In the words of Angela Mwangangi: “Now they know business is the better way to solve their problems"
Angela Mwangangi works in Bentiu, a conflict zone in South Sudan. She supports women and girls in internally displaced person (IDP) camps and the local host community faced significant challenges during COVID-19. Women suffered from increased GBV attacks and lacked accurate vaccination information. Economic empowerment initiatives have strengthened livelihoods, reduced GBV, and improved information sharing in Bentiu’s crisis context.
Men were not allowing women to do business before, but we have been teaching the community about village savings and loans associations (VSLA) through trainings and talk shows on community radio. It was the first time many had heard about such initiatives. At first there was alarm as they thought it would be like the commercial banks – who come and take everything from you if you default.
After joining our VSLAs, many women turned from brewing traditional alcohol to start their own businesses. These brewers were exposed to gender-based violence (GBV) as they were frequently dealing with drunk men. Their exposure to GBV has been reduced and with their knowledge about savings, they have developed healthy businesses. Now they know business is the better way to solve their problems.
The women save according to their incomes in the VSLAs. They save in 3- or 6-month cycles, recording their savings during weekly meetings. Once a cycle is complete, they count their money and redistribute the benefits, keeping some capital as savings. They also give each other loans to start and run their businesses, as most women don’t have capital to start a business. Women are now running small businesses like selling tea in the market, selling vegetables, and one woman is now running her own restaurant.
We have seen the women in our groups having improved livelihoods, nutrition, access to capital for their businesses, as well as reduced exposure to COVID-19 as most of the women were vaccinated and are aware of where to report cases of GBV. We have also seen the men reporting cases of GBV. Our partnership with UN Women has been invaluable. This project is helping this community. We hope the project can be extended to other counties in South Sudan.
Angela Mwangangi is the Programme Manager for the UN Women project being implemented in Bentiu by Women Vision. The project contributes to the prevention and mitigation of COVID-19 effects by providing targeted information and skills training for women, especially IPDs and their host communities in Juba and Bentiu.