Being a woman in South Sudan is a curse,” says the 58-year-old woman in Juba’s Munuki residential area who prefers to remain anonymous. “The abuse of human rights continues,” she explains, “especially women’s rights. Young girls are victims of rape at a very tender age in this country, even elderly women are raped.”
“Our sons, brothers and husbands are killed by unknown gunmen we mourn every day,” she continues. Women are widowed at a very tender age, leading to an increase in the number of orphans raised by women.
The United Nations says tens of thousands of women have been subjected to rape and other forms of gender-based violence during the conflict that started in December 2013. From April to September 2015, the UN recorded more than 1,300 reports of rape in Unity State alone.
A woman’s worth
“Being a woman in South Sudan takes away from you most of your inherent rights. Gender roles do not favour women in most cases to get an education,” says Lydia John who works and studies. “Bringing your family dowry seems to be the ultimate purpose of a woman.”
She says women don’t feel valued or respected in the traditional South Sudanese society and always bear the brunt of interminable wars in South Sudan. “We always pray for young girls not to be raped, husbands and fathers not to be killed and recruitment of child soldiers to stop.”
Jane, a working mother of five, says being a mother worsens the burden. “As a woman and a mother at the same time, you struggle so hard to ensure that your children eat, go to school and at least get the basic needs in life. Other women like me try to run some petty businesses to maintain our families.”
“We have sleepless nights worrying about our lives, our children’s lives and we also worry about the economic crisis,” says Jane of the economic challenges brought on by war and the decline in oil production.
Most of the people leaving South Sudan to take refuge in neighbouring Sudan, Uganda and Kenya are women and children, the majority of whom are illiterate, according to UNICEF.