Women

The Women:
I embarked on this journey to make this doc film to provide the geo-political and economic context for the crisis in Darfur. But once I got to Sudan my camera lense was intensely focused on the women I met. The women, statuesque, some dreadfully gaunt, were always at work, thatching the roofs of their huts, carrying heavy buckets of water long distances, chasing after chickens and children. When they had a moment to look up they would stop and look me deeply in the eye and without a word – very few spoke English – their eyes, and sometimes with a subtle, barely visible gesture of the hand, spoke to me of their suffering, of their need.

No one ever asked me directly for anything, not once. But they did want to speak to the camera. And when I asked them what they needed the women and the men alike always gave the same answer – clean drinking water, schools, hospitals. They want to be self-sufficient. They want a sense of permanence. They want to rebuild their communities, and keep their families intact.

But the women stress one more ardent desire – they want their daughters to have equal access to education.

Between years of civil war, and the Shariah law that was imposed on the Southern Sudanese by the GoS, many schools (often connected to local churches) ceased to exist altogether. And today, even where schools can be found, the girls are often either strongly discouraged from attending for cultural reasons, or they simply can’t attend because they are needed at home. 90 percent of women in South Sudan are illiterate according to UNICEF reports. Only 500 girls graduate from primary school out of a population of about 7 million.

When I was last there in 2008, South Sudan was holding regional elections and for the first time women were part for that process. Women ran for local and county-wide office, as well as for ministerial positions. It is an experiment in democracy for the first time in South Sudan, where the people struggle to overcome tribal differences, wrangling over control of oil and land, on top of the already existing tensions between Southern Sudan and the GoS.

Women hope to bring their perspective, their needs, and the needs of their children to the forefront. As South Sudan continues to place much of its efforts on developing the oil industry, women talk about the need for schools and hospitals, clean water, and affordable food.

David Gressly, the UN’s Coordinator for South Sudan at the time, oversaw aid and development. Gressly echoed what many women had told me regarding development in South Sudan. Gressly said that the emphasis on development in South Sudan needs to be on education and on creating a viable, sustainable economy, one that is not based on the oil industry alone.