A South Sudan business women's association helps empower its members, keep girls in school and build peace

News
14 March 2014
Koch County, South Sudan

Solomon Ayiko (Canada), a UNV Recovery, Reintegration and Peace Building Officer with UNMISS, established Women Vision, an association for business women in Koch County, South Sudan to help the women find mutual support, pool their resources and expertise, gain training and new skills and ultimately improve their livelihoods and standing in the community. The association also participated in a campaign to educate girls and return to school young girls who had dropped out due to early pregnancy, early marriage and heavy domestic workloads.  

Solomon Ayiko (Canada), UNV Recovery, Reintegration & Peace Building Officer with UNMISS, conducts one of 13 sessions on Business Management and Bookkeeping, he held for members of Women Vision, an association he set up for business women in Koch County, South Sudan. Photo: Samuel Emmanuel, Department of Education, South Sudan. 2013

Solomon Ayiko (Canada), a UNV Recovery, Reintegration & Peace Building Officer assigned to the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) is convinced that increasing women’s representation in post-conflict peace- and state-building is essential to achieving success in the process. 

“It’s through cohesion and intense consultation of both women and men that the peacebuilding and state building process can see hope for legitimacy and progress,” said Solomon.

That is why he established a business women’s association in Koch County. “Upon my return from a UNV Capacity Development and Learning Facility workshop in Entebbe on Training, Presentation, Coaching and Facilitation, I felt inspired and empowered to achieve its goal, to enhance South Sudan’s national and organization capacity,” he said. 

“I organized women who were engaging individually in small business activities, such as selling produce, local food and tea and coffee, to come together in their own association.”  

There they could find mutual support, pool their expertise and resources and even gain new knowledge and skills. Solomon soon registered the new Women Vision association as a Community Based Organization.  

“The main goal of Women Vision is to create an environment conducive for peace and sustainable development,” said Solomon.  “The socio-economic empowerment of women, youth and marginalized groups is a cornerstone of Women Vision’s peacebuilding objectives.” 

Together with David Asiimwe (Uganda), a UNV Civil Affairs Officer with UNMISS Civil Affairs Division, Solomon conducted a needs assessment with the association members.  They found that none of the 20 women had basic knowledge of bookkeeping, business planning or profitmaking. 

Solomon sensitized the 20 group members to the advantages of contributing weekly to a group savings account.  As of this writing, and prior to the recent unrest, the group had begun to buy items, such as sugar, wholesale so that their members could buy it for their tea and coffee businesses at much lower prices than before.  

Then Solomon conducted a 13-session Business Management and Bookkeeping course with association members.  From operating businesses which only returned enough to pay their workers and buy food for their families, the women acquired knowledge and skills for entrepreneurship.  

The women’s behavioral changes also helped to improve their fortunes. “They were taught that giving their commodities away to family members, neighbors and friends was hurting their businesses and inhibiting profit making,” said Solomon.   

"It was difficult at first because of their families’ attitudes, but when the business women persisted and realized they were making money they could use to buy items for their own children, they realized the value of these practices,” said Solomon.

The women’s new businesslike attitudes and practices help to raise the local community’s awareness about gender equality, while they reduce resistance to change and cultivate support for progress.

Solomon also encouraged Women Vision to take part in activities to benefit the community.  The association engaged in a campaign to promote education for girls, to increase their enrolment  in school and reduce their dropping out due to the domestic over work of girls, early marriages, early pregnancy, and other cultural barriers to girls’ education. 

“Association members visited households of young girls who had dropped out of school and talked to their parents, to try to mobilize them to send the girls back to school,” Solomon reported.  “As a result, about 60 girls, who had dropped out due to illegal marriage or heavy domestic workload, have returned to school.”

Drawing from their joint savings, Women Vision contracted the construction of a small hotel and made plans to send a member to Juba for catering training to use in the hotel’s food service.  The building was more than three quarters completed when the current crisis in South Sudan brought these activities to a halt. 

As most of the group members have dispersed, the association’s activities are now suspended. For Solomon, establishing and working with Women Vision was a positive experience. He plans to re-use the skills he has acquired in future capacity development initiatives and is hopeful that the association will have a lasting positive impact on its members.