IMC celebrates International Women's Day with women of south Sudan

By Miranda Bryant
South Sudan program support officer

Tambura, South Sudan--An urgent call to end violence against women echoed throughout the small village of Tambura, South Sudan, on that community's first-ever International Women's Day celebration, organized with the support of International Medical Corps' new gender-based violence team.

Hundreds of women joined together to plan and participate in a community-wide event marked by songs, skits and speeches . The children sang a plea to be sent to school. The skits portrayed the tremendous challenges faced by women raising a family and maintaining a home in a region lacking electricity and running water, a place where firewood must be gathered and food harvested. And a speech delivered by one of IMC's GBV specialists urged community members, churches, NGOs and the government to support the struggle against domestic violence.

Sarah Naduru Juma, one of the women who spoke at the event, exhorted fellow community members to be mindful of one another's rights. "We call upon men and women to avoid violence in the households, to respect the rights of women who are vulnerable to rape and early marriage, and to respect therights of children by sending them to school, especially girls who are often forced to stay behind to care for the family home," she said.

The event was staged against the unwelcome backdrop of insecurity. Due to incursions into the region by rebel soldiers from the Lord's Resistance Army and the subsequent evacuation of humanitarian staff, the event was postponed by one week. The fact that the event was eventually conducted prior to the full return of aid workers was a positive sign of community ownership and sustainability in the eyes of GBV program manager, Valerie Laforce.

"Despite the unrest of the previous week, it was a wonderful, well-attended event for the women here ," she said.

Prior to IMC's mobilization efforts for the celebration, most women in Tambura had never heard of International Women's Day. They were thrilled to learn that a special day for women existed, and saw it as the perfect opportunity to communicate messages calling for an end to domestic violence and rape, Laforce said.

A 2006 survey by IMC in Tambura found that a significant segment of the community had suffered some form of violence in the 12 months prior to the study. In focus group settings, women have cited problems such as domestic violence, early marriage, single parenthood, and the denial of education for girls as challenges to their communities.

A similar community-wide celebration was held on March 1 in the town of Yambio, the state capital of Western Equatoria State.

IMC South Sudan's new GBV program began in both Tambura and Yambio in December 2006. It employs 10 national specialists and coordinators who are charged with advocacy, education, community awareness, and integration of GBV injury treatment into IMC's primary health care system.