Home | Comment & Analysis    Sunday 6 March 2011

Reflecting on untold stories of Southern Sudanese Women

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By Jane Kani Edward

March 5, 2011 — The two decades of civil war (1983-2005) in Sudan had affected many lives and livelihoods in Southern Sudan. An estimated two million people lost their lives; more than four millions were internally displaced, while more others sought refuge in neighboring African countries as well as Western countries. As women all over the world celebrate their contributions and achievements, I would like to draw attention to Southern Sudanese women’s untold and/or forgotten stories of courage and survival during one of the longest civil wars in Africa, and shed light on women’s courage and resilience in difficult and dangerous circumstances. Two important factors motivated me to reflect and uncover the untold, usually forgotten history of women in Southern Sudan. First the story of my paternal grandmother, and some Southern Sudanese women I met in Yei town, Kajiko, and Kogbo villages, in July 1997. Second, casting my vote in the Southern Sudan Referendum on January 9, 2011, prompted me to highlight the experiences of women in conflict situation. The goal of reflecting on women’s untold stories is to recognize and emphasize the role and contributions of non-combatant women to the Southern Sudan liberation struggle.

I traveled from Cairo, Egypt to Yei, Southern Sudan in early July 1997 as part of the Sudan Cultural Digest Project’s research team to research the experience of Southern Sudanese refugees in Northern Uganda and Kenya. I traveled to Yei, three months, after it was captured by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) – with an aim of reuniting with my mother and other members of my family whom I had lost contact with for more than a decade, and possibly to conduct interviews with people in the town. With the help of a fellow Southern Sudanese, I was able to travel to Yei with one of the SPLA commanders and I attended the “Model Development Workshop: Kajokeji and Yei Counties (July 17-19, 1997),” held in Kajiko village. At the workshop, I met Mama Kaziya, Chair of the Women’s Affairs of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and other female participants. Through informal conversations with the Chair and the female participants, I learnt about the struggles, resolve, and capabilities of Southern Sudanese women to simultaneously sustain their families and contribute to the liberation struggle through food provision and preparation, caring for the sick and the wounded as well as developing strategies and survival mechanisms to avoid gender-based violence and other forms of discrimination that were prevalent.

After the workshop, I returned to Yei to meet my mother who came from Kogbo village – sometimes referred to as Khor Levi (named after the chief of the area) along Yei-Maridi road to attend a church convention. On Sunday, I went to the church to meet my mother who barely recognized me. I walked about 14 miles, together with my mother and other women who attended the Church convention, to Kogbo village. Kogbo has one of the fertile soils in Yei County. Most of the people who settled there were displaced from the Episcopal Church Mission area in Yei (Hai Mission) and its surrounding areas. They sustained their lives through agricultural production. During my stay I learnt about the difficulties people experienced as they struggled to sustain their lives. Through informal conversations with women in the village who came to visit I learnt of a cooperative program established by women and men of that area, whereby each family in the village had to contribute a fixed portion of its harvest to sustain the SPLA stationed in Yei. They told me about women’s efforts and struggles against all odds to prepare food and other necessities for passing-by- SPLA. Despite difficulties and challenges, women, other members of their families, and neighbors often came together to collect vegetables from their fields - sometimes at night, as well as contribute flour, firewood, and other ingredients needed for preparing meals. Through such collective efforts and cooperation, women were able to provide food and other necessities for the SPLA.

It was during my stay in Kogbo that I came to know about the story of my grandmother, Penina Kanyu’g, her death, and burial from one of my cousins. My grandmother spent almost all of her life in Sereng, one of the villages of Rokon Payam, Juba County. She was a mother of four sons and two daughters. However, all her sons including my father and one of her daughters passed on before her. Therefore, according to my cousin, when she felt ill in mid-1990s there was no single hospital in Rokon as the existing health infrastructure was destroyed. It was impossible to bring her to hospital in Juba due to lack of transportation, and un-accessible roads. Upon her death, there were no men to prepare the grave for her burial as most of them were either dead, fighting in the war front, or fled the area. The only people present were women and a man. Given such a challenge, it was decided that the hut in which she died be set on fire and in the process burn her body. Since burning the dead is not traditionally accepted among the Nyangwara people, the women, however, with the help of the man took upon themselves to prepare the grave and provided my grandmother a dignified burial.

