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By Dengadong – Juba

Hon. Susan Wasuk Sokiri is equally the chairperson for Women Parliamentary Caucus, an office entrusted to deal with women affairs in the National Parliament. The office is working up efforts to create more empow- erment projects aiming at elevating burden of women hardship in the country.

“Initially we did not have a big budget from the nation budget but this year, the 2014-2015 fiscal year, the administration of the parliament allocated for us small funds to run our day to day activities in the parliament here”. She added that women parliamentary Caucus would make sure that women benefited from Community Development Funds’ projects (CDF) Speaking in an exclusive interview with The Real Woman Magazine, a couple of weeks ago, she said the women parliamentary caucus has written some project proposals to its partners requesting several women training centers to be established and one of its partner has so far responded positively and it had already gave them one resource center that will be used to train women on various skills.

However, in order to shed more light on what they are doing for women while in women leadership, the Real Woman Magazine caught up in an interview with Hon. Susan Wasuk, a women who labored so much advocating for years to see to it that women are empowered and their Rights are respected.

Welcome to the interview Hon. and thanks so much for taking your time to speak to us and we would like you to share your reflections as a woman in leadership.

Tell us briefly about your background and how did you managed to come to this position?

Recho-ma-pro-final-11I am Hon.Susan Wasuk Sokiri, 47 and Member of Parliament representing Warrap State here in the national parliament, I came to this parliament through SPLM Party list in 2010.

I started my primary School in Northern Sudan from 1972- 1977 and completed my junior school in 1973 and upon completion of my junior school, l moved to the then Southern Sudan where I joined Juba girl for my secondary school from 1980 to 1983.

Some years later, I left for Itang in Ethiopia with my husband   in 1984   and I quickly   joined the Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM/A) in 1985 and since then I had been serving women in difference capacities through women Association.

In 1991 after the fall of Mengistu Mariam, I got chance to go to Nairobi with my children. While in Nairobi, I managed to resume my studies and I started first with English course offered by British Council and I later on went to the college after I had struggled to put my children to school. With the support of women association founded by Paulino Riak, I went to the college and did community development studies and community health for three years. And after graduation I returned to South Sudan in 2000 and started working with one of the organization in Rumbek—that is when I started working with the women.

 

I worked in Rumbek from 2000 to 2004 then I was taken to Maban and I worked there until the Com- prehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. After the CPA I got a job with Pact Sudan program and I was taken to Wau and em- ployed as community development officer in charge

of Warrap and Wau. While in Wau I had also worked with women. In 2010 when people were preparing

for general elections, I was approached by the women in our area and they said that me and the rest of the women including the current governor of Warrap State that you   women must go to the parliament so that

you continued supporting us like what you have been doing during the war so I accepted the offer, I went and contested for the election and I managed to came

to the National Assembly as an MP starting from 2010 until I was made a chairperson of women parliamentary caucus in 2013 .

 

Is it because you did not prepare to become a politi- cian or you just accepted because women encourage you to do so?

 

Yes, I did not like to go to politics but I accepted simply because I did not wanted to let down the women.
So what are you doing now generally as a payback to women?

You know, pay them back cannot be seen directly but we are trying to offer trainings; we are training them to create awareness in areas where women should know their rights, we are also trying to make them participate in business, we are trying to train them business skills and on top of these, whatever we are doing here in the parliament we must make sure that women benefited, this project of CDF, we will make sure that women benefit from community development funds (CDFS) as soon the funds is released. During the elections campaign in 2010 I moved around all the villages and I have seen that women are really suffering.

And because of that, I came and wrote the proposal and it was successful, I provided 20 boreholes but I will do more of these when we are given the funds. These are some of the things we need to do to ensure that the hardships that women are facing in this country are uplift.

You came a long way, what does this life experience mean to you and your fellow women?

It is not easy especially when you left your home area, your parent and you went to the bush and bringing up the children without a father because when I left I did not know exactly where we are going, when we reached Itang I remembered when a Battalion known as Mor- Mor was sent to the frontline, the day they left Itang for frontline, we women were left alone with children, there were only few men at the center. So when we went to the river to fetch water in the morning the following day, we were thinking that there was something big that is going to happen. You see we came with our men from Sudan and they just left us suddenly but we managed to came together as women through creating program to keep us busy, for instance women association so that we managed to make ourselves busy so that we forget the hardship not also thinking about your father, mother, brothers and sisters that you have left behind. So it was a hard experience.

