Preventing Gender-based Violence in South Sudan

by IsraAID
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Preventing Gender-based Violence in South Sudan
Preventing Gender-based Violence in South Sudan
Preventing Gender-based Violence in South Sudan
Preventing Gender-based Violence in South Sudan
Preventing Gender-based Violence in South Sudan
Preventing Gender-based Violence in South Sudan
Preventing Gender-based Violence in South Sudan
Preventing Gender-based Violence in South Sudan
Preventing Gender-based Violence in South Sudan
Preventing Gender-based Violence in South Sudan
Preventing Gender-based Violence in South Sudan
Preventing Gender-based Violence in South Sudan
Preventing Gender-based Violence in South Sudan
Preventing Gender-based Violence in South Sudan
Preventing Gender-based Violence in South Sudan

South Sudan became the world’s newest country in 2011, but after just two years, fell into civil war. IsraAID has been active in vulnerable communities since the new state was founded, modifying and expanding activities to fit the ever-changing needs of thousands of displaced families. Our approach is an integrated one as for displaced communities it’s impossible to separate nutrition challenges, access to healthcare, and mental health support.

Sustained conflict and natural disasters, such as droughts, famine, seasonal floods, and cholera and malaria outbreaks, have resulted in an estimated 1.6 million internally displaced persons (IDPs). Around 172,000 people live in and around six current and former Protection of Civilians (POCs) camps, settling in the proximity of the POCs, churches, schools, abandoned factories, and other so-called collective sites, or moving into spontaneous settlements and villages further from the fighting.

Since the establishment of the Juba IDP camp in 2014, over 32,000 people have settled in the area seeking protection, however reports of sexual and gender-based violence have increased, as well as high risk levels of physical and psychological trauma. Due to the semi-temporary nature of the settlement and multiple relocations to seek better living conditions or flee violence, women, girls and people with disabilities remain exposed to sexual-based violence, both inside displacement sites and outside when collecting fuel or food. Combining this, and long-standing housing concerns, the most vulnerable groups continue to face a myriad of protection concerns.  

With stretched funding and a growing population, thousands of families living in Juba need support. IsraAID’s integrated protection, sexual reproductive health, and soft WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) will target over 30% of the population living in Juba IDP camps 1 and 3. Through existing partnerships with like-minded organizations mandate, we are focusing on comprehensive humanitarian relief with a strong protection component that will tackle the root of relevant problems while enhancing community resilience as a whole. 

Affected by reduced income and often poor sanitation in over-crowded IDP camps, access to health and medical services is essential. In both Juba IDP 1 and 3, IsraAID directly oversees a number of health-related services, referring patients to community or humanitarian partners where necessary. Through our strong partnership with the government through the Ministry of Gender and Social Welfare and the Ministry of Health, we are able to provide capacity-building workshops and coordination for staff and departments at all levels. This is most visible through the Community Outreach Network composed of reproductive health officers, community case workers, community mobilizers, and community engagement facilitators that promote the empowerment of all community members. A Community Outreach Network reinforces protection monitoring, referral mechanisms, sexual reproductive health and hygiene, and awareness raising of local IDP population rights and needs.

Protection mainstreaming within IsraAID’s global and South Sudanese activities are essential for capacity building of communities and our staff. From safe water and nutrition to shelter and protection, the needs of IDPs are growing. The resources have dwindled, but lives should not. 



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Over the last 10 years, IsraAID has been active in South Sudan providing urgent humanitarian support to survivors of gender-based violence through our educational and emotional support centers. These centers are critical, life-saving resources for women and girls, who have experienced displacement due to an ongoing military conflict in which rape is consistently used as a weapon of war. Immense instability is one factor that contributes to extremely high rates of gender-based violence—including rape, assault, forced marriage, and other forms of abuse—as the economy remains in shambles, reporting mechanisms are weak, educational resources are extremely limited, and cultural norms perpetuate these cyclical challenges.

According to United Nations actors, 65% of women and girls in South Sudan will be or are survivors of gender-based violence. COVID-19 has further exacerbated conditions on the ground: since the pandemic began, 1,500 South Sudanese teenage girls have been married or impregnated and there has been a 300% increase in cases of gender-based violence reported to IsraAID. Conflict in South Sudan has persisted since July 2013, when heavy fighting killed hundreds of civilians and displaced many more. Ongoing insecurity and lack of basic services continue to prevent millions from returning home: 1.6 million people are internally displaced and 2.2 million are refugees in the region. 80% of the population lives on less than $1 a day, and 8.3 million people in South Sudan are in need of humanitarian aid.

For the last decade, IsraAID has operated twelve women’s centers across the country, where we can provide some of the best trauma support methodologies, key educational resources, and innovative water management solutions developed in Israel. 

