Celebrating women in JRS and in History

On this International Women’s Day it is good that we once again take time to honour the wonderful women in our lives. You know better than I the many examples of strength, courage, goodness and resilience from the women in your own lives and from your work with JRS. On this day let’s remember and give thanks for them.

In the world today the population of women is almost 50%, yet we know the representation of women in many public fora including government is much lower than that. In South Sudan under the peace agreement, there’s a commitment to ensure a 35% representation of women within Government. This commitment is also reflected in the Constitution of South Sudan. It will take time to realize, but it is a very important commitment.

Women and men experience many things differently. They therefore bring important and different perspectives to many things. I read a book once that talked about how the nature of our architecture, the design of our public spaces, including green spaces in cities would be different with greater input from women. Increasing meaningful participation of women in every aspect of public life does not automatically mean the outcomes will be better for society. However, it does mean they will be more representative of the desires and needs of all.
Women and men experience stress and anxiety differently. The risks both genders face can be different, and the perception of risk differs.

Therefore, it is very important as JRS that we consider this, and do our best to create spaces for active dialogue. In that way different views and needs are aired and male and female voices to contribute to important decision-making processes within this organization.
Most often the barriers faced by women to attain meaningful participation are invisible, and often they are not intentional. Rather, the barriers can be invisible, hardened over many years so they become part of a culture or way of doing things. Inviting women to gather in a space does not guarantee participation. That invitation is only the starting point. I am happy that we have a better balance between women and men on our Senior Management Teams at Country and Field level. Also, that we have better gender balance in our Child Safeguarding Officers and PSEA focal points. This will enable someone who is male or female the comfort of choosing who they prefer to talk to if they have any issue or complaint. This choice matters.

In mid-2021 JRS globally produced our first Gender Policy which is a framework to bring more gender sensitivity in our programming and greater gender equity into JRS. It is not a question of discrimination, but a question of achieving better balance, so that men and women are given a fairer opportunity to shine and grow within JRS in service to our mission. In Juba we have Anna our first female Security Guard at Country Office. Anna is also completing her last year of medical studies to become a Doctor. In WES we have Rose our Construction Supervisor managing substantial construction projects there in difficult circumstances. We have Pauline and Sharon our PSS Co-ordinator and Assistant Co-ordinator in Maban, and Christine our PSS Co-ordinator in WES. We also have Suzan our new Head of Finance in Juba. We have all the ladies in our support teams who wash, cook and clean every day keeping the engine of JRS activities going. They give us life and are the backbone of our efforts!

There are many, many other strong women doing wonderful work in service to the mission of JRS in South Sudan and around the world. There are strong women leading the way within our partner organizations also. I think of Carole the Senior Programme Officer in UNHCR, Hilda the new Head of Field Office for UNHCR in WES, Malar the Head of Field Office in Maban, our colleague Eva who is the counsellor to the student body at the Catholic University in Juba. There is Emer, my former colleague and now Operations Manager with the Irish Jesuits International. Emer was the only white person in Labone, Eastern Equatoria for many years working with JRS to provide vital supports to schools there, during the years when the LRA were moving around and causing huge insecurity and pain. There is also Jenny the Director of the Canadian Jesuits International who has given many years of deeply generous service to the Jesuits and JRS in different capacities. Also, Liana the Regional Representative of our longstanding partner JRS USA, Joan the Regional Director of JRS USA, Katie the JRS Global Senior MH-PSS Support Specialist, Carlotta our Head of Finance for JRS International, Daniella our Global Reconciliation & Peace Building Specialist, Paula our Regional Communications Officer, Jill our Global Gender Responsive Education Specialist, and Christina my counterpart and Country Director of JRS in Uganda. I cannot possibly name everyone, but there are very many to thank and acknowledge.

In the political sphere we think of leaders like Wangari Maathai in Kenya who led the awakening of the world on our responsibilities toward the environment. Angela Merkel who showed such leadership in opening the borders of Germany to receive over 1 million refugees from Syria some years back, and now Ursula Von Der Leyen the Head of the European Commission leading with strength and courage in trying to ensure the same generous and united response by the European Union in support of the suffering Ukrainians. We all know the strong and courageous women academics and political leaders that exist in South Sudan. I have met some of them. They need our prayers to deepen their courage and wisdom in service to all people in this great land. Today is the day when we celebrate the efforts of all these women in a special way, as human beings equal in human dignity, equal in capacity, women as wives and partners, as mothers, as sisters, aunts and women as professionals, leading by example in bringing positive change and opportunity to families, communities, societies, countries and continents.

It is good on this day also to acknowledge all of the many ways in which women are disadvantaged and hurt in South Sudan. We pray for them, we work for and with them, those who have been displaced and subject to some of the same fears and brutalities that St Bahkita herself experienced. All that has been difficult in their past and in their present does not need to define their future. As JRS we are part of the effort of changing the future for women and girls and South Sudan. As men and women working together within JRS this is something
we can be very proud of – JRS South Sudan ‘Men and Women for Others’

Author: Noelle Fitzpatrick, Country Director JRS South Sudan

Photo: JRS South Sudan/Odong Ana Anthony, she is a 24 years South Sudanese, and she is studying to become a Clinical Doctor.