Countless South Sudanese women are victims of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) but are – understandably – unwilling to speak about their experiences.
Add to this the fact that many of them are also unable to read or write and it becomes apparent that DRC faces an uphill struggle to help female refugees rebuild their lives.
The Livelihood Protection Shelter is an open-sided structure that provides a safe space where women can meet, twice a week, and begin the slow healing process. It’s a first step on a long road to physical, mental and spiritual rehabilitation.
It’s a place that the women physically built with their own hands.
This simple act of creating something new helps enormously in rebuilding self-esteem. DRC provides raw materials that can be turned into goods and services – fabrics for painting, beads for jewellery and hairdresser dummies for braiding.
The sale of decorated bedsheets, bangles and handbags enables women to make sufficient money to keep them independent from the type of men who would seek to dominate them. The grip of SGBV on a community is linked directly to men’s ability to “buy” women who have no income of their own.
Leaving a violent husband or partner is practically impossible if he is the one in sole control of the money.
In addition to basic craft work, counselling is available for those who are ready to speak about their experiences, thereby beginning the process of rehabilitation. But the need is great for a more robust shelter with secure storage, a wider variety of materials, basic furniture and a training centre for mentors and counsellors.
Regina Saima is married with eight children.
In 2016, she fled her house in Yei when the town became overrun by another outbreak of civil war. The family left their country to find sanctuary in Rhino camp when the meagre “food” available in the South Sudanese bush ran out.
Regina experienced SGBV largely due to her husband’s alcohol misuse. However, meeting so many other wives and mothers in the camp with similar stories to tell – and solutions to recommend – eventually enabled her to confront her husband.
He is now a Christian and regularly accompanies Regina to church!
“My husband listened to me because my friends at the safe space gave me ’God’ examples of how to talk to him about his actions,” she confides. “I also feel I’m a better person because of what we’ve been through.”
PART OF THE SOLUTION
Men are responsible for more than 97% of SGBV incidents.
If the movement to end this misery is to triumph, the level of male engagement will be crucial.
DRC identifies positive male role models and recruits them to train in SGBV prevention. These men are then encouraged to spread the message of non-violence to others, challenging cultural practices and reporting incidents.
In 2019, it is hoped that the number of male trainees will double to 180.
REBIRTH OF A NATION
Enterprise grants are available in Rhino camp, so DRC assists people in constructing viable business cases to secure potentially life-changing funds.
Certified nurse Awule Richard, another former Yei resident, now owns a kiosk-sized shop selling Red Cross approved medicines. Next door, he has a treatment bed and a few surgical instruments – stethoscope, syringes, tongs and a microscope. These few tools make it possible for him to perform basic diagnoses before referring patients to the Red Cross for more complex procedures.
Regina’s daughter owns a similar kiosk providing groceries, sweets and bottled drinks. Teenagers like her are at the forefront of this grassroots rebirth of a country crippled by in-fighting. One day, her generation will return to South Sudan with a practical, peaceful alternative to the destruction of the past and present.
The number of these shops is increasing, further investment opportunities are available, and a local economy is starting to grow. This is one way in which DRC is helping refugees move from an existence controlled by food aid to lives with a degree of self-determination. It’s a huge task but one that MAF is proud to be a partner in.
Story by Richard Chambers photos by Rebecca Walker