Adhiew: Why I want to give South Sudan women a voice
“I literally grew up in Kenya. But East or West, the home will always be best,” says Elizabeth Adhiew, the founder of Inspire Her Diligence (IHD).
IHD is a non-profit organization whose programs and projects are focused on women development, women’s health, poverty reduction, and innovative business support for women and the youth.
She says her story could have been really different if she had stayed in South Sudan. Going to Kenya as a refugee was a mixed bag of fortunes, but it was the exposure and how the female gender is treated by society that would later impact her immensely.
“Jonglei is my native land, a place that I would only come to see in my early twenties. As though fate was keen on reconnecting me with my people, it is here where I was posted when I worked with some NGOs for four years in 2016. There was a sharp contrast between how women and girls were treated here by society, and I thought I had a responsibility to play a role,” she says.
It was not easy fitting in, she says the mother of one daughter. She had to learn the Dinka language to be able to communicate effectively with her people. The traditional mud houses in the village were small and uncomfortable, and yes, she had to take a bath in a makeshift ‘washroom’ at a corner of the homestead. Then there were mosquito bites!
“I am Dinka alright but I could not speak the language. I had to start from scratch, but because of the immense number of people around me who spoke the language, it was a little easier,” she says. But in the course of her work, she would notice the glaring contrast between how girls and boys were treated. For instance, girls were not given a chance to express what they wanted.
On matters of education, she was once again confronted by the devil which is preferential treatment of boys. Other than that, the fact that girls would be married off at a tender age while their male peers were continuing with education further relegated the girls and women to voiceless quarters.
Menstrual hygiene management
She would discover that menstrual hygiene management, which ideally is a natural occurrence was one of the leading reasons for school drop-out cases among girls.
“I realized that this natural aspect was attributed to some taboo. For the days that the girls would be having menses, there is no going to school. And to add salt to injury, the boys would mock them. In the end, the young girls feel embarrassed to go back to the same school. Their confidence and self-esteem all lost. I thought this was not right, and while the challenge is huge, I resolved to play my part in correcting this,” says Adhiew.
In 2020 her dream came true and with the help of a sister, she registered to Inspire Her Diligence as a non-profit organization operating in Mangala, Bor, Twic East and Awerial in Lake State. So far they have reached over 250 girls through their programs.
“We target school-going adolescent girls. We first have a girls-only conversation with them. The one-on-one conversations are good because they can see we are women like them, only that we are older. We talk at length about menstrual hygiene management. “We demystify the myths and taboos around menstruation, and with support from donors and well-wishers, we issue them with reusable dignity kits,” she says.
In the second part of this engagement, she now involves boys of the same age. Again, they go through the same issues with the boys who are then taught to be their sisters’ keepers. What it means for the girls to be on their periods and why do they need to refrain from mocking them.
“We reach out to teachers who we advise to provide safe facilities where the girls can change their pads.” We also tell them that it is important to excuse the girls whenever they come to ask for permission to go home when menstruation starts, yet they probably did not put on a sanitary pad,” she says.
Adhiew holds a bachelor’s degree in International Relations and Diplomacy from Maseno University in Kisumu, Kenya. She has worked as a communications officer and grants support officer for a number of NGOs in Jonglei. She believes South Sudanese women can do way better if the playing field could be levelled.
“We are all the same, whether man or woman. What sets people apart are the opportunities. We must give women a safe space to speak freely. Otherwise, we may realize when it is too late that we had killed so many talents by confining a woman to the kitchen when she can do a lot given an opportunity,” she says.
She has a bigger vision, she says, of establishing a community where men and women have equal and relevant chances. Where women participate in decision-making A voice to say NO to what she doesn’t agree with, and a YES in instances where they agree.
But the subtle approach in Jonglei has not come without some resistance. There are those who think she wants to introduce the girls to sexual immorality.
“There are those who do not agree with me despite the struggles I have to undergo to assemble these kits.” “What I find encouraging, though, is the growing number of men who want a different future for their daughters,” she says.