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September 1, 2015 / 17 Elul, 5775
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Israeli Activist Promotes Women’s Rights in South Sudan

Sexual violence was used as a weapon of war, as is common in East Africa.

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Ophelie Namiech, South Sudan country director of the Israeli humanitarian organization IsraAID, is working in South Sudan to promote gender equality, women’s rights and helping local activists address gender-based violence.

Ophelie Namiech, a former French national, has made Aliyah to Israel and is presently serving as the South Sudan country director for IsraAID.  The humanitarian organization provides emergency relief and development assistance to different countries across the globe. In South Sudan, IsraAID is involved in development assistance for the emerging nation. 

“I made Aliyah in order to help build Israel’s future”

Namiech’s ultimate professional goal was to build a career that combined her love for the State of Israel with assisting the South Sudanese people. “I made Aliyah in order to build Israel’s future. I wanted to make a difference. I felt I needed to be part of Israel on the inside,” she stated. “It is such a pride to say that I am Israeli. It’s a reason to make Aliyah. Israel was founded based on humanitarian values.” She believes that by working to build relations between Israel and South Sudan and by accompanying the new state in in its efforts to build strong economic and social foundations, she is strengthening the role of Israel in international development and humanitarian action (Tikkun Olam). According to her, Israel has the opportunity – and the duty – to assist other friendly nations that struggled for their independence – like South Sudan – to build themselves.

Gender Issues in South Sudan

Presently, South Sudan, which gained independence in 2011, has a humanitarian crisis in the border regions of the country as well as an internal conflict. According to Namiech, “South Sudan was fifty years in war. […] Sexual violence was used as a weapon of war, like is common in East Africa. It was not only used as weapon of war but it is also traumatized the nation.” She continued, “There are not studies on this, but at least two thirds of the women have faced gender based violence, rape, sexual violence, domestic violence, etc.” Namiech claimed that the international community focused almost exclusively on helping out the border regions, and did not have the capital city Juba as a priority.

Nevertheless, “Juba faced rapid urbanization with the massive absorption of refugees, displaced people, and migrants seeking better opportunities. All of this created social and economic pressure on Juba as well as social challenges.” She continued, “You have five star hotels for internationals and then a slum area where women and children are being raped.” She personally witnessed a child getting raped by five men and claimed that such things happen on a daily basis. “No one was working in Juba, because they were focusing elsewhere,” she asserted. Yet, after IsraAID began assisting local activists in South Sudan promoting gender equality, other NGOs joined in.

Namiech Working to Make a Difference

IsraAID  seeks to train social workers, community leaders and teachers to be able to address gender-based violence on their own. Namiech claims that merely providing humanitarian assistance is not long-term thinking, since soon after, once the international activists depart, the aid also goes with them and without being given the tools to deal with the issue on their own, the South Sudanese won’t be able to effect change on their own. This is why Namiech is so motivated to provide local South Sudanese activists with the tools that they need in order to make a difference.

IsraAID has successfully developed a positive working relationship between social workers, teachers, and the police. “As a result of this, there were joint programs. They are doing joint awareness sessions in schools to raise awareness on children’s and women’s rights,” Namiech asserted. Yet in addition to assisting with collaboration between various local South Sudanese actors, Namiech has worked with IsraAID to bring the same Israelis who built the first women’s shelters in Israel to South Sudan, to train the South Sudanese how to do it. They also bring experienced Israeli therapists to train South Sudanese therapists how to treat trauma victims.

ISRAEL HAS A UNIQUE ROLE TO PLAY

Namiech believes that she, IsraAID, and the State of Israel has much to contribute regarding promoting women’s rights in South Sudan. “Israel has an important role to play in the community of nations. I think that Israel has amazing things to share. It is not in Israel’s interests to be focused only on regional challenges,” Namiech asserted. “Because of the global world where we are living in and because Israel’s strengths, it is our responsibility to open our eyes and self and provide assistance and to accompany countries and communities” who experience “similar dilemmas and are striving to build a new nation.”

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About the Author: Rachel Avraham is a news editor and political analyst for Jerusalem Online News, the English language internet edition of Israel's Channel 2 News. She completed her masters degree in Middle Eastern Studies at Ben-Gurion University. The subject of her MA thesis was: "Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab media."

The author's opinion does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Jewish Press.

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