The decision of those women and the man to bury my grandmother confirms women’s courage and determination to uphold some of the most important cultural aspects of their society. It is this kind of courage and commitment that makes those ordinary women extraordinary. The actions of those women further defy the traditionally held assumptions that women are “weak,” “disempowered” and unable to perform or to make crucial decisions in difficult situations.

The second factor that motivated me to reflect on women’s untold stories is casting my vote in the Southern Sudan Referendum. The referendum was held to give the people of Southern Sudan the right to vote on whether they will remain in a united Sudan or to secede. My vote conveyed two messages. First, I voted to honor the memories and sacrifices of my grandmother, father, three brothers, two cousins and maternal uncle, as well as other Southern Sudanese, and women in particular, who died during the war. Second, I voted to ensure that the future Southern Sudan is free of gender-based violence, human suffering, discrimination and marginalization. After all rebuilding a peaceful and prosperous Southern Sudan will not be achievable without the recognition and acknowledgment of the contributions and sacrifices of all people and particularly, the women of Southern Sudan during the liberation struggle.

Dr. Jane Kani Edward is Director of African Immigration Research, &Post-Doctoral Fellow, Department of African and African American Studies, Fordham University. She is the Author of Sudanese Women Refugee: Transformations and Future Imaginings, 2007, & numerous articles. She can be reached at: kanilado@yahoo.ca



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  • 7 March 2011 05:24, by Abionmur!

    Who can not group Gordon Lam, Gatwech, Liais or lair, Kong Dual or Mathod and other "foolish majority" with a dog family?
    It is because of loyalty that dog follow it owner in rain. Like dog; this group is following Riek Tueny despite his natural weaknesses. Shame on the dog family!
    A dog eats its own vomit. Like dog; Mr. Kong Dual comment on his article. What a mess!
    A dog first take-off when thrown a dry meat only to return on recognizing it. Like dog; this group of people, praising Riek after his multiples failures - only to return on sensing "meat" in the South - the CPA that Omar’s government aggreed on realizing a suceeding SPLA compaigns.
    - Without Riek No CPA
    The mother army SPLA that - played a game to win, without substitution or a rest period or taking refuge to Khartuom the way Riek did, are the role model behind CPA. NOT RIEK; as you - the foolish majority; put. Who told you Omar respect shy, greedy and "eating champion" in any discussion? War or food?
    International and national heros
    Depending on source, Riek can be a person of intergrity in your residence but Southern Sudan as you exhausted on the website is squeezing horse in the eye of needle! But Dr. Garang has a self explanatory celebrity. How can you compare the two extremes of life - Hot and cold? Why kill yourselves young - foolish majority. Time is not reapen yet for Sudan’s judgement, who told you to go to America, Mr. Kong Dual and waste a lot of time on depending Riek than concentrating of eating sugar - you missed while straving during Riek ’quarter-time’ play in the SPLA war (if at all you might have heard of or he did)?
    Arok Thon died in 1998. Riek’s Khartuom aggreement in 1998. How do the two match all together Kong Dual? Your attack against Mabior Philip is unreasonable. I thought people of your nature have changed having moved too far - up to America. but like dog, the remain who they are - a dog remain a dog whether it heads a state or vice. That is the only mistake SPLM has ever committed - to award outfits with high positions.
    My fear is your narrow mindness to comprehend that you belong to dog family. (This a sceintific classification based on adquate findings - just admit your relatives - the dogs).

    repondre message

    • 8 March 2011 11:29, by harry

      Dear Abionmur,

      What’s your lengthy comment have to do with Dr. Kani’s article?

      Dr. Kani,

      I really appreciate taking your valuable time to enlighten and educate us about the women’s struggle in Sudan. Your story has touches many hearts,and I’m sorry for what you have gone through, but God guidance and spirit did not leave you to wander around by yourself. Now you possess millions of women’s brains manifested on you. So keep up the good work and inform us more, Thanks

      Harry,

      repondre message

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