“I’ve never discerned that early and forced marriages was this serious in my country until I met these young girls from Eastern Equatoria, my own state and my heart sung”…. Rita M. Lopidia the Executive Director of EVE Organization.The Girl Ambassadors for peace program; an initiative of GNWP was launched in collaboration with EVE Organization and Generation in Action (GIA) in South Sudan’s Eastern Equatoria state in May 2015. As part of EVE’s youth leadership program, the Girl Ambassadors for Peace program enhances the potential of young women and girls in conflict-affected countries and has a catalytic effect on local communities.
It aims to: develop leadership skills among young women and girls; raise awareness of young women and girls on their rights and enhance their abilities to assert such rights and contribute to peace building in local communities using UNSCR 1325, 1820 and the supporting Women and Peace and Security Resolutions as policy frameworks. The program entails a series of trainings for these young girls to become peace ambassadors. After the trainings, the girls then travel to villages to share with the young women and girls about the importance of women’s rights and participation in decision making at the communities level, peace building and dialogue.
In the context of South Sudan, Girls Education is hindered by a number of challenges including poverty, the long decades of war, cultural practices, family preference of boys to go to school and girls stay home to do house chores and babysit, early pregnancies, early and forced marriages, girl compensation among other factors. According to statistics only 16% of women over 15 years are literate.
During the launch in Torit – Eastern Equatoria, the girls shared their stories and the challenges they face daily. One participant shared her story and said, “I got pregnant when I was 15yrs old and by the time I turned 18yrs, I already had three kids. It is tough and I am struggling to bring them up; if only we had this kind of training earlier, I wouldn’t have gotten into what I am in today; but now that I know, I will dedicate my time to speak to the younger girls not to follow my footsteps”. Another 18yrs old participant who has completed high school and aspiring to join the University said, “when I go to my village; I am being mocked and ridiculed by my age mates, they call me barren because at my age I didn’t have a baby while they do, there is a lot of peer pressure in the village. Now I avoid the village because of that”. Rita M. Lopidia; the Executive Director of EVE Organization also shared with the girls her struggle growing up in Khartoum during the civil war and how she persevered to hold on to school to succeed in life. She encouraged the girls to speak out and seek support to ensure they finish school.
For change to happen and to see more women in different levels of decision making in this country; a lot of efforts need to be exerted at different levels. Education coupled with awareness raising on the importance of the girl Education, improving livelihood and addressing cultural practices that discriminate against women by implementation of legislations is crucial. These issues need serious attention especially of the state authorities, community leaders, religious leaders, parents and CSOs.