Together we are stronger

How women and girls friendly centres activities mitigate and prevent gender-based violence by women empowerment

Helene Sandbu Ryeng
A woman sewing a bed sheet
07 April 2020

“We all have daughters, and we want to be good role models for them. The best way we can do that is ensuring they grow up in homes without violence,” Maria [NAME CHANGED] says while rubbing her eyes.

The welcomed breeze giving immediate relief from the hot March weather, is also kicking up dust irritating the eyes. We seek shelter inside where four other women at the UNICEF supported women friendly centre in Aweil are waiting. I know it can be uncomfortable sharing personal stories with other people present, so I ask if they prefer talking individually.

“We already know each other’s stories well, so we prefer to talk in a group and support each other, that is what this place is all about,” Agnes [NAME CHANGED] says.

“This is a place where you can come with a heavy heart and disturbed mind, and leave relieved - thanks to all the sisters,” Grace [NAME CHANGED] says smiling while looking at the four others.

A woman holding a bed sheet
Maria [NAME CHANGED] is helping with producing a bed sheet which will be sold at the market later.

South Sudan is literally carried on female shoulders. They are the ones fetching water in the morning, they start the fire to make breakfast, they are taking care of the children, they wash and clean. Many, are also breadwinners, putting food on the table.

“And on top of all this, we are beaten,” says Maria. “Here we get all the information about what is right and what is wrong. We learn about our rights and how we can ask for them to be respected.”

A woman standing in the doorway
Lydia [NAME IS CHANGED] is standing in the doorway at the women friendly centre in Aweil.

Maria is giving clues that there is a story behind her statement. I don’t ask directly but wait to see if she wants to share. And later on she did, we’ll get back to her story shortly as Grace says she wants to tell her story.

“When my husband came home with a new wife, I was very upset. As you know, in the Dinka culture, a man can have many wives. I was really upset and asked him why he had to get another wife, and he started beating me because I questioned his decision. I went to the centre and shared my story and I realized that many of the women here have had the same experience. They gave me a few tips on how to go about the new situation at home, knowing that I would not have the power to end the new marriage. I went home, applied what I was advised, and the beating stopped.”

Beads create independence

Grace is sitting with a long piece of pink fabric across her knee, embroidering flowers in all colours across the sheet, while Nyanthon [NAME CHANGED]  is working on a traditional necklace made out of green, white, red, yellow, blue and black pearls- the South Sudanese colours. The women can’t stress enough how important these activities are for them.

“How exactly is this contributing to reducing violence at home?”

“A lot of the fighting happening at home stems from fighting over money. I have to ask my husband for school fees, money for medicine and so on, and that creates a lot of problems. Here, we produce embroidered bedsheets and jewellery which we sell in the market. Now, we don’t have to ask our husbands for money,” Lydia [NAME CHANGED] explains.

A woman making a handkerchief
Agnes [NAME IS CHANGED] is working on a handkerchief.

The women are hoping for sewing machines which would speed up the production allowing the women to produce more in a shorter period of time- increasing their income and thus their independence. But more than anything, they hope more centres like this will be created in Aweil.

"This is the only centre in Aweil and can only accommodate so many. Personally, I know about many women who would benefit from centres like these, who need that support system,” says Maria.

“Indeed, more centres are needed in Aweil, but I would say it is more urgent to establish centres outside Aweil, in more rural areas. Here, at least we have radio, so we get some information. Now we for example hear about the Coronavirus. In the villages they don’t get any information about anything and the men keep on beating them,” says Nyanthon.

 “They are going through what we did before we had the centre,” says Maria and is now ready to tell her story.

“My husband used to beat me, and then he wanted another child. I said no, I refused to have another child as long as he was treating me the way he did. Every evening we would fight about it, and every evening he beat me. But I didn’t budge. I asked him to come to church with me instead. There, he was taught how to treat women, and after he started attending church regularly, he also stopped beating me. This was back in 2008. Last year, we had a son. When he started treating me well, I allowed him to make me pregnant. The good advice about taking him to church, I got from the group,” Maria says smiling.

“You know, here you are never alone,” says Agnes [NAME CHANGED]. “Whatever you are going through, someone else has also gone through it. We give advice, share experiences, and you go home with ideas on how the situation at home can be improved. It can be life-changing and your life can sometime depend on it,” she finishes.

A woman showing a beaded necklace
Nyanthon [NAME CHANGED] ] is working on a traditional necklace made out of green, white, red, yellow, blue and black pearls- the South Sudanese colors.

UNICEF South Sudan is supporting women and girls friendly centres, just like the one, in several locations throughout the country. Not only do they serve the purposes articulated by the women in Aweil, they are important entry points for women including survivors of gender- based violence to seek help. From the centre, they can be referred to more specialized services if needed. Furthermore, the women are important sources of information for UNICEF programming on prevention of gender- based violence, social cohesion and peace building.


The GBV programme in Aweil is generously supported by the United Nations Peace Building Fund (PBF) and USAID