Do you have some projects that you are working on now for women?
As the women parliamentary caucus, initially in the caucus we do not have very big budget from the national budget but the good news is that we have a provision in constitution that allow us to work with National and international organizations, civil society, other women groups and we have already made two proposals requesting assistance from our partners. For example, the UN Women provided us with three offices and one resource center. Again, we have two embassies to equip these centers with more computers, Internet and books for training the women
Do you think the center will be accessible to all women?
Our constitution said, the women parliamentary caucus will be working within the ten states of South Sudan, we are working with state Assembly, it means that whatever, we are taking to the state Assembly it has to reach the women at the grass root.
What are the challenges facing you?
One of the challenges is lack of funds, we do not have money because sometimes we can have programs that we want to do but due to lack of money, it always
limited our work. The other challenge is the
insecurity because as we speak you cannot move freely in the other states.
Is there any instances in which men look you down?
Looking down by man is something obvious “it is just there,” it is us not to give them chance by saying let us sit down because man do not want us, man normally do not like to see women upgrading, it is our role as women to fight for our rights. However, thanks to late Dr. John Garang, he told us one day that women 25% did not came from nothing, it came from somewhere and he further warned us not sit back and said man will give our share instead he advised us to fight for our rights “Our contribution as women in the
liberation struggle that started from 1983 to 205 is what gave us this 25%”. It can be taken away if you are not careful despites the fact it is stipulated in the
constitution. If we cannot talk, ask and claim, it can just be taken. It is our role as women leaders to work hard and see to it that women are awoken up, we need to make awareness for the young women who are behind us so that they can grow knowing what is
happening.
How do you see yourself in the next five years
comparing with the years back?
Basically, it is better now if I can compare where I came from and with where I am now. However, in five years to come I want to see myself above and above and even in the top than where I am now. If I really sit down sometimes and compared where I came from up to this moment, I can see great difference.
What are your hobbies?
My hobbies among others are cooking, reading and making friends
Perhaps a word of advice to young South Sudanese women

My message to the women whether in the country or abroad is that let them not fear politic because politic is not only meant for men, I want to see women involving in taking part in the run of country affairs, they should stay focused and knowing all the avenues of information because
information is power. They should learn how to lobby; we used to think that politic is all about gossiping and all those, it is not it’s just about
participation in the run of the country affairs. We need more women
politician, we need young women to come up and participate, and
contribute to peaceful settlement of continued violence and process of
nation building.

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It’s not common in African cultures for children to teach their parents and they accept it but the 15-year old Achola Beatrice, a primary School pupil, has done the unthinkable.

She introduced Re-Usable Menstrual Pad (RUMPS) production to improve general hygiene of girls and mothers in Lobure village at the outskirts of Magwi town in Eastern Equatoria state.

Achola, who learnt the skills of RUMPS production from health clubs at Magwi central primary focused on improving the hygiene of the women and girls in her village.

“I do this to maintain our personal hygiene and also to keep the skills. And then, we also need to improve our village”

“I called my two friends Tugulu and Flora Ajango and started to teach them on how to make the re-usable pads” Achola narrates the beginning of her initiative to transform the village.

Recho-ma-pro-final-6Not until one day Achola came late from school and her mother asked her to explain the delays, then the girl told her mother that they were for training on RUMPS production.

“I told my mother we delayed for training on production of re-usable pads, and she then told me to bring the RUMPS material we use at school to teach her and that I should tell our trainers to visit home as well,” Achola says.

Ms. Achola’s mother, a widow, inspired by her daughter share such good initiative with other women in the village as well so that they maintain their hygiene since all have little incomes.

“My mother then told me that since most women in the village have little income, we could share the initiative of re-usable menstrual pads for them to keep their hygiene” Achola said.

As Achola’s mother implored her daughter to teach as many women and girls in the village as possible, Achola also tasked her to do the mobilization.

“I told my mother to mobilize her peers as I do to the young girl and the women were willing to acquire the skills of RUMPS production,” says the initiator of village RUMPs group.

Achola included 16-year-old Obina Sovan, who is also a member of the school health club to her team with the aim to sensitize boys and men on Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM).

“We don’t only look at RUMPs and general hygiene alone but also breaking the silence on menstruation and to eradicate teasing of girls by boys and that’s why we needed Obina” she says.

“My role is to sensitize boys to stop laughing at girls when in their monthly periods and fathers should offer help to their daughter who may need it during menstruation,” Obina says.

Achola’s RUMPs students in Lobure village, who admired her initiative, are not only housewives alone but also civil servants and University students.

Armed with a note book and a pen at hand, another lady who show keen interest in Achola’s RUMPs production lessons is Amal Jackline, a 2nd year student of Bugema University in Uganda

“Achola has taught us that the RUMPs comprises of three elements; the liner with 16 x11 cm, the Wing pad measures 11 x 8 cm and the Straight pad measuring 11x 6 cm” Amal explained.

“At the beginning of menstruation when the blood flow is high, one fixed the wing pad in the liner, attached to the pant with a button and wears it and when the blood reduce you fix straight pad to use,” Amal demonstrates to visitors what she has learnt from her young teacher.

