South Sudan is best known for its young age and the adversities of the civil war that lasted for over six years. The conflict in this African country resulted in thousands of deaths and millions of displaced people (“UN Troops to Help South Sudan Refugees Return Home”). The nation is likely to witness the establishment of peace in the nearest future as the conflicting parties agreed on major aspects at the end of 2018 (“South Sudan’s Former Detainees Agree with President Kiir”).
However, the problems of refugees are still multiple and can hardly be resolved any time soon. Although many people headed to their homes filled with hope, their hardships are far from being over. One of the most vulnerable groups is females who have felt empowered in refugee camps but will have to make their way home and reintegrate into a patriarchal society once again. International organizations and non-profit organizations (NGOs) have to assist those women to meet their needs and gain more power in their homeland.
South Sudan earned its independence in 2011, but the country almost immediately plunged into the war that took the life of thousands and led to the displacement of millions (see Appendix A). Zambakari notes that some of the primary reasons for the conflict within the new nation were related to tribal tensions and the inability to handle diversity (104). In 2013, President Kiir accused then-vice-President Riek Machar of a coup d’état, which resulted in the fierce military conflict between the supporters of the two political elites. The president asked Uganda for assistance, and Ugandan troops fought against his opponents.
The UN troops were also involved as they aimed at ensuring peace when the parties tried to establish a cease-fire regimen. Almost 400,000 people died in that war, and vast territories became devastated (“UN Troops to Help South Sudan Refugees Return Home”). The conflict between political elites was also characterized by the tensions that existed between different ethnic groups. Therefore, people of certain ethnicities were victims of violence, and soldiers from both camps often carried out numerous raids to destroy villages and kill people.
The Life in Refugee Camps
The civil war forced millions of people to leave their native land and seek asylum in neighboring countries. South Sudanese refugees fled from the atrocities of the war that was associated with devastation, violence, loss, hopelessness, and death (Hruby). Their journey to refugee camps was also dangerous and full of traumatic experiences such as witnessing or becoming a victim of violence, malnutrition, inability to provide for children, and family separation.
However, quite similar experiences haunted refugees in refugee camps or even became a reality. It is noteworthy that over 60% of refugees are children aged between 0 and 17 years old (see Appendix B) (“South Sudan – Refugees Statistics” 1). Importantly, women are the majority within the adult population (people of 18-59 years old), comprising 21% of the refugees (see Appendix C). These statistics can be explained by the fact that most males from South Sudan took part in the conflict, were killed, or simply tried to leave their families before or after they reached refugee camps.
In his famous book, Mawi Asgedom claims that his family also had to leave their homeland and could reunite months later (2). Adult males are not numerous among refugees, and they often fail to fully provide for their families. Therefore, in a sense, a fifth of the refugee population has to take care of two-thirds of these people.
As far as the economic input of adult men is concerned, thousands of refugees work hard and benefit from crafts, agriculture, or business opportunities in refugee camps provided by the host countries. Nevertheless, in many cases, men do not provide for their families or flee from the camps. Single mothers, as well as females who take care of their relatives or adopted children, have to tackle daily issues on their own (Hruby).
They work to earn food and clothes for their close ones, and they also build their homes to keep their children safe. They tend to take care of their own children and those who do not have or lost their relatives. Despite their efforts, children are not properly nourished and have developed health issues such as anemia (Andresen et al. 700). However, women in refugee camps managed to become resilient and capable of dealing with multiple issues.
One of the most burning issues is associated with the separation of families as children often flee from the war while their parents try to stop soldiers or have to move to other places. The cases when parents had to leave their villages to go to a hospital that was often miles away and return to find their homes destroyed by soldiers are quite common (Trenchard). Cellphone networks in South Sudan went offline due to unpaid license fees or damages, which deprived many people of the only means of communication. Children have to leave in the camps hoping that they will be found. In many cases, mothers are the ones to find their children as fathers are often killed or choose to abandon their families.
