Over the past few months, the Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) Bor team in South Sudan has been working with a group of adolescent girls in Bor Town. The NP Bor team efforts focus on supporting them in addressing protection challenges they face in their community.
A couple of protection issues the girls face relate to gathering water from the borehole in the community. At times, the girls need to gather water from the borehole at night and they are at risk of being abused by men drinking in the area. Secondly, a very large community is sharing just one borehole, giving rise to conflicts. For instance, one girl was slapped when she politely told another woman not to jump the queue. The girls recently requested an opportunity to present their protection concerns in the bi-monthly chiefs meeting. The bi-monthly chiefs' meeting is an NP-sponsored forum that hosts many of the leaders in Bor Town. For the past year, the NP team has been convening local government officials, humanitarian partners, and the block leaders/chiefs of Bor Town for bi-monthly meetings to create a regular forum for dialogue.
By hosting these meetings, NP supports the strengthening of local feedback loops between communities, their block leaders, and service providers. It is expected that this activity will reduce conflict, since it will create clear channels of communication for the community to express their needs and grievances.
Because of the meetings, community members now speak directly to their chiefs, chiefs are able to get answers directly from service providers, and the chiefs provide that information back to their blocks. However, when the girls arrived at this recent meeting their presence and attempted participation elicited a strong reaction from the chiefs, who claimed that it was not appropriate for the girls to attend.
While the NP team attempted to defend the girls during the meeting, the chiefs were insistent in their views. Following the meeting, the team worked diligently to consult with the chiefs in order to find a positive alternative for the girls. Some chiefs suggested that the girls have their own meeting directly with the humanitarians. However, others called for even more girls in Bor to be given a seat at the table and to receive training in unarmed civilian protection.
Such honest engagement by the Bor Team with the chiefs demonstrates that NP takes cultural concerns and suggested alternatives seriously. The process has been a meaningful way for NP to continue building our relationship with the chiefs, while also continuing to uphold the importance of empowering the girls. Moreover, such engagement has the potential to serve as a critical foundation in the girls gaining further acceptance as an important voice in the community.
By Nonviolent Peaceforce Office in South Sudan