Changing Norms for Girls in South Sudan

Education cannot wait for the war to end to reach the children who are most in need of education

Girls attending classes in Panrieng A Primary School

The war that broke out in December 2013 has meant that the 2015 academic year has been a difficult one for school children all over South Sudan. The consequence has been catastrophic for the nation’s sense of unity, its economy and its external reputation. But what is really encouraging is that – despite fear, violence and displacement – girls’ attendance at school has not significantly declined.

The war broke out in Juba, but crisis quickly spread to other parts of the country. Unity State, where Windle Trust International is implementing the Girls Education project, has been one of the most badly affected states in the country. Tens of thousands of civilians caught up in the crisis were  forced to flee their homes and take refuge in neighbouring settlements or even in the bush. Our staff have had to respond to the dreadful consequences of the most awful violence and brutality.   

With agreement from all sides, and with the support of the Department for International Development, which is funding the programme, we resolved to deliver the project to each and every accessible county in Unity State separately. This is because even within a state, movement between counties is too risky. WTI staff operating in their ‘home’ counties, where there was relative safety, remained in place and have been supported by Juba-based staff who fly into each county individually. From April 2014 WTI has successfully worked in Unity State in both government- and opposition- held areas.

Although some schools have been damaged and others have closed because of the war and displacement, the number of girls who have enrolled in 2014/2015 has increased.  In 2013/2014, nearly 18,500 girls were enrolled in 179 schools but in 2014/2015, well over 20,000 girls were enrolled in 150 schools.

While the war means that there are fewer schools open, girls have simply moved to safer places – but have continued to attend school. The number of girls in primary education in Unity State is almost 1,900 higher than it was before the conflict erupted. This increase – an amazing 10% growth despite war and displacement – suggests that communities have recognised the importance of education and will do whatever they reasonably can to enable their children, boys and girls, to exercise their right to education. As long as the guns are quiet, we shall continue to implement the Girls Education project in both government-controlled and opposition-held areas. We believe that all children in South Sudan should have access to education. Education cannot wait for the war to end to reach the children who are most in need of education.