PATRICIA NJERI NJOROGE
“Women in South Sudan are the backbone of many communities,” says Patricia Njoroge, a Gender Affairs Officer serving with UNMISS. “However, they are still fighting to have their voices heard and included in the ongoing push for durable peace here.”
A traditionally patriarchal society in the world’s youngest nation means that much needs to be done to ensure women’s equal participation in political processes.
However, according to Patricia, another cogent need is to empower female activists and community leaders with the tools and techniques required for them to lead the charge for equal rights and representation.
“Worldwide, the process of including women in leadership positions and in governing roles has been slow,” she states. “So, as the Gender Unit in the largest peacekeeping mission globally, we felt it was important for us to enhance the capabilities of South Sudanese women’s representatives.”
The result: A three-day advocacy skills training facilitated by the mission’s Gender Unit. “We designed the workshop on the Training of Trainers model, drawing participants from civil society, local women’s associations and other women’s groups,” reveals Kasumi Nishigaya, the Chief of the Unit.
“The reason for this top-down approach was to create a trickle-down learning effect,” she continues. “The women we chose are respected among their communities; the skills they pick up are more easily transferred to younger women, reaching all the way to the grassroots level, through South Sudanese women themselves. It’s always much more powerful when capacity is built by community members themselves,” she adds.
Participants spent time learning an analytic approach to problem-solving, framing powerful advocacy messages which resonate across the country, building strong peer networks to mobilize support for their objectives as well as fund-raising and resource management.
What did participants gain from this activity? “The training was interactive and, with the help of facilitators who were all Gender Affairs Officers, they developed a sample advocacy strategy template and an action plan that they can use in the short term to organize themselves and gain momentum for their right to be included and considered on decisions related to issues which impact them directly," reveals Tigist Melka, one of the key facilitators from UNMISS.
“However, what has been the biggest takeaway is that the platform afforded a way for all of these women to build relationships with each other,” she continues.
“Fighting for equal rights for women, whether in terms of active political participation or regarding their positions in communities, neighbourhoods and, even, the family unit, can be a lonely job,” adds Patricia.
“Our biggest success with this workshop is that all the women who participated developed a draft advocacy strategy and action plan, and further, organized an informal communication channel using technology such as Whatsapp to stay in touch, share each other’s challenges and celebrate every achievement in this ongoing struggle to be seen, heard and included. There is power in shared action.”
The workshop took place from 26-28 April in Juba, the country’s capital. Going forward, these participants together with UNMISS Gender Officers, will collaborate on similar trainings for women at the grassroots across all 10 states in South Sudan.