Dealing with Trauma
One of the stories is illustrative in terms of the way some male refugees treat their families. A woman asked her husband for money to buy soap, but he said he would not give any, but the same night he went home and asked for intimacy, and after being rejected, raped his wife (Akumu). Such stories are abundant, so instead of being supportive in financial and emotional terms, men are often abusive. It has been estimated that approximately 45% of female refugees who fled South Sudan were the victims of violence, while a third of the population of the country witnessed violence (Nakash et al. 1280).
As mentioned above, traumatic experiences do not stop when these people cross the border of their country, hence, they have to endure considerable physical and emotional load. Many programs exist to assist females in coping with the consequences of traumatic events, and their participants acknowledge the benefits of such interventions (Akumu). However, these projects are unable to cover all those in need, so many people have to handle their problems on their own.
Specific Steps to Undertake
As has been mentioned above, the nation is facing a new and promising stage of its development. The peace will be facilitated by the presence of the UN military forces (“UN Troops to Help South Sudan Refugees Return Home”). However, irrespective of the threats of new conflicts, many people have started returning home. The number of South Sudanese refugees decreased by almost 8% within two months (see Appendix A) (“Refugees and Asylum-Seekers from South Sudan – Total”).
The declining number of refugees suggests that people stop fleeing their country and start leaving camps. International organizations are ready to provide aid that will help these people to reach their areas safely. Moreover, financial support will be provided to the country to rebuild the most critical infrastructure and enable people to find employment.
Nevertheless, the conventional forms of help are unlikely to be enough for the women of South Sudan, especially those who had to become the breadwinners in refugee camps. The society of South Sudan has traditionally been patriarchal, so females have been submissive and passive. The empowered women who learned to provide for their families may have to go back to their villages where they will be suppressed. This will be another traumatic experience for them and quite a negative trend for the country that needs many people (both men and women) who are capable of changing things.
Communication and Reunion
One of the first steps to undertake is to make sure that people have a means of communication to locate their lost relatives. Therefore, along the routes refugees will use to return, it is necessary to create communication hubs. At these points, people will be able to access databases containing the information people will share (for example, their or their relatives’ cell phone numbers) in order to find those who were lost. Of course, at these spots, people will also note their data that will be instantly stored in the databases. Finally, these communication hubs will be equipped with a certain number of mobile devices that can be provided to those who have located their relatives.
Although the process of leaving refugee camps has already unwound, many people are still waiting in the camps. This time should not be wasted, and women should develop networks and links that could be transferred to South Sudan. People from different parts of the country had to live in camps, but there are always dozens of people who fled from neighboring territories (“South Sudan – Refugees Statistics”). These women could form communities that would have certain agendas that could help people reintegrate into society successfully.
In order to make sure that the new communities will succeed in the areas people abandoned, it is essential to develop the communication channels between camps and villages. The establishment of these channels will not require substantial funding since it can be enough to establish the connection between one person in the village and some people in the camp. One cell phone for a village can make a difference and ensure its further development. The villagers should be prepared to welcome their old and new neighbors. They should also be ready to accept some novelties that are likely to be brought by the returning people. Women should be given the necessary amount of power to be able to provide for their families in the way they tried when they lived in refugee camps.
International organizations and NGOs have to contribute to the development of the platform for the empowerment of females as well as communities. The culture of tolerance and acceptance should be fostered in the society of South Sudan that had to endure six years of a civil war due to people’s inability to collaborate (Zambakari 104). Local authorities should be addressed and requested to provide land to groups of people who would be eager to establish a new community or start their business. Projects launched and managed by females should receive additional funding, which will encourage female entrepreneurs to act and contribute to the development of the country.
It is necessary to continue helping females to cope with their issues related to their traumatic experiences. The women who participated in such projects state that they are very helpful (Akumu). Those who have taken part in such interventions can try to develop similar programs for their neighbors when they are back in South Sudan. The benefits of these programs and interventions can hardly be overestimated.
It has been acknowledged that women who had traumatic experiences tend to develop depression, phycological disorders, and even substance abuse (Nakash et al. 1281). These problems can be prevented with the help of counseling and other trauma treatment interventions. Some resources may be needed to implement such projects, but these materials (booklets and books mainly) can be provided in the camps. Women can take these materials and bring them home to help other females in their community.
