The Countess of Wessex in South Sudan
The Countess of Wessex became the first member of the Royal Family to visit South Sudan this week on a trip focused on women peacebuilders and ending gender based violence. Sophie pledged her support to the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative (PSVI) last International Women's Day and she has already visited Sierra Leone, Kosovo and Kenya to discuss the initiative with survivors and government leaders.
She began her meeting survivors in Malakal, an area heavily impacted by the ongoing humanitarian crisis in South Sudan. The Countess heard from the women and learned more about the difficulties they face including displacement, insecurity, sexual violence and domestic abuse.
She also spoke with some of the men involved in the programme who are supporting women by bringing greater gender equality into their homes and communities. They discussed how harmful gender and societal norms continue to affect women and girls in south Sudan and encouraged the men to continue to be agents of change within the community.
Sophie also visited soldiers and officers who have been delivering outreach projects for human security from the Malakal Engineering Group. They are supporting the UN Mission to South Sudan through the building of Hospitals and operating bases. Serving Personnel have also upgraded 16 kilometers of road near a remote village where women and girls have to walk to collect food. The new roads make this trek safer and allow the World Food Programme to better access the village.
Her Royal Highness then travelled onto Juba where she met political leaders and peacebuilders. They discussed the important role that women play in building stable and long lasting peace for the future of South Sudan. Sophie also met Church leaders and representatives from Womens Link to hear about the work that they do in the country to promote peace and reconcile communities.
The Countess then visited a secondary school supported by the Department for International Development which has helped more than a quarter of a million girls in South Sudan to stay in school. Sophie learned how the UK supported girls education programme help promote gender equality and empower girls through education.
The Countess celebrated International Women's Day on the last day of her visit attending a special event in collaboration with Born to Lead. The local civil society is supported by Oxfam and their mission is to help South Sudanese women recognise and realise their leadership potential.
Sophie got to see a showcasing of work from the talented women artists, activists and photographers. She met local artists musicians, singers and poets who had all come together to celebrate the role of women. The Countess spoke at the event saying in part;
"At the end of the day we are better together.[…] Your country needs many more women to step up and help to shape and steer it towards the bright future which is within the nation’s grasp. And who knows, perhaps amongst us here today exists the first female President of South Sudan.”
- The Countess of Wessex
The Countess has long been a champion of Women and Girls rights and her work with PSVI has only highlighted another element of gender inequality as well as showing a path forward to reconcile this injustice. Women need to be involved on every level, in government, religion, culture and education. There has been so much progress made since the first International Women's Day in 1909 that we should honour and celebrate but remember, there is so much farther to go. Happy International Women's Day! xx