The search for a Director for Women for Women International–South Sudan was meticulous and holistic. Because staff from the countries in which they work are acutely aware of local women’s needs, our South Sudan team looked for candidates who had experience in both women’s and men’s engagement and program management in South Sudan. The pool was vast, but one candidate had the tools and the ambition to lead Women for Women International–South Sudan into the future: Marianne Kajokaya.
A lifelong humanitarian and leader, Marianne has collected more knowledge and experience in the human rights space than many hope to in a lifetime. With degrees in rural extension education and development, resource management, and gender development, Marianne is an invaluable addition to the Women for Women International team.
“I see this role as a combination of my whole background.”
Since 2006, Marianne has held roles with Norwegian Church Aid, the USAID Office of Transition and Conflict Mitigation, Cordaid, and Plan International. She has extensive experience as a gender coordinator, program manager, and advisor, as well as skill in conflict mitigation. As a program manager for gender and women leadership with Cordaid, Marianne managed a project with Women for Women International among others. “That’s when I started to learn about Women for Women International and its activities,” Marianne reflected.
Marianne has a deep-held belief in the power of marginalized women in the face of adversity unknown to most. “What drives me to work with women is the fact that they shoulder many burdens with emotional and physical pains especially during conflicts and wars and yet they become more resilient and stronger,” she said.
“All women need from my experience working with women and as a fellow woman, is appreciation and recognition. Appreciation as equal partners who have a say over their lives, and recognition that they can do anything when granted the opportunity and resources.”
Last year, Marianne took a position as a Gender and Inclusion Advisor with Save the Children. “It was interesting because I was the gender advisor in a program that was purely education, so I was excited to gain experience in education. It took time for me to establish the technical working group, and meeting online was made difficult by poor internet connectivity, especially in South Sudan where [online programming] is a new phenomenon.”
Over the course of nearly 15 years, Marianne has built a portfolio of skills that includes child protection, gender and women’s rights, gender in education, and gender and women leadership. She began to search for a role in which she could use all of her skills. “When I came across this position with Women for Women International, I said to myself ‘why can’t I do something that creates impact that I can see immediately?’
“I am so excited to be a woman here to build other women up. I believe we will have a special impact on the people in Yei. Already, we are penetrating a different area and the response is amazing. I’ve seen the impact on what Women for Women International has on rural women."
We asked Marianne what she’s most excited for as the newest addition to the Women for Women International–South Sudan office.
“I’m so excited about working with both women and men… and seeing men work with us as allies… Gender as we all know is an attitude issue, it’s a behavioral change thing. It takes time for people to change, for people to transform… When you talk about economic empowerment and social empowerment, it’s very easy for people to misunderstand that. Especially in a culture where people think ‘gender’ means ‘women.’
“For me, the fact that Women for Women International has designed the program in such a way that men are aware of what women are going through is unique because the violence takes root in the fact that men do not understand what the women are being trained to do [in the program]. They don’t understand when people talk about women’s rights. They think we are spoiling their women, as they put it. So, the fact that Women for Women International has designed this program this way, I think this [will lead to] us not seeing cases of gender-based violence (GBV) rising, but instead working with men and making them allies.”
In the next few years, Marianne sees potential for expansion beyond our office in Yei, especially into more rural areas like Terekeka, where she says cases of domestic violence tend to be more frequent.
“Terekeka is a community in Central Equatoria State,” she said, “in which women experience domestic violence simply because of their ‘bride price,” a sum of money or resources men pay a prospective bride’s family in exchange for her hand in marriage.
“We’re seeing a lot of violence because men feel threatened with the idea that women could have [power] in the family. But with the men’s engagement program, I believe we have the right footing. I don’t foresee a lot of violence. I think the choice for [an office in] Yei was really good, but moving forward we might have to think about the suffering women in areas like Terekeka, where they try their best to please their husbands, but still, because of the impact of the bride price, men [perpetrate domestic violence].”
Marianne is hopeful for the future of the Stronger Women, Stronger Nations Program in Yei and beyond. She sees a future in which all women in South Sudan will have the tools to reach their individual potential and power.
“The impact of the work we are doing will encourage other women to join our program,” Marianne foresees. “I love being a part of this change and always look forward to making small but meaningful contributions in the lives of women. It’s a fulfilling feeling that soothes and invigorates me. I feel blessed to have this opportunity to make a difference… Thank you so much for giving the women in Yei this opportunity. [Our team in South Sudan] looks forward to working together to make the dreams of the women here a reality.”
The next chapter of Women for Women International in South Sudan is bright with Marianne on our team. Stay tuned for further updates as she, her team, and the women we serve in South Sudan continue to change the future of South Sudan.