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September 17, 2014 / 22 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘south sudan’

Israeli Activist Promotes Women’s Rights in South Sudan

Monday, June 10th, 2013

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.

IsraAID Combats Gender-Based Violence in South Sudan

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013

Israel, as a liberal democratic country dedicated to human rights and women’s rights, seeks to help South Sudan address gender-based violence, a significant problem in that country.

Helen Animashaun, a volunteer working with the South Sudan Women Empowerment Center, wrote in the Huffington Post, “The reality of life for women in the world’s newest country is harsh; it is full of challenges and limited opportunities.” She reports that “[a]ccess to healthcare and education in South Sudan is simply not an option in many places. The statistics speak for themselves: more than 80% of women are illiterate and one in seven women die as a result of pregnancy and childbirth.” Nevertheless, Animashaun wrote that “the greatest challenge women experience is the social acceptance of sexual and gender based violence.”

According to Human Rights Watch, about 48 percent of young girls in South Sudan between the ages of 15 and 19 are forced into marriages by their families, who are often given generous gifts as dowries in return. If a girl dares to resist, they can face violent actions from their families. In fact, some South Sudanese girls are even murdered or raped for attempting to resist such arranged teenage marriages. In one particularly brutal case, a 17-year-old girl was raped and beaten to death in South Sudan for not submissively accepting her family’s decision to marry her off to a 75-year-old man.

According to Ophelie Namiech, IsraAID’s country director in South Sudan,

After more than 40 years of conflict, displacement and poverty, the people of South Sudan are facing enormous social challenges!…Violence against women is pervasive and has been exacerbated by decades of war that have left many children without a proper family structure, education or health care… A large portion of the population suffers from deep trauma that prevents them from being fully included in the development process.

Namiech claims that Juba, South Sudan’s capital city, has not been spared these challenges facing all of South Sudan. “On the contrary, rapes, human trafficking, and under-aged prostitution have all dramatically increased due to rapid and uncontrolled urbanization,” she claims.

Namiech emphasized that “In particular the children in some slum areas are exposed to appalling and sustained sexual abuse. Sexual pressure is very strong in Juba – especially in the most vulnerable areas of the capital where young girls quickly fall into the cycle of sexual violence and exploitation.”

It is not uncommon to see girls as young as eight years old in Juba raped, Namiech says. “In those areas, those girls are condemned to spend their lives in the street, looking for food in the garbage behind market places and being surrounded by violent drunk and drugged men who abused and mistreat them.”

IsraAID, as an Israeli humanitarian organization seeking to improve the status of women within developing countries in addition to providing pivotal emergency relief assistance, has a program to combat gender-based violence in South Sudan that works with local services such as the State Ministry of Gender and Social Development, the South Sudan Police Service as well as several local community-based organizations to help them better address violence against women in South Sudan. IsraAID trains, mentors, and accompanies these South Sudanese actors so that one day they will better be able to address cases of violence against women on their own.

In 2012 alone, IsraAID trained 172 service providers on gender-based violence, as well as how to design and implement gender-based violence related programs. Nevertheless, despite IsraAID’s best efforts, Namiech claimed, “When we monitor the situation in the slum areas with our local partner Confident Children Out of Conflict [the only local NGO that has a shelter for 35 vulnerable girls] we often find very young girls wandering the slum areas alone without any clothes on, who rapidly become surrounded by abusive men.” Namiech has attempted to help such young girls, yet unfortunately there are many of them. “I have seen those scenes myself. They are heartbroken,” she asserts.

Nevertheless, despite the violent plight endured by way too many women living in South Sudan, IsraAID has been able to make a difference there. According to Namiech, “A few weeks ago, the police and social workers that IsraAID has been training since 2012, have encouraged reporting and succeeded in bringing before court the case of a 14-year old girl victim of rape. This is, in itself, a small successful first step.” In addition, IsraAID has sponsored advocacy sessions on gender based violence within South Sudan involving legal, social and security services as well as members of the South Sudanese community.

IsraAID has also supported awareness sessions on gender-based violence in schools and raising public awareness about this issue in the local media as well as training sessions and workshops designed to increase cooperation between social workers and the police in order to work towards increasing reportage of cases of gender based violence. In February 2013, more cases in fact were brought to courts than previously, although there still is much work to be done on this issue. Yet, what IsraAID is doing by training local South Sudanese on gender-based violence is a step in the right direction towards improving the plight of all South Sudanese women.

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Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/guest-blog/israaid-combats-gender-based-violence-in-south-sudan/2013/04/23/

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