Wednesday, January 25, 2012

South Sudan Institute for Women’s Education & Leadership Project FOCUS Area

It is said “the women of Southern Sudan and other disadvantaged regions in the Sudan are “the marginalized of the marginalized”. In recognition of the contribution of women during the war and the forgone opportunities they gave up in order to take care of their children, elders in families and community, and the wounded under extreme conditions of poverty not forgetting early marriages, cultural discriminatory laws, sexual and domestic violence and abuse and poor public health. For over 22 years of civil war in the Sudan, the women of Southern received no attention like their sisters in Darfur. Southern Sudan was a forgotten piece on earth.

United Nations and many of its affiliate organizations consider education as a human right issue, and gender equality in education is essential for sustainable development. As a result the international community has made education in general and girls’ education in particular a priority issues. However, the road to the realization of gender equality in education is still a long and difficult one. There are still traditional pockets of resistance. In addition the low status of women in the wider society, including their under representation in management and decision-making positions in the education field, have a negative impact on efforts to promote girls’ and women education. It is a known fact that higher education institutions play a strategic role in finding solutions to today’s leading challenges in the fields of health, science, education, renewable energies, water management, food security and the environment

Education and health-care Initiatives are two key factors which offer solution to combat social, cultural, and economic and health concerns women face in this globally changing environment, as well as the only mode to help promote the participation of women in every segment of development and capacity building in both government and private sector. 

The 25% allocated for women’s participation at the Comprehensive Peace is represented by well-prepared educated women. Without education, the women will not be able to equally and equitably compete with the men and participate in the current changing and challenging global market fully, which requires a well rounded academic background, and related achievements.  South Sudan Institute for Women Education and Leadership takes the challenge to advocate for this segment of population, and hopes to develop short and long term projects to achieve its basic goals for Academic achievement for women and the general health care for both women and children.

Causes of Illiteracy:  

There are many factors that contribute to the higher percentage of illiteracy among southern Sudanese women including but not limited to war, cultures and traditions of early marriages, unprotected sex resulting in child bearing or health concerns HIV/AID, deceased parents. The situation of women merits special attention as that segment of the population has continued to suffer disproportionately throughout two decades of civil war.

Although the humanitarian situation has changed following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in January 9, 2005, still the overall demand for education, food production, security, basic health and social services, well-built infrastructure, income generation and capacity building is tremendous.  In addition to the tragedy of lost lives, lost opportunities, destruction of infrastructure[i], the need for basic education, sanitation and health care still remains and calls for our attention and contribution. It is only through education that these needs can be addressed and met. 

World Bank (1991) statistical estimate for life expectancy at birth among Sudanese women from both north and south was 59.1 to 51.2 a clear reflection of discrepancies between Northern and Southern Sudan. The situation was made worse by the impact of the prolonged conflict.  Ms. Lona Elias own words, “The Decades of under-development and conflict have left South Sudanese women…“the poorest of the poor and the marginalized of the marginalized.” Severe gender disparity is manifest in access to education and health and differential life expectancy. Only 5% of births are attended by skilled health staffs and maternal mortality is high”. Therefore, SSIWEL strives to invest in the education of women in the area of health public health and other related fields.

During the two decades of war, while men were tasked to militarily liberate the country, women were left to raise the family, take care of the elderly, and nurture the wounded despite the fact that some women joined the military. They had no opportunity to go to school.  Young women born and raised during this period of our history were married young with no education to fend for themselves and families. Most of them married military personnel and had to raise many children alone; lost their husbands during the war and have to raise her children and children of other relatives who passed away without some shoulders to lean on.  Education is the only way to help these women recover from these lost opportunities to become economically stable, politically strong and legally and customarily cognizant of their rights in the society. 

Culture and Traditions

Gender roles in southern Sudan have been shaped by culture, social and economic underdevelopment. Women spend their time doing domestic chores such as fetching water, manually grinding grain, and cooking food, all of which allow little time for other activities. The patriarchal culture imposes restraints on women’s participation outside their homes. These customs define what constitutes a woman’s role in Southern Sudanese society.  Education will open the opportunity for women to improve their standard of living. SSIWEL seeks to help these women develop their talents to the fullest and help shape the direction our country takes. “To educate a woman you educate a nation”.

Women and girls of Southern Sudan are highly disadvantaged by culture and the 21 years of civil war, which took its toll on them when left behind to attend to families and relatives’ needs while their fathers, husbands and uncles were in the front line fighting the enemy. Furthermore, the young girls never had a chance or were forced to drop out of school either for culturally arranged marriage/s or due to lack of funds to send them to school. In a situation where families experience tight family budget, it is a traditional norm to ask the girls to drop out of school to give an opportunity for their male siblings to continue.

