A Community's First Celebration of International Women's Day
"Your presence coming to celebrate this event with us means that women are valued."
''We are happy that the celebration this year is in our payam [administrative area]," shared Rebecca Moses Chuol, from Adong in Baliet County, South Sudan. "I did not know that there was a day for women."
Rebecca and her neighbors marked International Women's Day on March 8—the first time the day was celebrated in Adong. She joined dozens of women in marching, singing, and dancing to recognize the strength of women and to call for peace in their community.
In response to the interrelated conflict, flooding, and displacement in the area, Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) and Solidarités International (SI) have started working to support communities in the county in preventing violence, building peace, and promoting gender equality, protection, and social cohesion.
“Your presence coming to celebrate this event with us means that women are valued, as women we will do more to ensure our roles in community peacebuilding are recognized because community peace means women's peace," reflected one of Rebecca's fellow women leaders.
Embracing Opportunities for Equality
At the inaugural event, the local Minister of Gender and Social Welfare emphasized the need for women like Rebecca to explore and embrace opportunities for equality.
"The partners you see here in Baliet today have broken for us the barrier of access to information," she said with hope. "Now as women in the grassroots we know we too can go to school, we too can become leaders: I urge you women to come up, come up and demonstrate the knowledge and power you have as women for a better South Sudan."
To support this call, together, NP and SI have teamed up to strengthen independent, community-based initiatives like women's groups throughout the county.
"You women know your rights, you have the right to access opportunities for your development, let us explore opportunities such as leadership and decision-making positions in our communities and beyond so that Gender equality is possible."Minister of Gender and Social Welfare
Other local officials, like the Baliet County Commissioner, recognized that men can be strong partners for gender equality. He remarked that men need to take responsibility and that the "aim of this celebration is to acknowledge and promote equality, let us all put in our mind that we men have the same rights as women. Women are left behind, especially in decision making and their rights are being denied, such as being denied of going to school, forced to marry someone without mutual understanding and many more other violations of women’s rights."
In preparation for the special celebration, NP worked with groups of women and wrote songs advocating for equality, access and inclusion of women at the grassroots level which they proudly presented at the opening of the event. A drama team put on a small skit to depict positive masculinity and demonstrate the need for men to be more involved in helping their partners with house chores.
"There are no longer any excuses for excluding women, and we must all hold ourselves to the same standards."Martha Aru Wor, woman leader from Adong Payam
A Whole Community Working to End Violence
A number of men in leadership roles attended the celebration and advocated for the rights of women. The burden to fight for gender equality does not rest on women alone.
"Some community cultural practices are indirectly causing more harm against women. But now the women are claiming for their rights and calling men to stop violating their rights because they are the perpetrators of violence. Women are so special and they sacrifice a lot, so today is a great day to acknowledge them."County Commissioner, Baliet County
As the commissioner elaborated on violence against women, he called for all women and girls to report any person that violates their rights and asked local organizations to take cases of Gender Based Violence (GBV) seriously.
"No one is secure unless women are safe."Sunday James Deng, woman leader from Adong Payam
The commissioner ended his speech with an invitation for the women in attendance to gather on stage. As the women gathered, they broke into celebratory cheers and traditional dance with pride in every step!
Rebecca's parting message? "We hope organizations will keep on supporting women in Adong."
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The event was facilitated and organized by NP, Danish Refugee Council (DRC), World Vision International, War-Child, Nile Hope, Humanitarian and Development Consortium, and Development Alternatives Incorporated, in addition to assistance from leaders of the community that mobilized women participants. Various local authorities within Baliet also supported the event, including Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (RRC) from Baliet Headquarters, Payam Administrators for Adong, Baliet Commissioner, Minister of Youth sport and culture, Minister of Environment, Minister of Gender and Social Welfare, the Women Civic Action Group and the Early Warning Early Response (EWER) Committee in Baliet.
This activity is a part of our project with Solidarités International (SI) to support community resilience and nonviolent conflict management in conflict and flood-affected areas of Upper Nile and Jonglei States, South Sudan, which is funded by the European Union and supporters like you.