South Sudan, these photos capture the strength of women refugees

Nonostante fame, povertà e violenza le donne del Sud Sudan portano avanti la propria vita con dignità. Only a woman è il reportage che mostra tutta la loro forza.

By Loredana Taglieri 

In December 2013, South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir accused former vice-president Riek Machar of attempting a coup. In short, the political dispute turned into an ethnic conflict between the Dinka and Nuer tribes. The conflict caused more than 2.3 million displaced people (of which 1.65 million internally displaced) mainly coming from northern states, such as the Greater Upper Nile and Unity State, where the country’s largest oil fields are located.

Rape as a weapon

A report released by the United Nations on 12 March 2016 accuses the government of allowing the military to plunder villages, kill civilians and rape women in reward for their work. Since the beginning of the conflict, more than 50,000 civilians have been killed and over 1,300 rapes have been registered. That’s because rape has become a weapon in South Sudan.

In July 2016, just before the celebration of the fifth anniversary of the independence of South Sudan and after the fragile peace accord signed in 2015, new clashes broke out in the capital Juba in which over 300 people died, causing a new wave of violence.

1 in 30 women risk dying in South Sudan from causes linked to pregnancy and birth, as well as the lack of access to healthcare facilities. 1 in 10 children die before turning 5 due to malnutrition or diseases easily treatable with proper healthcare facilities.

The city of Mingkaman

The city of Mingkaman didn’t exist until the conflict. Now it is home to 150,000 refugees, where they found peace, shelter, food and care thanks to the World Food Programme (WFP) and the support of NGOs.

This is a place where the post-traumatic stress disorder – which is widely spread after decades of conflict – isn’t recognised and treated. A place where pregnancy threatens the life of young women, and children live on the street, alone, with barely any clothes on, barefoot on the hot, red land. In Mingkaman temperature reaches up to 56 degrees, with no running water, where the only shelter from sun is the shade under a canopy.

sud sudan donne
Mingkaman, Lakes State, South Sudan. On the road, heading to the tents after the distribution of food © Loredana Taglieri

The WFP has provided each family with a card and once a month women and children line up early in the morning for food. Here, these issues are incumbent on women alone, just like pregnancy and childcare. You can see them, hundreds of them, with their baby bump waiting in line for hours, patiently, sitting on the floor or on old milk powder cans. In the end, they carry sorghum sacks on their head, heading back to the only road in Mingkaman.

South Sudan’s women go on with all the strength in the world 

In the maternity ward of the hospital in Bor there’s a room and a bed with a small mosquito net protecting a baby. His mother abandoned him in front of the nearby market after giving birth. He was conceived by rape. Before him, his mother had four more children in the same way. She lost her mind and killed them. After years of violence, these women don’t perceive a child they way it should be. To them, it’s just a reminder of the horror they’ve experienced. These women carry an immense burden on their shoulder and continue to live with all the strength in the world.

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