Ms. Amal describes the young girl as creative initiator with a heart for a village she claims it has been abandoned and left out in much government development projects due to its distance from the town centre.

Members of the women group named “Reber Aye Teko” in Acholi language with its motto “Let it happen”, plans to improve their work to income generating activity. They are lobbying from well wishers to aid them with sewing machine and offer further training on tailoring to enable them upgrade the skills offered by Achola on MHM.

SNV-Netherland development Organisation contracted Hope for children and Women Foundation to implement project after a study indicated high girls’ dropout rate due to poor menstrual hygiene management.

Ms. Atim Veronica, a trainer with Hope for Children and Women Foundation, explains that Re-Usable Menstrual Pads are made out of special cotton cloth material or fleece materials.

She said some of the materials are available in the market and customers could be linked to suppliers for fleece materials, which is not common.

“The advantage of the RUMPs is that one can use and then wash it to be used again another day after drying it in hygienic environment,” Atim commented the re-usable menstrual pads.

It was upon the economic viability of the re-usable menstrual pads that the project anticipated it would improve school attendance and general hygiene of girls in poor rural areas.

Impressed with Achola’s initiative, the director for Hope for Children and Women Foundation, Mr. David Makumbi, did not expect mothers would embrace the project.

“Our objective was that the girls share the knowledge with other girls who might have dropped out of school and other from schools where the project is not implemented. I’m overwhelmed of involvement of the mothers,”

-he exclaimed.

Recho-ma-pro-final-8Achola’s initiative captivates SNV’s Eastern Equatoria state Menstrual Hygiene Management project officer, Ms. Pasquina Acidria who led a communication specialist of the organisation to Lobure village.

“I would like to express my gratitude to your daughter Achola Beatrice who has proved to be a real agent of change in this community. We never expected any pupil would think of transforming mothers,” she
expressed.

Ms. Acidria testifies that the community event was out of scope of the SNV project but Achola’s creativity had impressed and pulled the organizations’ officials to the village.

“This project was mainly focusing on schools that’s why we never engaged the communities in the rural areas but Achola has made us drive to her village to witness the wonders she has done to her people by sharing the knowledge on RUMPs production” she stressed.

“I must say that this is an impact we never expected. I congratulate Achola for transferring the knowledge from school to transform the women in this village,” Acidria remarked.

“In my impact table, I don’t even know where to fix this but I will create a column and row to indicate it,” the Menstrual Hygiene Management project officer explained.

She says the expected impacts of the project centred on increased enrolment and retention of girls at schools, improvement in their attendance and performance in classes but never extension of the skills to the
community.

“You can now see for yourselves how children can be powerful in education as in our homes? Most
interestingly, the skill you have acquired has been brought by your daughter, who learnt it from school” Acidria praised Achola before the mothers.

Though the SNV project didn’t target mothers at community levels, Acidria testifies that Lobure was lucky to have Achola to share the knowledge with the people in the village.

“You might have not gotten the opportunity to attend the training on Menstrual Hygiene Management directly from SNV, but at least through your daughter, you have acquired the skills” she says.

Acidria assures the group that though SNV does not provide hand-outs, the women will continuously be strengthened for their ambition to grow.

“It’s encouraging that you are thinking deep and broad to commercialise re-usable menstrual pads production. We do not provide hand-outs but we will continue to strengthen your capacity to achieve goals for the skills you have acquired,” Ms. Acidria says.

SNV’s global communications specialist, Nick Greenfield who was on photo shooting event of the projects, confesses that the organisation also implements similar project in four other countries but never had it a unique impact like in Lobure village.

“Menstrual Hygiene Management is implemented in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda, Zimbabwe and South Sudan, but around these countries, we had many great stories of change but
nowhere have we had a story quite like the one that is happening here,”
-Nike confessed.

Grateful for the mothers in Lobure to have opened an avenue for SNV to witness an unexpected benefit of its project, Nike suggested it’s better to share the story with the rest of the World.

I want to congratulate you and your daughter Beatrice for opening a way for us to your village. I had lots of stories from other schools but something very interesting to get the details,” he said.
We look forward to share your story with other people of south Sudan, other countries where we work in and people all over the World, the SNV communications specialist noted.

He expects Achola’s story and that of Lobure village women will be inspirational to others in the Globe for them to take action towards improving menstrual Hygiene Management.

“We hope your story will inspire other women, other villages, other countries and here in South Sudan to take the initiative to do what you have done, by taking the power in your hands to create something like this,” Nike commented Achola and Lobure women group.

Nick Greenfield, who works for SNV as communication specialist, reports on Water and Sanitation as well as “Girls in control” project, which focus on Menstrual Hygiene Management for schoolgirls.