Multiple shocks including flooding, high levels of food insecurity, conflict, and disease outbreaks continue to drive people’s humanitarian needs in South Sudan. Misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic and the COVID-19 vaccine was also rife in communities, leading to low uptake of the vaccines when the Government of South Sudan rolled out the public vaccination campaign.
In response to these needs, UN Women with funding partnership from the Government of Japan rolled out a project to create an enabling environment for women IDPs and host communities to uptake gender-responsive health services that prevent further spread of COVID-19 and strengthen their socio-economic stabilization and protection.
“Bentiu is a conflict zone and many women and girls in the IDP, and host community were facing problems in COVID-19. Women were facing gender-based violence (GBV) where they would collect firewood and fetch water. They didn’t have the information on where they could get help. Additionally, there were a lot of rumors about the COVID-19 vaccination and women were not going to get the vaccination.” said Angela Mwangangi, project manager with WomenKind, UN Women’s implementing partner in Bentiu.
Empowerment through Village Savings and Loans
For women like Rebecca Nyakuoth who lives in Rubkona IDP camp, the project brought empowerment, hope, and stability to their lives. “Before I joined the Village Savings and Loans Association (VLSA) I didn’t have any way to support my children to go to school. They were just sitting around the house. I didn’t know how to save or how to turn my ideas into a viable business. Feeding my family was a challenge as well, and I couldn’t take them to the hospital when they were sick. (The project) showed me the power of having savings from whatever little I make, as the savings can help you in life. I can pay school fees for my children, feed my family, help my family members when they come to me in emergencies and have hope for our future.”
Rebecca is part of a Village Savings and Loans association run by Women Vision, UN Women’s implementing partner in Rubkona. With the support of the Government of Japan, over 3000 people improve their access to cash, new skills, savings, food, and nutrition. The project beneficiaries were provided with skills in savings and lending and Business and financial management to ensure that they have adequate skills to start and diversify their business enterprises. Through the Savings and lending associations, the groups access capital with which to start small businesses, and the business management skills will enable them to effectively manage their businesses. Profits from business enable the project participants to have sustainable enterprises and livelihoods.
The project set out to bring inclusive gender-sensitive protection and livelihood interventions to women and girls in the project areas to enable them to access information on SGBV and linkages to COVID-19 so that they could prevent and protect themselves from COVID-19. Furthermore, the project aimed to provide an enabling environment for their stabilization, recovery, and resilience where the women and girls enjoy equal access to rights, resources, services, and their human rights with zero tolerance for any form of discrimination and violence.
Messaging on COVID-19 and SGBV
Under the Leadership, Empowerment, Access, and Protection (LEAP) project, COVID-19 preventative guidance was rolled out targeting women living in displaced camps and their host communities. Over 3800 people were reached by messaging on COVID-19 and SGBV in Juba and Bentiu. Further, the popularization and effective use of the GBV referral pathway has also been made possible through the identification and training of 700 male champions who continue to support the identification and referral of SGBV cases in the project implementation areas. These male champions have reached both IDPs and host communities with messages aimed at transforming unfavorable social norms and cultural traditions that promote SGBV.
Through implementing partner ASIMO and with the generous funding of the Government of Japan, community mobilizers like Nyajima John were sent out to create awareness about COVID-19 and promote vaccination uptake in the displaced camps. “Since I started the mobilization, I’ve seen more people come in for vaccination. Sometimes I meet people who counter that vaccination is not good, but I have to help them delete that concept from their mind by informing them and challenging them to back their claims.” Nyajima told us as she walked through an IDP camp outside of Juba. Along with COVID-19 awareness, the mobilizers are also sharing information about preventing and responding to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), which has been on the rise since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. GBV case management in Bentiu and Juba has improved, making it easier for GBV cases to be reported, survivors assisted, and cases documented in real-time. At least 450 GBV cases have been reported and 450 women survivors of GBV have been assisted and accessed the GBV pathway.
Flooding continues to remain a greater challenge in Bentiu. It has destroyed vegetable farms, houses and killed many livestock. This further affected VSLA savings as most women IDPs and host communities earned their income through vegetable farming. The training on business management skills enabled VSLA members to exercise flexibility and switched to alternative means of income such as fishing to cope with the situation.
Among the lessons learned from the project are that GBV cases drastically reduced within families of male champions and in their neighborhoods. UN Women is working to increase the number of male champions as this has proven to be an effective approach in creating more key partners in preventing GBV and changing the attitudes of males regarding GBV.