Where are all the Women in South Sudan?

This blog post was written by our CEO, Rachel Lindley, following a visit to South Sudan in July 2019.

Rachel sits with a group in South Sudan.

Rachel sits with a group in South Sudan.

One of our partners, World Concern, met me at Wau airport in South Sudan, and drove me to the hotel - three men and me. Recently, our local partners advertised for a new microenterprise role and had 60 applicants – only one woman. We passed a Jeep of soldiers on the road; all men. In my hotel that evening, I walked into the restaurant for dinner and every table was full of men. There was not another woman in the place.

I wondered: where are all the women in Wau?

The next day, I found them, two hours down a bumpy dirt road out of Wau. Ruth, the chairwoman of the only community bank, and Tabitha, the cashier; Claudia, who took a loan to start a small café which is so successful she has employed another young woman to help; another Claudia, who with her friend, Mary, took a loan to rent a market stall jointly. Together, they sell sorghum, sugar, okra, greens, lulu oil, cooking oil, sweets and groundnut paste. The profits are good and now their children are in school.

The following morning, we visited “Peace” Savings Group. The Group had 27 women and 3 men. Most of the women had lost their husbands and homes during the conflict. They had fled when violence erupted and returned later to find their houses looted and destroyed.

“War has no warning,” one told me.

They were left with nothing – husbands, homes, farms and property all gone. One woman wept as she told her story, and I saw the need for the trauma healing element of this programme. I felt for women who don’t have a support network like a savings group.

Lastly, we visited another group where the Chair, Treasurer and Secretary were all women. The members told me they used to just collect firewood and cut grass for roofing; now, they cultivate, sell and save. A wizened old woman told me money ‘gets lost’ far too easily unless you have a group to save with. A young pregnant woman explained how the group had helped when her husband died. Another said her children were no longer malnourished.

Several of the women had exciting plans for the future like starting a shop, building a house, sending a child to secondary school, buying a ground-nut crusher – but they caveat every plan with, ‘if the peace lasts.’ They suggested peace starts with them, in the community, not at government levels.

I heard exactly the same message from the wonderful Mothers’ Union Co-ordinator, Mama Harriet, who is a key advocate for peace at national level, and her equally wonderful programme managers, Sarah and Jesca. They have formed and trained hundreds of literacy and savings groups in South Sudan, with some incredible outcomes on community cohesion as well as literacy, savings and microenterprise.

This, I realised, is where the women are. Working together in villages for peace, feeding and educating their children, saving for tomorrow, planning for a better future. We pray the peace will last so they can achieve it.