Considered to be the world’s youngest nation to be widely recognized, South Sudan’s independence was recently gained in 2011 from Sudan. The road to sovereignty is marked with violence, with a 22-year civil war that led to the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement on January 9, 2005.
Independence held a fragile promise of peace for South Sudan but rebuilding has been a long process. The challenge proved immense, with tens of thousands of people displaced, lack of infrastructure, and insecurity. A new civil war sprouted. With it came gender-based and sexual violence. Again, women paid the price.
Violence combined with poverty, famine, and the pandemic means this year, South Sudan is facing severe food shortages. At home, as women struggle to support their families, husbands and partners take out their stress on women. Girls enter risky early marriages in hopes of food security or they drop out of school to lessen the burden on their families.
We believe peace is possible for South Sudan. And though women have borne the horrors of conflict and instability, women are also the foundation of peace. Investing in women’s power means helping them access knowledge and resources to support their families and the people around them. It means supporting local economies and women’s financial security. It means more food. Women can create a ripple effect that puts generations to follow on the right path.
Alice (pictured above) is an example of the transformative power of women. As violence resurged, she fled Yei in South Sudan and became a refugee in Uganda. When she returned home to Yei, she joined Women for Women International to learn to deal with her hardships and build resilience to endure the violence. She saved up her stipend and using savings from her Village Savings and Loan Association to start a business selling fish in market — providing food for herself, her family, and her community.
Sarah, another South Sudanese woman who returned from Uganda, looks forward to transferring skills she learned in the Signature Program to her children. Now that she can access her land again, she looks forward to cultivating it to grow crops.
Pascalina is another woman rebuilding her life during conflict. Violent groups raped women in her village and chased women off their farms, preventing them from growing food. Unable to flee with her six children and living separated from her husband, Pascalina had to weather the violence. Through the program, she says of herself and her classmates, “We became friendlier. We forgave ourselves.”
Pascalina, like Alice and Sarah, is sowing seeds for a more peaceful future in South Sudan. She’s looking forward to starting her own business and earning money to give her two daughters and four sons better food, health, and an education.
On Peace Agreement Day, as we reflect on the path South Sudan has taken to its independence, we also look forward to its future of peace. And we stand by the women who are helping pave it.