girls' education in South Sudan
South Sudan has struggled to establish an effective and inclusive education system. The statistics show that 1.8 million children are out of school and 8 percent of schools are damaged, destroyed, occupied or closed.

This trend heavily impacts girls. The Gender Parity Index expresses the ratio of girls to boys in education, and has tracked a trend of fewer girls attending school as they get older. In South Sudan, the female enrollment is 0.92 in pre-primary, 0.68 in primary education and 0.46 in secondary education.

However, since South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011, the government has worked diligently to improve education, especially girls’ education, throughout the country. The government prioritized improving education in its development plan. Four major initiatives and governmental policies demonstrate how South Sudan is working to solve the problem of the gender gap in education.

Initiatives to Improve Girls’ Education in South Sudan

  1. The 2008 Child Act and Transitional Constitution was the first step in South Sudan’s commitment to girls’ education. This act provided for the right to free and compulsory primary education. More importantly, the Child Act allows pregnant women and young mothers to continue their education and not be expelled. This clause is important because many pregnant women and young mothers are subject to discrimination and punishment due to their maternal responsibilities.
  2. The Alternative Education System provides an education for those who do not have access to formal education, including pregnant girls and women. Approximately 70,000 girls and women utilized this program in 2011. One alternative education program developed specifically for girls is called Community Girls’ Schools, which compresses material from primary years one through four into three years. This program is designed to empower young girls from poor backgrounds.
  3. Girls’ Education South Sudan (GESS) works to increase the number of educated girls in South Sudan by giving more girls access to quality education. To improve the quality of education, teachers and education managers will be trained to enhance their skills in and out of the classroom. GESS benefits approximately 200,000 girls eligible for primary and secondary education. This program collaborates with the Ministry of General Education and Instruction to create strategies to improve gender equality in the country’s education system.
  4. Global Partnership for Education (GPE) contributes funding to help remove barriers to girls’ education in South Sudan. It cooperates with other organizations to expand its efforts and works to create an education system based on equality. GPE collaborated with USAID to grant South Sudan $66 million for 2013-2016. One part of this partnership’s goals is to support measures to eliminate gender-based violence. This fund built 25 “girl-friendly” schools to benefit 3,000 girls. Gender sensitivity programs within the schools include separate washroom facilities for girls and teacher training on gender-based violence.

These four programs and policies are not exhaustive of the measures to improve girls’ education in South Sudan. However, it is crucial to note the multitude of the work and the solutions that combine to improve education. With these programs in place, the country will continue to see decreased dropout rates and increased enrollment of girls in the educational system. The relatively new country of South Sudan has come a long way in the fight for gender equality in education. With the continued efforts of these organizations and the global movement for gender equality, its standing in the Gender Parity Index will improve.

– Jenna Walmer
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Empowerment in South SudanOver the past several decades, South Sudan has experienced severe political division, violence and unbearable poverty. Millions of people have been forced to flee their homes to neighboring countries for asylum. The violence has been targeted at men, women, children, the disabled and the elderly. However, women and young girls are considered a particularly vulnerable population for violence, specifically physical and sexual violence. This sometimes includes forced marriages. In spite of the vulnerability and risk, women’s empowerment in South Sudan is growing. Here are some things to know about the empowerment of women in South Sudan.

Current Situation

According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), approximately 475,000 women and girls are at risk for physical and sexual violence. Most recent estimates indicate that more than half of young women between the ages of 15-24 have experienced some form of gender-based violence. The violence women are experiencing in South Sudan is of serious concern and importance because it deeply impacts women’s physical, mental, sexual and reproductive health, and may also place them at an increased risk for contracting diseases, such as the incurable HIV.

Forced marriages are a frequent practice in South Sudan. Almost 50 percent of South Sudanese girls between the ages of 15 and 19 are married, and some are as young as 12. Forced marriages have severe psychological implications for girls and women, but experts also argue that it contributes to the high levels of poverty, gender gaps in education and the country having one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world.

The perpetual gender-based violence and forced marriage create serious physical and mental health concerns, limits their potential for progress and improvement and strips them of their basic human rights.

What is being done?

The United Nations Development Programme currently works to empower women in South Sudan through education and awareness. Awareness is one of the fundamental aspects of their work in South Sudan, as fear and stigma frequently prevent women from seeking the help they need. The program also provides additional support to women who have already experienced severe violence through counseling services and medical assistance.

The UNDP is also working with the government to encourage women’s empowerment in South Sudan. The government is working to address gender-based violence through mental health support programs and through national planning. South Sudan is in the process of developing a new permanent constitution and building new institutions that reflect the country’s movement towards gender equality and the empowerment of women.

What can be done?

Currently, South Sudan lacks severe governmental infrastructure, and overall the country has some of the worst human development indicators across the globe.  Many programs related to women’s empowerment in South Sudan are underfunded as gender-based violence is not considered to be a priority for government spending, due to the country’s high rate of poverty.

However, poverty and gender-based violence go hand-in-hand. If fewer women are subjected to violence and forced marriages, more women would then have the ability to work and find jobs; in turn, lifting individuals, and possibly families, out of poverty. Women’s empowerment in South Sudan needs additional awareness, coupled with increased funding in order to provide women with the best future possible.

– Sarah Jane Fraser

Photo: Flickr