June 13, 2018
While the country gained its independence in July 2011, women in South Sudan have had harsh times of long-standing conflicts: not a small number of women have suffered from prevailing sexual and gender based violence, lost head of household, and fled from home as refugees or Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). The political, social and economic position of women has been lower than men, with less or even no access to social services such as education and medical care. There are many girls who are forced into marriage at young age. The maternal mortality ratio remains at the highest level in the world, which is 789 (5 in Japan) per 100,000 live births (World Bank, 2015).
The government of South Sudan has been working on gender issues to eradicate violence on women and ensure that women and men have equal opportunities in education, economic activities and other social services. The Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Welfare (MGCSW) is the national machinery which takes a leading role of promoting gender equality, and developed the National Gender Policy in 2012: the Policy declared that the country was aiming for a society where all of men, women and children are free from discrimination and violence, able to enjoy human rights equally throughout the country.
JICA has been in partnership with MGCSW and supported a series of activities in gender mainstreaming and women's economic empowerment. Based on MGCSW's request, a special focus has been placed on agriculture and business sectors. MGCSW in collaboration with JICA has conducted three research works to collect data and explore issues of gender in South Sudan, provided gender mainstreaming training to MGCSW officers, gender focal points of related Ministries, and relevant non-governmental organisations (NGOs) personnel. "International Women's Day", set worldwide at 8th March, has also been celebrated in South Sudan with supports from JICA as well as other development partners.
Focus group discussion conducted in field survey on women's economic activities in Juba
At panel discussion held on International Women's Day 2016
In August 2017, MGCSW and JICA conducted a workshop under the theme of "economic empowerment of women and socially vulnerable people in East Africa", as part of the research works. The workshop was attended by approximately 30 participants, not only from South Sudan, but also from Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda, including government officers and a variety of stakeholders from NGOs, civil society organisations and private corporations etc.
The workshop was designed for providing the participants opportunities to share and compare their country's policies, challenges, and lessons learnt from their own experiences. Many findings were highlighted: all the four countries adopt their own national gender policies which indicate the basic directions for how to support women along each country's political, social and economic contexts. There are common challenges women often face in the East-African countries: women are placed in more vulnerable situation than men; they are engaged in small size, unstable informal businesses such as agricultural production or selling of vegetables. Most women are not given legal protection, far from formal employment, without access to start-up funding or loan services, while illiteracy and lack of basic business skills add more constraints for women to develop their capacity to succeed economically. Another common barrier is that women have less bargaining power within a family; due to male-dominant social norm, women do not have the right of controlling household expenditures, even when the income is earned by female members.
While many challenges are seen in common, the extent of policy implementation differs among the countries. In Rwanda, an independent institution called "Gender Monitoring Unit" supervises and monitors how each Ministry enhances gender equality through programme and budgeting. There is an established collaboration mechanism between public institutions and NGOs, where national gender budget is allocated to NGOs according to the result of yearly-held programme proposal competition. In Uganda, many female entrepreneurs are improving their status, while active NGOs and Community Development Officers at local government effectively contribute to the success of their business. Kenya is most advanced, with a comprehensive set of policy implementations, systematic monitoring with data collection and research works, supplemented by actions by private sectors.
In South Sudan, the National Gender Policies and the Strategic Plans were developed in 2012. However, implementation has not followed enough; political instability and conflict, and the lack of government budget caused by economic deterioration have made the implementation extremely difficult. Little budget has been allocated to training, human resources not been fully developed. There is lack of know-how nor financial resources to conduct programmes for women entrepreneurs. As many as 4.2 millions of refugees and IDPs (UNHCR, May 2018) are pushed under harsher conditions. Despite all these obstacles, there seems much room for South Sudan to learn from neighbor countries, which face similar challenges but take a step forward in implementation. A South Sudanese participant said, "we can learn from each of Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya", already started to discuss with a Rwandan participant for how to cooperate in the future.
Officers from Ministries of Gender in four countries compare their policies at workshop
Interviewing trainees at vocational training center in Uganda
Similarly, the startup funding for women's business is often not available: in South Sudan, many women give up starting new business due to lack of very small amount of fund – even a few US dollars. One of the surveys JICA supported found many cases where women in vulnerable economic situation with no collateral were not able to borrow money from formal bank. They instead help each other by using a traditional short-term community loan called "Sanduk Sanduk" – five women, for example, deposit USD1 each per month and one of the members receive USD5 in a month. This informal finance scheme does not need additional money as interest or charge, but allow women to plan saving and receive saved money as a start-up fund. Similar scheme used to prevail in Japan a few centuries ago, or even now in very limited number of communities. Madam Regina Ossa Lullo, the Director General of Directorate of Gender at MGCSW, has hopes for this loan, saying that "Sanduk Sanduk" does not require formal financial institution and therefore could be a sustainable solution for many of the vulnerable". Collective support for this kind of financing should be fully considered.
The recordkeeping notebook of an Ugandan community loan scheme
Foul Madamas (Peanuts) and Tamia (doughnuts) women in Juba often deal in
JICA currently not only support MGCSW, but also promote gender mainstreaming in various occasions of many different programmes. For example, attentions are paid to the balance of male and female candidates, for training and scholarship programmes which send to Japan approximately 60 participants/students a year. Educational materials developed for teachers are regularly checked in terms of gender bias, for how men and women are described on the materials. In the third National Unity Day, the countrywide sports competition held in early 2018, Ministry of Youth, Culture and Sports in collaboration with JICA increased women participation and organized the gender awareness workshop in a series of side events. JICA, while enhancing gender mainstreaming in many sectors, will aim for implementing further activities centered around the fields of agriculture and economic empowerment of women.
Training to visualize household work sharing between men and women
Field training in northern Uganda