Women's rights: personal testimonies from South Sudan

international women day

Cecilia* - Displaced in UN House, Juba

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Cecilia was born and raised in Bentiu, Upper Nile state in South Sudan. She was expecting her third child when the crisis began in December 2013. In search of safety, Cecilia fled to the UN compound to keep her family safe. In June, she relocated to Juba and is now living in “UN House,” a camp where the UN is providing protection for displaced people. Photo: Stella Madete/Oxfam.

“I had just lost a baby at the UN camp in Bentiu. While I was resting in the clinic, a young lady came up and spoke to me. She said: ‘I know you are suffering, and it is difficult, but you are not alone in this suffering. Many mothers all over the world have felt the same pain. Take courage in knowing that you will be alright.’” 

“It is difficult to lose a child, and any mother who has had the misfortune of experiencing it, knows the endless pain. But I am not alone. If there is a problem in South Sudan, then there is a problem in the world, and everyone needs to keep this in mind. The world has grown smaller and we can learn from each other experiences. I now know that a woman has a voice, is equal to a man, and that we can both live in mutual respect.”

*NB: Respondents who are living within a UN Protection of Civilians (PoC) site have had their names changed for safety.

Rebecca Elija – 18 years old, displaced in Melut

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Rebecca Elija was 10 years old when she last spoke to her mother. Eight years ago, Rebecca moved to South Sudan with her father and little sister, leaving the rest of the family in Khartoum, Sudan. When the conflict broke out in December 2013, the three of them fled to Melut. Although she has been in part of the displaced community in Melut for over a year, Rebecca has not lost sight of her dreams. Photo: Charles Lomodong/Oxfam.

“I wanted to be a doctor but the crisis happened and forced us to move from our homes and postpone our dreams. An experience like this forces you to grow up. When we arrived here, I was surprised when I realised that I had to be in charge and take responsibility for myself and my family.”

“I am always thinking about how peace can come and how soon it can come, so that I can go back home. Here, no one persuades you to go to school, like they did at home, but getting an education is my number one priority.”

Rhoda Ayer Achieng – Oxfam EFSL Assistant, Melut

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It has been over a year since Rhoda Ayer fled fighting and walked for days to lead her six children to safety in Melut.  Since then, she has learnt a lot about patience and hope. Photo credit: Charles Lomodong/Oxfam.

“We face many challenges on a daily basis, and there is not enough help for everyone. People’s bodies, minds and spirits are in a bad state, but we have to be patient here, because the crisis will end.”

“If there is a woman in the same circumstance like me reading this, I urge you to stay focused. Take care of yourself and your children, because things may not be great today, but they will get better.”

“Women need to be women, and to do this, women need freedom. There can only be freedom is there is peace. I am really hoping for something to change, for peace to come, so that we can all go home.”

Aben Yadiu – Youth leader, Melut

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18-year-old Aden Yadiu was flourishing in school before her studies were interrupted by conflict in Bailet, Pigi County. She fled with her young daughter and family to Melut, where they have lived for over a year in a camp for those displaced by the conflict. Aden is a youth leader at the camp. Photo credit: Andrea Campeanu/Oxfam.

“When you are selected as a leader, you have to think about the needs of the people you serve. It is good way to know who is coming and who is going, to make sure everyone is alright. You are expected to lead and so must look at yourself as a leader.”

“I always tell the members of the group that we need to work together, even in the situation we have found ourselves in, and live in peace, because the time will come when we will all go home. We sing songs that remind us about our land, South Sudan, and why we need to take care of it. When we sing these songs, I remember home and long to go back.”