South Sudan

Social and economic inclusion for women and people with disabilities in South Sudan

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Being proud of yourself, your abilities and of what you do. But also others who are proud of you, what you contribute to your family and community. This is the heart of the new Pride! project in South Sudan. Dorcas, Help a Child and Light for the World will collaborate in the coming years to improve the social and economic inclusion of women and people with disabilities.

South Sudan is one of the poorest countries in the world. The country, which has only existed for 10 years, is regularly hit by poverty, violence, drought and famine. From its local office in Wau, Dorcas works on lasting change in the lives of those in need.

Vicious circle

Agnes Kroese, Dorcas’ country director in South Sudan, explains: ‘Most of the attention of aid organisations in South Sudan goes to life-saving activities. Of course that is important, but to break this vicious circle of poverty, violence and hunger, a structural solution is needed. Vocational training gives people the opportunity to start their own business and earn money. This way, they are no longer dependent on emergency aid.’

Traditional culture

Vulnerable groups in the African country are women and people with disabilities. Both are disregarded by society. ‘Many people still live according to traditional cultures and its standards and values. For women this means that they are expected to marry young and take care of their children and household.’

Because of the war and various violent conflicts, many men died. It is common for widows and their children to move in with their deceased husbands’ families. However, the years of conflict and poverty have also torn apart families, which makes this sometimes impossible. This means that these women are on their own, with little or no means to feed their families or meet other important needs.

People with disabilities are also considered inferior by the community. While there are relatively many people with a disability in South Sudan. ‘There are several reasons for this. For example, people have suffered permanent injury from the war and diseases such as polio still occur here. In addition, poor hygiene and poverty also cause handicaps.’

Image

The *Prid*e*! *project initially focuses on the image of women and people with disabilities. Agnes: ‘If we want to make a change, we have to start from the inside. How do men look at women? And how do women see themselves and what is the role of culture and community in this? These questions also apply to people with disabilities.’

Not only in the family, but also in the village councils, it is usually the ‘old and wise’ men who make the decisions. Therefore, the project includes informing the target group about the rights and opportunities they have, not only at home but also in the community. After that, they actively work on creating opportunities for women and people with disabilities to participate in all areas of society.

Vocational training

Changing the prevailing image is important. It is ultimately the current leaders and men who must be open to women and people with disabilities in other positions. Also, women are often dependent on their husbands’ permission to, for example, attend a vocational training course. Next to social inclusion, economic inclusion through vocational training is the second important aspect of Pride!.

During the training provided by Dorcas, women and people with disabilities not only learn a specific trade, but they also learn how to start a business and they receive cash assistance. ‘We believe that it are these small-scale businesses that are the solution to poverty. South Sudan has few large companies where you can find a job. The poor infrastructure and the unsafe situation in the country make it difficult to expand a business, there are hardly any jobs available. And if there is a vacancy, it is often filled by relatives. Starting your own business is the best way to earn money’, Agnes explains.

Famine

Pride! seems to be a good project in the fight against poverty. Yet Agnes also sees some difficulties to overcome. At the moment, South Sudan is facing a severe famine. ‘How tempting is it in such circumstances to buy food with the capital you received to start a business? This may seem better on the short term, but in the end it is not the best way to break out of the vicious cycle of poverty.’

In addition, the famine is currently causing a large increase in prices. This means that raw materials are very expensive. Agnes: ‘The disadvantage is that to start, you do need more money for the purchase of resources. On the other hand, you can sell your products at a higher price. I am hopeful that these small businesses can survive the current economic crisis.’

Faith in one’s own abilities

Despite the difficult and fragile situation in South Sudan, Agnes is positive about the future. ‘We will, of course, continue to provide emergency aid to those in need. What I like about this project, and what makes it so unique, is that we are also working on a long-term solution. People don’t learn to take initiative with emergency aid alone. This combination makes people believe in their own abilities and realise that everyone is valuable, including themselves.’