Resilient women challenge crises and trudge on in South Sudan

South Sudanese women selling groceries along Ministries road in the capital Juba. Photo by Ruot George

By Ruot George

On a hot afternoon, Akuol Lam Agerwec sits alongside the streets of South Sudan’s capital Juba selling tea to get money and put food on the table in the evening.

The 45-year-old woman is the only hope for her family of 7 children to fill their bellies.

Clad in a faded yellow dress, and sweating profusely from the hot sunshine in Juba, Agerwec said its a work she must undertake to ensure minimum money to support her family.

The scars of conflict can be seen in the difficult situation she is apprehended with.

In South Sudan, a woman must deal with outright marginalisation, scars of war and injustices in the communities and homes, and yet are at the centre of the daily running in communities.

Injustices imposed on them include socio-economic and political marginalization that have denied them basic needs living them to face the difficulties of life with bare naked hands.

“I am here looking for money to supplement the little income my husband gets which all goes into school fees,” Agerwec told Juba Echo at her tea stall along airport road.

“One challenge we women are facing is that when you do business, some husbands stop financial support,” she said.

“Other men do not give money to their wives.”

Extreme circumstances

Not only do women work extra hours in a day, tending after their families without any pay, but women in South Sudan do so amidst the most extreme circumstances, and with very little expectations.

From engaging in daily household duties to taking care of children, the elderly, sick, people with disabilities, and tending to livestock, they burst their backs in farms in order to put food on the table.

These duties are physically challenging and emotionally draining, and leaves them with barely enough time to take care of themselves, or participate actively in community politics, leaving the latter only in the hands of men.

While the peace agreement being implemented in South Sudan advocates a 35 percent quota in leadership, the government has not met the provision across the different political levels.

But the women trudge on, ensuring needs demanded from them are met.

March 8 is a day internationally intended to celebrate women.

This year, the international theme is “Break the bias.”

In South Sudan, the day is being celebrated under the theme, “Gender Equality for Future Sustainability: Promote and Celebrate Women and Girls’ Achievements and Resilience.”

With the bias, the challenges facing women in South Sudan are immense and yet they have stood the test.

 “Individually, we are all responsible for our thoughts and actions so everyday we should be thinking about breaking the bias in our families, in our workplaces, in our communities and as a country we should be able to break the bias,” the Minister of Gender, Child and Social Welfare, Aya Benjamin Werille told Juba Echo in an interview.

 “I know that the women of South Sudan are very strong, however they have gone through a lot, different issues,” Minister Werille said.

Achievement warranted

“I believe in women and I know they have greatly contributed and continue to contribute to the development of this country,” she said.

Despite very little progress being made in the 35 percent leadership quota for women, hard work is going on to ensure an achievement is reached for the women, Werille said.

“Its a journey that we have started and we will walk this journey. I must say we have made progress,” she said.

And women on the streets echo her, demanding the most minimal opportunities availed to them.

“There should have been other sectors the government plans for employment of women, the government should create opportunities for unskilled labourers and pay them small monthly,” a 34-year-old mother of 2 children told Juba Echo.

The woman who preferred anonymity vends bananas on the streets of Juba, seeking to pay fees for her children.

Her vending comes with difficulties, including unscrupulous taxes imposed on her by the City Council Authorities.

“I came to the market to make small profit to pay school fees for my children,” she said.

“Many sellers have shut down because of taxation. If you are not able to pay the city council, they won’t let you do business.”

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