able to create partnerships with two organizations: Resource Centre for Civil Leadership International (RECONCILE) and Community Empowerment for Rural Development (CEFORD). These partnerships allow us to work with South Sudanese women, including those who are internally displaced as well as those taking refuge in Uganda. Our partnerships also enable us to serve women in host communities in Uganda.
Our partnership with RECONCILE International began in 2017 with outreach to South Sudanese women in Yei River State. This program encompassed training workshops to build awareness and develop skills in psychosocial support, conflict transformation, peacebuilding and reconciliation. Since then we’ve expanded to work to Lainya County and included trainings for men and women on sexual and gender-based violence. RECONCILE International supports program participants to take on outreach activities in their communities to foster resilience, encourage peace building, build awareness of trauma and spread the importance of psychosocial support. A total of 220 women and 30 men will have been reached through this follow-up programming by the end of 2018.
With the large influx of South Sudanese women in northern Uganda, we work with CEFORD, to reach South Sudanese refugees and host community women in the communities of Omugo and Bidi Bidi, one of the largest refugee camps in the world. Our program includes human rights training, with a focus on prevention of violence against women. Women are also learning different economic empowerment skills, such as vocational skills that could enhance their income and how to navigate access to Village Savings and Loan Associations. A total of 7,280 women will be reached through CEFORD by the end of November this year.
Rose Kani, a 30-year old South Sudanese woman from Juba who currently resides at the Rhino Camp in Uganda, is one of the women served by CEFORD. She left South Sudan after her husband was killed in front of her by her neighbors and she has lived in Uganda since August 2017 with her two biological children, five orphans that she took in, and one foster child. Rose learned about CEFORD’s programs during one of their community awareness meetings. She says:
“The first important support I received from CEFORD was during the community awareness. The sexual/gender-based violence knowledge they passed changed my life and they trained on how to handle cases and advocate for peaceful co-existence… It has changed my life. I can now counsel married couples on sexual/gender-based violence in my neighborhood. The income generating activity support has helped me establish a small stall to sell things like eggs, tea leaves, sugar, silver fish and cassava flour.”