For the girls who managed to attend school, there were many challenges waiting them in both home and school that hinder their performances such as sexual harassment by male teachers; the monthly periods where they have to stay away from school until it stops because they have no sanitation pads to wear while in public places such as schools. After school, girls are expected to go home and help their mothers with housework, for example, cooking, fetching water from distant streams to bath their siblings and for household use. At the end of the day these girls have no time left for school assignments. After long hours of work both in school and home, they would feel exhausted and ready to sleep. The routine continues every day until the academic year is over. At the end, most girls fail not because they are not intelligent but because of how the society and culture treat them in relation to boys.

Women Legal Rights

According to United Nations, “… women are central to reconstruction effort in Sudan, critical support and investments in actions that promote and protect women's rights and strengthen women's leadership at all levels are essential.  Sudanese women play an integral role in the reintegration effort for returning displaced populations of refugees, internally displaced persons and demobilized combatants.  The planned reconstruction effort in the areas of education, health, infrastructure and development demands attention to the roles, responsibilities and situation of women.  Current data shows that Sudanese women, especially women from the south, continue to live in conditions of extreme poverty; the difficulty of their situation compounded by high levels of illiteracy and limited access to basic social services including health care, food and water”.

Concerned with lack of education as a barrier for women of Southern Sudan and other marginalized areas of the Sudan who missed the opportunity to attain basic education, particularly during the 21 years of Civil War, SSIWEL seeks to promote the standard of women by providing basic education through an adult education program.  Women will learn to read and write and will participate in short and long-term career courses developed according to the needs of the women.  Right now many women in Southern Sudan are experiencing difficulties finding work because of a lack of experience and education to help them discover their hidden abilities. By giving these women the ability to read and write, it will inspire them and open doors for many to discover their talents and to find careers. It will be like learning how to drive instead of being driven.

SSIWEL seeks to strengthen the capacity of Southern Sudanese women through education at grassroots and national level. Through academic empowerment, the women will be in position to economically and culturally change their status in society by influencing economic, political and social policies that affect and discriminate against women. Women will have the opportunity to read laws and regulations that define their legal rights and seek social justice in an event the laws are used against them. Women account for about 65% of the Sudanese population, and yet they have been intellectually, economically, and politically marginalized throughout the country.  Education will strengthen the role of women in leadership, equity and peacemaking, human rights initiatives, political empowerment and awareness in public health issues.
Legal and Human Rights in the context of South Sudanese Women: Examining Southern Sudanese women’s legal and human rights in the context of domestic and international human rights law. Despite efforts made to improve women’s unfavorable conditions of gender disparities world-wide through universal conventions and gender equality development programs by international actors women of Southern Sudan continues to live in an environment with laws that discriminates against women and the violations of women’s basic rights in society.  Although, the people of Southern Sudan are given six years interim period with a semi autonomous government, the discriminatory, rules and regulations, and other government policies perpetuated by the Khartoum government are contrary to the provisions of human rights. I would like to express my remorse that only few literate women have had the luxury of attending secondary school. Apart from deprivations resulting directly from war and underdevelopment, a drastic reduction in the male population in some areas has placed additional responsibilities on many of the women left behind. Many southern Sudanese men went to war leaving women behind to raise families while still others left the south in order to gain education and training in the north, or even abroad.
Intricate of Culture Surrounding Women:
Because of the Southern Sudan great diversity, it is difficult to classify the traditional culture of the various people. These traditional societies have diverse linguistic, ethnic, social, culture and religion characteristics. And although improved communication, increased social and economic mobility and the spread of a money economy have led to a general loosening of social ties, custom, relationships and modes of organization in traditional culture, much from the past still remains intact.
There are many different cultures in Southern Sudan, cattle owners have historically been of the highest symbolic, religion and economic value. Cattle are particularly important in their role as the bride wealth, where they are given by the husband lineage to his wife lineage. It is this exchange of cattle which ensures that the children will be considered to belong to the husband’s lineage and to his line of descent. The classical and weird South Sudanese institution of ghost marriage, in which a man “fathers” children even after death, is one that remains unchallenged, and is basically a result of dowry paid in cattle herds to the family of the bride. She is basically sold to the family of the man as a property.


For pastoralists, cows are the centerpiece of diet, trade and religion. Families rely on cows for milk and meat, and sales, for dowries to arrange marriages, and for sacrificial rituals to honor ancestral gods and the spirits of ancestors. Cows are source of prestige, dignity and wealth.  Traditionally, Southern Sudanese men enjoy the liberty to marry more than one wife. The number of wives depends on the man’s position and power within the community.
Relatives especially parents have the role of choosing a bride or a bride groom for their children according to the status of the families to be consummated in this marital arrangement. A man or a man’s mother can choose a woman or the woman’s family for marriage.


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