These spaces enable IsraAID to continue providing critical support including:

  • Group sessions such as literacy classes, bedsheet crocheting, bead making, singing, dancing, and making handkerchiefs, to foster a sense of kinship and thus a support network among women
  • Health education workshops to teach reproductive health and menstrual hygiene management
  • Economic empowerment through financial literacy training and support to run small businesses
  • 1:1 counselling for individuals to process their experiences and build self-esteem
  • Emergency support, referrals to specialist services, and case management for those in need
  • Training local leaders to support women and girls affected by gender-based violence

Our Women & Girl Friendly Spaces have helped thousands of gender-based violence (GBV) survivors with complex physical and emotional needs to process trauma, move toward recovery, and strengthen their resilience. We’ve referred hundreds to government services, medical care, and legal support, helping them overcome cultural stigmas and fear to do so. Our support is holistic and practical as well as emotion-centered; for example, our Livelihood programs tackle survivors’ financial dependence on spouses or relatives who abuse them.

Another major achievement has been fostering community-wide cultures of prevention. Attitudes don’t change overnight; this has been achieved through persistent, sustained endeavors for a decade. In 10 years, we’ve trained and mentored hundreds of Community Focal Points and helped them sustain Community Emergency Councils to deeply embed sustainable mechanisms for survivor support and reporting. Leaders include chiefs, religious leaders, elders, people with disabilities, and teachers; many are men. We’ve also discussed GBV with thousands of community members, including men and boys. As such, we’ve facilitated communal responsibility and empowered communities to implement, develop and own their own GBV prevention and response programs. Indeed, we are always keen to elevate local community-led organizations. We’ve supported 7 South Sudanese NGOs to access high-profile partnerships and funding opportunities, e.g. with UNICEF. We were also honored to be asked to co-chair the GBV Working Group in Juba, and to establish the Working Group in Maridi.

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As part of our program combatting sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in South Sudan, IsraAID is partnering with Fiverr to help 60 South Sudanese women access sustainable, dignified opportunities to secure financial independence for themselves and their families. The program provides support to these women, who have small businesses, to stabilize, become more sustainable or expand, with business management training and connections to bigger markets.

The program participants are 60 women aged 19-57, with 20 women from each of the three communities of Juba Way Station, Jondoro, and Gurei. Many are survivors of SGBV; single mothers; and/or have disabilities. IsraAID’s social workers undertook a needs assessment, dividing the participants into three business types: tailoring, retail, and produce sellers.

So far, the main successes and achievements that participants have experienced from their existing businesses, are gaining new skills, particularly those with sewing and tailoring businesses; being able to afford basic supplies for their families, such as food, water, and medication; and the capacity to pay their children’s school fees and purchase school uniforms. Some mentioned the ability to treat themselves and their families, and to save money.

After all three rounds of training is complete, we will hold a "market" where the participants can present their businesses to the community, local NGOs, and IsraAID's partners in South Sudan.

Our team in South Sudan has identified various training needs to support this cohort of women to improve their income generation, via these small businesses. This includes general business skills management, basic financial literacy, and bookkeeping. The next step is to plan and execute the training and supervision component of the program.

Thanks to your support, we can provide the skills for South Sudanes women to feel more empowered and expand their businesses.

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South Sudan remains in crisis. Conflict has continued on and off since July 2013, when heavy fighting claimed the lives of hundreds of civilians and displaced tens of thousands. Today, conditions in South Sudan are dire: 80% of the country’s population lives on less than a dollar a day and 8.3 million people are in need of humanitarian aid. Over the last year, there have been more than 12,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in South Sudan, with major adverse implications on this already extremely vulnerable context amid the pandemic.

Communities are experiencing a triple crisis: the COVID-19 pandemic, intensified conflict and sub-national violence, and the second consecutive year of major flooding. Some 1.6 million people remained internally displaced and another 2.2 million as refugees in the region. The situation is exacerbated by an extremely unstable economy; meaningful work opportunities are difficult to find. IsraAID has worked in South Sudan since 2011 providing life-saving programming focusing on preventing Gender-Based Violence (GBV) - a human rights violation that while rampant, lacks the proper infrastructure for survivors to get the support they need and deserve.

IsraAID, in partnership with the Embassy of Israel in South Sudan, provided urgently needed support to 200 vulnerable families in need of hygiene kits to help keep them safe. In light of the extreme barriers to employment, many families are unable to purchase adequate hygiene items to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in their communities, leaving them even more vulnerable to contracting the virus. This is further exacerbated by a lack of clear and accurate information about the virus, and how it is transmitted.

Through this partnership, IsraAID and the Embassy of Israel in South Sudan distributed hygiene kits to 200 households in Juba, reaching some 1,190 people through the program. Hygiene kits included urgently needed items such as buckets with taps for handwashing, soap, hand sanitizer, and reusable masks. IsraAID prioritized the most vulnerable community members in this distribution including pregnant women, lactating mothers, women or child-headed households, the elderly, and people with disabilities.

