I once had a heated debate with a medical doctor friend of mine over ‘women, education, and careers’. I was trying to demonstrate to him that expecting women who have 8:00 am-5:00 pm jobs to return home and solely fulfill their gender roles (housework) is inhuman. I could tell I had logically challenged him when his conclusion after nearly an hour of this conversation was “no matter how educated you think you are, you’ll still end up in a man’s house”
Life doesn’t get easier when your first crime upon entering this world is being born female, a crime you had no role in committing. South Sudanese communities seem to sense that the world is evolving and it’s evolving fast, and that education or any set of formal knowledge and skills is what is likely to determine one’s position and influence in the society in this era. Unfortunately, because South Sudan is an extremely patriarchal country, that assumption doesn’t hold for everyone. A South Sudanese woman can be the most qualified in any space and still be referred to as ‘marasakit’ which means ‘just a woman’.
When she makes mistakes whether, at school or home, she is not judged based on any values and principles of humanity but rather always a question of “who will marry her?”
A South Sudanese girl’s body is so commodified that sending her to school feels like a charitable act she should be grateful for, to begin with. To many guardians, a school for girls is nothing but a waiting ground for when the rightful man who will take care of her and her family shows up. There is no value beyond marriage attached to her education, so when she is “privileged” enough to access education, she is a girl first before she is a pupil or student. This means her progressiveness is measured based on her gender roles and expectations.
This process of being trained on what it means to be a “good girl” and future “wife material” is so intense for young girls that education feels like an additional punishment for their mere existence. She must be among the first people to wake up every morning, not only because she must first perform her gender roles of ensuring the house is cleaned and breakfast made before she can even think about getting ready for school but also simply because a girl has no right to just sleep till late. This is the same routine upon her return. While at home, she can only comfortably and peacefully focus if at all she gets to study when there is no pending housework to be done. That means she will automatically be among the last people to go to bed. On days when the family especially the mother has other emergencies to attend to, it’s the girl child who is asked to skip school to babysit and look after the house among other house responsibilities.
When she makes mistakes whether, at school or home, she is not judged based on any values and principles of humanity but rather always a question of “who will marry her?” Electricity is a luxury only a few can afford in most parts of South Sudan, her failure to utilize those late-night hours to study using a candle or any other source of light is punishable, how dare she not top her class? She is expected to be grateful for the few hours she has to study whether during the day or late in the night before she sleeps. There is no consideration for her bodily wellbeing. Any inconsistencies in her academic performances have consequences and for some, that’s often reason enough to force them to drop out of school. She has no time to discover herself beyond the kitchen classroom. When excelling in school becomes impossible given all the gender weight, marriage is the only “safe” option for many girls, after all, that’s the job she was trained for right from childhood.
According to UNICEF-South Sudan, 2.2 million school-aged children in South Sudan are out of school. South Sudan has the highest rate of about 72% of children missing out on education and among the countries with the highest rate of about 60% of girls who are out of school. The net enrolment percent of secondary school-aged female children was only 4% as per 2017, which means few girls make it to secondary school but only a very small number get to complete secondary school.
Teach South Sudanese girls self-sufficiency; don’t raise your daughters for other men, raise them for themselves and nurture their dreams
My doctor male friend was completely unable to envision me beyond my “housewife” future self in the argument we had, that was his only determinant for the worthiness of a woman. Education is a human need and right for all. Attending school in itself is a full-time commitment, prioritise South Sudanese girls’ education and well-being. Domestic work shouldn’t be left to only girls, invest the same energy in teaching boys how to do housework as well, it’s for their benefit. Invest in your daughters’ education not so you can be rewarded for taking care of her but because it’s your parental responsibility. Teach South Sudanese girls self-sufficiency; don’t raise your daughters for other men, raise them for themselves and nurture their dreams. Marriage is not a career, it’s a supplementary life companionship and partnership between individuals, don’t make it the South Sudanese girls’ only ultimate life goal.