Possible Objections and Challenges
Many people, including South Sudan leaders, local authorities, people living in the country, and even refugees, may claim that female empowerment is not a priority for the country where people are starving, the economy is destroyed, and territories are devastated. The nation will receive money from international organizations, NGOs, and governments of other countries, as well as individual donors. However, these funds will be allocated to rebuild infrastructure, stimulate the development of the business sphere, health care, and education (“UN Troops to Help South Sudan Refugees Return Home”). Therefore, the projects that require any funding and unrelated to such basic areas as mentioned above can be launched when the nation is ready for them.
Limited Funds and Remarkable Return on Investment
The lack of funds cannot be a sufficient objection to put the projects concerning female empowerment aside. First, it is important to note that the resources necessary for the successful implementation of the projects are not massive.
Regarding trauma treatment interventions, these programs will not require significant funds as women themselves will manage to counsel. The materials they might need are already available in the refugee camps, and the production of new materials will need only modest investment. The positive results of such efforts can help the nation overcome the existing issues faster as those who left the country and those who stayed need psychological support. People should address their psychological problems in order to prevent the development of more serious health conditions.
As far as communication technologies provision is concerned, the project will require some investment. Cellphone networks will be repaired, and new facilities may be necessary, but the development of mobile technologies is essential for the future of the country. By equipping some communication hubs with cell phones and other mobile devices, it is possible to speed up the process of people’s reintegration and settlement. Displaced people will try to reunite and will not be able to fully integrate into society without knowing about their relatives’ whereabouts. In simple terms, the investment in people reunion will lead to their increased productivity and ability to contribute to the development of their country’s economy.
The empowerment of women in the communities will be associated with the most extensive funding as compared to the types of investment mentioned above. However, this financial support will have a considerable positive effect on the development of South Sudan.
Empowered women will increase the entrepreneurial potential of the communities and the entire society. While men were involved in combat or simply abandoned their families, females took up all the responsibilities related to supporting their families (Hruby). They built their houses, tilled land, did business, and took care of their families. They became capable of living in quite extreme conditions. This ability cannot be suppressed and wasted due to the lack of funds. Numerous donors will assist in many ways, so it will be beneficial if one of the most vulnerable but resilient populations receives this aid as well.
It is necessary to state that cultural norms can also hinder the empowerment of South Sudanese women. As has been mentioned above, South Sudan is a highly patriarchal country where women started gaining more power after the beginning of the civil war. Although women (both refugees and those who remained in their communities) did a lot to support men in their struggle as well as provide for their families, females still have little power to make decisions (Hruby). Many people in the country are likely to try to retain complete male power. Men will receive employment and education while women will be confined to their households.
Cultural Challenges and Remarkable Return on Investment
Therefore, it is essential to start working on female empowerment as soon as the first refugees appear in their home country. If the projects aimed at giving women more opportunities are postponed, the old practices will be prevalent. International organizations and NGOs should make sure that various programs supporting businesses run by females are introduced. Educational and healthcare projects should also be funded so that women of South Sudan could have access to education, health care, and employment. The investment in these areas is critical for the entire country rather than females alone. Such sectors as healthcare and education are the backbone for the development of any nation, so South Sudanese people will be building their own future.
To sum up, it is important to note that South Sudan is the youngest nation that failed to use the chance and focus on development. Instead, the country was torn into different camps, thousands were killed, and millions were displaced. The agreement between the conflicting parties is a promising act that encourages refugees to go back to their native lands. The future of women in the country is quite obscure due to the financial constraints and cultural peculiarities of the area. Women who became empowered during the years of the civil war may now return to their inferior roles in South Sudanese society.
At the same time, the resurrection of the highly patriarchal society can have an adverse impact on the development of the country that needs innovations, ideas, and resilience of their women. International organizations and NGOs can help females to maintain their power and help them achieve certain goals related to social and political spheres. The inability to accept diversity was one of the reasons for the outbreak of the devastating war. However, diversity is the chance South Sudan should grab in order to evolve.
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Asgedom, Mawi. Of Beetles and Angels: A Boy’s Remarkable Journey from a Refugee Camp to Harvard. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2002.
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