"A good partner helps us grow": partnering differently with women's rights organisations in South Sudan

29 March 2023 "A good partner helps us grow": partnering differently with women's rights organisations in South Sudan

For the second edition of our blog series on equitable partnerships, Towards Solidarity, Elizabeth, Grace and Joseph discuss their experiences of working for women’s rights organisations in South Sudan.

The organisations they work for are part of our ‘Resourcing Change’ project, which – in partnership with Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and Women for Women International – has provided 21 women’s rights organisations in Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen with flexible core funding, enabling them to prioritise and respond to what is really needed. 

Tell us about your work to advance women’s rights in South Sudan. What do you enjoy the most about what you do? What do you find challenging?

Elizabeth Ayen Kuer, Executive Director of Jonglei Women Empowerment Programme (JWEP): I work for JWEP, a South Sudan national NGO which was conceived in 2011 to help fight for women’s rights and justice. Women were and still are being affected by violence which is constantly erupting in the remote areas of Jonglei State. Today, JWEP has created a turning point for many women by bringing women together in groups to promote entrepreneurship and livelihood and capacity-building activities. Many of our projects reach areas that are untouched by other community-based organisations and NGOs due to the insecurities there. JWEP uses a participatory approach which includes the general community, offering real-life solutions to problems in the community. Some examples of what we are working on include training women, girls and youth on their rights, fighting for women to be included in all levels of leadership, and supporting vulnerable women and girls affected by gender-based violence with skills training and giving them a voice.

My most enjoyable moments are when community leaders have a better understanding of the importance of gender sensitising and valuing women in society, as well as working with men community leaders to fight against biased harmful traditions. Our biggest challenges are lack of funds, and the presence of harmful cultural norms/habits which are promoters of gender-based violence and violence against women and girls. Another challenge is the lack of accessibility to the project sites – most of the areas are rural with either rough roads or inaccessible routes that need strong vehicles, and JWEP currently doesn’t have any kind of transportation to reach these areas.

Grace Dorong, Root of Generations: I am a young woman who underwent all forms of humiliation and gender-based violence from a tender age. I grew up knowing men as cruel people. The worst of this was when I was denied a scholarship to complete my commercial pilot licence because “I am just a woman”. I founded Root of Generations as an organisation that looks at a woman as a root, which needs to be nurtured to have better fruits. A woman is a human being with a value in the world, not “just a woman”. I enjoy creating spaces where women can speak without fear of men, and standing to defend women and amplifying their voices. Currently we are carrying out training on the Women, Peace and Security agenda; we started at the payam level* and we are now planning for cross-county and state levels, and we will continue to move until we reach the national level.

It’s very challenging working for a women’s rights organisation. Many times I get isolated from men’s meetings, they say that the women will speak later. A woman is looked at as a stranger in many arenas, especially attending the big NGO meetings. A typical day is always not enough because I have to attend to children, my husband and the office; sometimes I feel broken. Trying to accomplish 100 per cent in all these areas is not easy. Sometimes in meetings men make decisions regarding funding at late hours when women are already at home attending to family matters like cooking.

Joseph Simiyu, Women Advancement Organization: Women Advancement Organization is a national NGO founded in 2012 in Juba. We work to empower and support vulnerable and marginalised groups through training in life skills; we advocate for the fundamental rights of marginalised groups to access basic education, healthcare and livelihoods; we promote inclusion in all sectors to ensure women, youth and people living with disabilities have equal access to opportunities; and we influence laws and policies in South Sudan to be fair to all citizens irrespective of their language, gender, religion or cultural makeup.

I enjoy designing and planning projects that have positive results in communities with great needs. Challenges include limited time given to project design and delivery by donors, and finding donors to support specific programmes has also proved difficult – there are very few consistent donors working on specific interventions in South Sudan. For example, on initiatives such as expanding access to high-impact health interventions such as immunisations, quality care for mothers with pregnancies or for newborn babies and children’s growth, or accessing contraception services. Very few donors support these programmes fully. In South Sudan there are many humanitarian needs that require improved partnership and strengthened funding bases, which could strengthen collaboration with the private sector, communities and civil society to improve these essential services.

Why is promoting peace and advancing the Women, Peace and Security agenda in South Sudan important now? 

Grace: Wars exposed and increased women’s vulnerability, there is no justice for the victims and no law to protect women. The Women, Peace and Security agenda is important to give women space to speak and to demand protection. During conflicts, rape is used as a weapon of war and women are not protected.

Joseph: Women and girls continue to suffer and they need humanitarian support. Gender-based violence against women in the country has reduced the space for women to participate in peace and security processes. Women need to participate in the peace process, reconstruction efforts and transitional justice mechanisms for the implementation of the Revitalized Agreement for Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS). This will revive the quest for implementing the National Action Plan for 2015–2023 on the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security – this was never established due to insufficient funds which means the National Action Plan has not been renewed.

Grace giving a talk on International Women's Day.

Can you describe what the funding environment is like for women’s rights organisations and civil society in South Sudan?

Elizabeth: Getting funding is one of the challenges we face, because some donors implement their activities directly without knowing the geographical areas/context. There is also high competition: mostly those in the city easily get funding, but organisations in remote areas rarely get funding, so we have to wait for a donor who is willing to work with grassroots organisations. Sometimes we try to lobby for more funding through embassies, but we have never succeeded. We also lack capacity in proposal writing; this contributes to failures to secure funds.

Grace: There are still major challenges with women’s organisations in terms of getting to the funding levels that men’s organisations have. In every leadership role, men take the key roles and women are pushed back.

Joseph: There are few donors in the country who want to invest in or support both emergency and longer-term development programmes. Most funding is short-lived during emergencies.

If you had the funding, what is a priority area you’d focus on or change?

Elizabeth: Trauma healing for conflicted-affected communities and providing livelihood activities so they can generate income – this will engage them and help recover their lost resources. Another priority area is advocacy on women and girls’ rights (specifically gender-based violence).

Grace: Training women, building capacity for women’s rights organisations, and advocating to donors and partners to support women’s rights organisations.

Joseph: I would implement women and youth empowerment activities. If women and youth have improved knowledge and the skills necessary to earn a livelihood, advocate for their inclusion, and participate in decision-making, and if women and youth have access to critical health information and meaningful opportunities for civic and economic empowerment, then South Sudanese women and young people will be more productive, responsible and resilient citizens.

How can international NGOs and donors be better partners to women’s rights organisations in South Sudan?

Elizabeth: By providing trainings to all women’s rights organisations (on capacity needs identified by the organisations themselves, such as project proposal writing, management and implementation, as well as resource mobilisation), and by encouraging visits to other countries so women can learn from experienced partners.

Grace: Partners need to ensure that the management and leadership of grants include the proper allocation of women. There should also be women representatives from all regions of South Sudan. A good partner is one that understands the gaps and helps the partner grow.

Joseph: A good partner should provide capacity development for staff. They should also consider putting safeguarding principles in place to prevent gender-based violence and sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment, and they should have a code of conduct.

Find out more about Saferworld and our partners’ work in South Sudan and about our work on gender, peace and security.

Read more from our blog series on equitable partnerships

*A payam is an administrative unit. The hierarchy of units in descending order is: national, state, county, payam and boma.

Illustration: Tinuke Fagborun

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