Three communities in Urban Juba benefitted from this distribution: Juba Way Station, Gurei, and Jondoru. IsraAID has been working with these communities since 2016 and maintains close relationships with many leaders and individuals therein. These areas are populated by internally displaced people, who were forced to flee their homes over the past years due to war, violence, and civil strife. Women and girls from this community are at particularly high risk for sexual and gender-based violence. This is exacerbated by the extremely adverse implications of the pandemic because there is insufficient water infrastructure to wash hands, people live in tight quarters making it difficult to socially distance, and this community has extremely limited employment opportunities. Most of the targeted community live on one meal per day and are highly dependent on food distribution activities.

The need is overwhelming – thank you very much for your support.

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With Sexual & Gender-Based Violence on the rise in South Sudan, International Women’s Day celebrations are more important than ever, yet they’ve fallen casualty to COVID-19 restrictions.

February saw a large spike in the number of COVID-19 cases reported in South Sudan. Public services have been closed for months, and it doesn’t look like we’ll see the lockdown lifted anytime soon. Without an end in sight, we’re anxious about the “shadow pandemic” – the secondary consequences of COVID-19 – and have seen an increase in incidents of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV).

As COVID-19 Cases Rise, So Does Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

The pandemic has cost many people their job and the value of the South Sudanese Pound has plummeted, leading to increased tensions at home. Affording just one meal a day is not a simple task for many families. With so much control taken from people’s hands, stress levels are high. Since the pandemic began, we have been able to continue to meet with vulnerable people already known to us and manage and refer SGBV cases, but expanding our reach has been on hold for many months now. There are more survivors of SGBV that need our support.

With limited access to the community, we’re fearful we aren’t doing enough. Our biggest concern is the sharp increase in cases of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). It is reported that up to 90% of recent cases of violence are related to COVID-19. Pre-pandemic, this was already our main focus, creating safe and empowering spaces for women and girls and providing case management for survivors of SGBV, but the situation has only worsened over the past year. In 2020, 50% of women in South Sudan suffered from intimate partner violence.

Reduced Access to Communities

The virus entered the country in April, and, over the past year, the government has escalated restrictions as cases continue to rise. Travel bans, school closures and curfews created barriers to our activities that transformed our regular in-person activities in Women and Girl Friendly Spaces to door-to-door visits, severely reducing the number of people we can reach in a day. But with the recent uptick in cases, our staff have become less welcome during home visits. Many fear that people from outside of the community could bring COVID-19 to their homes and families, and at as much as $75 per test – more than two months of income – accurately tracking the virus is near impossible.

Our Community Emergency Council members and Community Focal Points act as custodians linking the organization to the community. The latter conduct home visits with support from social workers, making it possible to meet with vulnerable people and still keep within COVID-19 guidelines. They provide crucial information and can refer vulnerable people for relevant services. As trust declines, the community focal points have become our saving grace. These are trained volunteers who serve as the link between IsraAID and their communities, without which, access would be near impossible.

Since July 2020, we have been providing direct psychosocial support to 426 survivors of GBV in Urban Juba, Kajo Keji, Meridi and Lainya. Those supported include survivors of rape, sexual assault, psychological abuse, physical abuse, child forced marriage, and denial of resources or services. These communities are dealing with both their displacement and the pandemic, so it’s crucial to have their trust. As COVID-19 cases increase in South Sudan, trust towards others decreases.

Why International Women’s Day Is So Important in South Sudan

International Women’s Day (IWD) is a day to celebrate and recognize the contribution of women at all levels — family, community, and even institutions. It is a day to educate the community to consider women’s rights in all activities. The women in the communities we work with are our driving force. They plan how IsraAID celebrates IWD, based on their priorities. In the past, this has included singing about women’s rights, short plays, and sports games. Our role as IsraAID is to guide the process, but this year there has been no process to guide due to restrictions imposed by the government on social gatherings.

This week we should be celebrating one of our biggest annual events, but after a year of one-to-one meetings instead of community events, we’re yet again missing an opportunity to reach a considerable number of people with key awareness-raising messages. At our IWD events, we find all different community members – men and women, religious leaders and community chiefs, and girls of all ages. It is an opportunity to meet, discuss, and ensure thousands of new people hear the resilient women of South Sudan.

Even with continued lockdowns, office closures, positive COVID tests in our team, and fear within the communities, we are doing all we can to provide survivors of sexual and gender-based violence with the support they need. IsraAID has been working in South Sudan for 10 years, and with that experience behind us, we know we can get through this pandemic, no matter how long it takes. We hope we will be able to mark the next International Women’s Day together.

 

IsraAID South Sudan is the core leader of the GBV working group at the state level, and has been actively involved in the establishment of GBV referral pathways in Juba, Kajo-Keji, Lainya and Maridi. IsraAID is an active member of the Humanitarian Response Plan 2021 and is represented in the Protection Cluster, MHPSS Technical Working Group, and Child Protection Sub-cluster.

*Photos are from IsraAID South Sudan’s 2019 celebrations for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence

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IsraAID

Location: Tel Aviv, Merkaz - Israel
Website:
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Twitter: @IsraAID
Project Leader:
Molly Bernstein
Tel Aviv, Merkaz Israel
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