By Deng Kur Deng
In any underdeveloped country, the road to better education is very challenging, and this is certainly the case in South Sudan. A lack of role models—especially women teachers in the school system—is one of many reasons why girls are constantly dropping out of school in South Sudan. Therefore, it is very important for us to appeal to women who are not afraid to exhibit their professional strengths.
These women are more likely to have a positive impact on the lives of young girls, and so we must encourage them to do their part.
By supporting female teachers who are willing to be actively involved in schools, many young girls will be encouraged to remain in school, instead of viewing schools as a harmful environment. The presence of these female role models will hopefully spark a reawakening of girls’ interest in education. But this tactic will only be effective if we first fight the injustices demonstrated by the South Sudanese themselves towards women teachers. If we stand alongside these teachers, it will give hope to young girls, and we can finally gain momentum in terms of their enrollment in school.
For those young girls who are pressured by the cultural values to prefer marriage over education, this new approach will encourage them to reconsider. Women teachers will be able to set an example of how important education is to every girl; each one will have a chance to complete her primary and even secondary education. As we know, the absence of women teachers has a negative impact on many girls in the country. However, every young girl’s participation in education—which is often seen as contrary to our cultural values—is vital to economic growth and the development of our new nation.
We know that it is easy for many people in our country to belittle girls’ involvement in education by insulting them for abandoning their chores and for getting involved in what is typically known as a boy’s duty. In all honesty, I feel that neglecting girls’ contributions to nation-building—through educational achievement and development—is a major setback for South Sudan as a whole. However, women teachers are the turning point, so long as they can guide girls through school.
The presence of women teachers will definitely boost enrollment and increase the young girls’ chances to complete primary education. In such an environment, girls are more likely to imitate women teachers, which will enhance their performance and double their confidence. To date, the continuation of injustice is the result of passive leaders who should help guide the system that is cares about the welfare of children (specifically young girls who are known to be vulnerable in school). With enough momentum, we can change that system.
Girls are seeking environments conducive to learning, and we cannot maintain those supportive environments without the help from women teachers. That is the same reason why many girls have vanished from the school system in South Sudan—they don’t have the support. Some of us are wondering how South Sudan can get rid of these illegal principles in the country that prevent girls from living up to their potential?
There are many feasible answers to that question, but getting started is the major concern, as there are currently no resources to train additional women teachers. Even though the international community has attempted to address issues related to the education of young girls, these countries are slowing down their interventions because so far they have not been able to secure any real changes.
Currently, there are no reliable structures in place that the education system can follow, which is why it is crucial to invest in training more teachers, especially women. With this sort of new direction, some will say that we are trying to change our culture entirely. However, I feel that this is not a change of our culture, but rather an alteration of a tiny part of it, which will give room for girls to take advantage of opportunities as members of a progressing society. Supporting more women teachers is the starting point of equality in South Sudan.
Young girls are not inspired to commit to education beyond primary school because that is what our society expects of them. Our leaders keep looking for mysterious reasons why children aren’t completing primary school, and yet they are aware of the fact that girls are the victims of an unjust and unequal system, which results in them dropping out in large numbers. Unfortunately, our leaders act as if this is not enough of a reason to change our country’s standards and obey international laws.
There is no “best” time to address the problem; therefore, the time is now. These excessive practices of objectifying girls must be addressed through the involvement of both women and men alike in South Sudan. We must recruit the input of both sides in order to address the problem amicably. For example, we know that for many of those girls who are still enrolled in school, they can have a difficult time concentrating, because schools are often not safe places for young girls. What South Sudan needs right now is to invest in making schools safe to bring more girls on board. That way, they can equally pursue their education like their male counterparts.
Personally, I wouldn’t be comfortable associating myself with an environment that does more harm than it helps. The worst nightmare for a young girl in South Sudan is being forced into an unwanted marriage. For those individuals who aren’t well-informed about laws regarding children in South Sudan, they might not fully grasp how many young girls’ ambitions are abandoned at the feet of a forced marriage.
Some of my fellow South Sudanese are startled when people like myself talk about promoting equal access to education and giving girls the chance to pursue a real education. They wonder why I would bring it up, since I’m a man, and since I know about the traditions in my country. But they might not realize that I have sisters, aunts, and cousins who all faced this terrible reality, and I want to speak up on their behalf. I want to support those role models who are trying to influence girls to do more with their lives, and who are trying to rescue them from early marriages and who are encouraging them to obtain an education.
Any injustice towards children are usually sugar-coated by our leaders, given that they have little understanding of laws pertaining children. In our society right now, educated girls are sometimes humiliated, because they are seen as threats to the system; therefore, people resort to intimidation and abuse in order to negatively affect their emotional state. As a result, they frequently drop out of school. Tragically, this strategy of intimidation frequently works in South Sudan.
There is traditionally a passive response to violence in our country, and there is very little nonviolent intervention towards girls—whether in school or outside of school. For the girls to overcome these kinds of challenges in the education environment, South Sudan needs to employ a new strategy, such as incorporating trained women teachers into school system across South Sudan. Looking back at many reasons why girls are not participating in education in South Sudan, I feel it is a failure of the Minister of Education not to train more women teachers. This is one way to solidify their retention. As we all know, a person who is bullied can make poor choices and is often less confident among their peers, and this is one of the reasons why many girls have dropped out in drastic numbers. In all of these cases, self-transformation came in many forms, but all came at the moment when individuals chose to make the most of their lives without focusing on the negative.