South Sudan gained its independence in 2011, making it the world’s youngest nation. To reach that milestone, though, the country endured prolonged conflict and violence. This shattered the country’s social fabric as well as its economy, health systems, schools, and other services. Nine years later, many families are still struggling to adjust to their new normal in the aftermath of the conflict. Too often, South Sudan's women bear the brunt of the burden.
At the end of the conflict, many people who’d been displaced by violence started to move back home. During the conflict, many men had traveled far from home in search of work, or because they’d been on the front lines of battle. As a result, women started to carry the full responsibility for caring for their homes and families. Some men came home to find that their wives had taken up their traditional tasks and roles in their absence. The tension caused by these changes - combined with the stress of living in a warzone - sometimes led to domestic violence, divorce, and infidelity.
Although women took on more responsibility during South Sudan’s conflicts, this did not mean they had more access to economic opportunities or equality with men. In fact, it left them even more vulnerable to violence. To build a thriving new nation, though, you need to invest in its women. Thanks to Tearfund’s partner, the Sudan Evangelical Mission, the women of South Sudan are rising up, and the men are stepping in to support them.
The Sudan Evangelical Mission is using Tearfund’s Transforming Masculinities approach. Through this process, communities in South Sudan examine the different ideas people have about what it means to be a man – in their homes, relationships, communities and society in general. Sometimes society teaches men to behave in ways that are harmful to themselves and others, especially towards women and girls. Transforming Masculinities creates the space for conversations, reflections, accountability and a shared journey with other men to break the cycle of sexual gender based violence (SGBV).
Transforming Masculinities promotes the positive aspects of being a man, taking Jesus as the example. Even in circumstances that were not always fair or right, he maintained self-control. He became angry but was never violent. In fact, he spoke against violence. He communicated without aggression and he was patient, meeting people at their point of need. Most importantly, he defied all social, religious and cultural norms for being a man of that time and raised up women as he interacted with them.
In South Sudan, faith leaders are positioned to be powerful agents for change in addressing SGBV. The Transforming Masculinities approach engages with faith leaders, and trains men and women “Gender Champions”, who then lead community dialogue groups.
Gender Champions lead their neighbors in open discussions on gender that are based on spiritual reflections and scriptures. When men and women truly listen to one another, respect and care can flourish in the community.
In South Sudan, this transformational process is being conducted alongside savings groups, which are helping women access economic opportunities - some for the first time. These groups also provide safe spaces for women to support one another.
This post was adapted from Prabu Deepan’s article, “Transforming Masculinities: Tearfund's Approach to Ending SGBV”, which originally appeared in Footsteps 106. Prabu Deepan leads Tearfund’s work on gender and masculinities.
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