It is International Women’s Day! A day to celebrate women’s achievements and highlight issues that limit them from reaching their full potential.
In line with the global theme of – Embrace Equity –, Girls’ Education South Sudan (GESS) is celebrating strong female leaders in education. We spoke to some exceptional women involved in the GESS programme, all the way from the national Ministry of Education to the school level.
“For me, International Women’s Day is a reminder to every woman that she matters and that she can do better since she has potential. It is a day to celebrate our contribution as women in our communities, the nation, and the world, a day for us to call upon everybody to acknowledge that women and men are different, yet equal,” Esther Akumu, Director General at the Ministry of General Education and Instruction (MoGEI).
“A woman has a rare heart, for instance, the current Minister of General Education and Instruction has been pushing hard for teachers’ salaries to be paid, this is because she sees the suffering of the teachers as a mother. She said the teachers were struggling to afford basic needs and she could not sit back and watch so she has to work hard to ensure they are paid. When we went to pay teachers’ salaries in some parts of the country recently, teachers were very grateful for having been paid, they said this is the only Minister who has them (teachers) in heart, this is the importance of having strong female leadership,” DG Esther.
GESS works with MoGEI in implementing all elements of the Programme to ensure the positive change in people’s attitudes towards education, increasing enrolment, retention, and completion of education for girls is upheld and realised. “My involvement with the GESS programme has brought me closer to the communities. With my work on GESS, I get involved in community discussions on the importance of educating girls. I see attitudes are changing. Recently, I was able to intervene to help a girl who almost got married off against her will, the girl knew what she wanted after learning about the importance of education through the radio programme where we showcase role models. This happened when I was in the field and I was able to help the girl [who] recently sat for her final secondary education exams,” DG Esther.
Women make up 49.5% of the global population, that’s over three billion of the world population (countrymeters.info, 2023) and in South Sudan women make up to 50% of the population (Statista, 2021). These figures affirm that women make up a significant percentage of the world population and if they are not empowered, it will be difficult to meet Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4).
Some of the amazing women doing great work with communities and bringing about change are GESS’ Mentoring Assistants. Mentoring Assistants work across South Sudan to help set up and run book clubs and mentoring clubs for female and male learners in schools.
Head Girls are also strong female leaders in education. Head Girls in South Sudan are part of the School Management Committees in primary schools and Boards of Governors in secondary schools. These bodies oversee the day-to-day running of the school.
We spoke to Sarah – a Head Girl in Juba. “To me, good leadership is working for all people without discrimination, being honest and serving people. I like it when we come together as girls to encourage each other, inspire each other, and care for each other. Sometimes as girls in the school, we talk about our role models and why we have chosen them as role models, and we learn from each other. I like seeing girls educated so, I give the girls some advice, I talk to them on how to control themselves, I also solve their problems when they come to me. If I cannot handle, I will tell madam, (a female teacher) “Sarah, a Head Girl in Juba.
Today, we call for more women in leadership positions in all sectors. When women and girls are involved in the decision-making processes, greater balance and gender equity is likely to be achieved. There is a need for female role models and mentoring programmes; as well as guiding the way to management roles, these serve to increase confidence and knowledge that women belong in the classroom, as well as boardrooms! Happy International Women’s Day!