In South Sudan, approximately 11 million people live below the poverty line. This affects young girls’ education, since families are too poor to buy school uniforms, transport fees and textbooks. If they can afford them, they send boys to school, keeping the girls at home to help with household chores.
As a result, only one girl in ten completes primary education, and only a third attend secondary school. Those who enrol find themselves dropping out due to several causes that include prioritising boys, pregnancy due to a lack of knowledge on adolescent health and sexual reproduction rights, as well as shame resulting from unhygienic menstrual practices.
21-year-old Seida William studies at Kapoeta Secondary School, located in a small town in South Sudan. Seida is among the lucky girls in Kapoeta to have reached that far in her education. Later in life, she wants to become a doctor and construct a new house for her parents with the money she will be earning.
Seida’s parents want to ensure Seida receives the best education possible. To pay for her school fees, materials as well as her uniform, shoes and sanitary pads, her mother Angelina goes to different villages selling local brew, whilst her father works as a translator at the local police station.
Due to her passion for education and commitment to her peers, Seida was selected as one of the 15 individuals to become a peer educator as part of a school health programme, managed by the Amref CCM Foundation, with support from Health Pooled Fund (HPF) Phase 3. The programme aims to increase knowledge about sexual and reproductive health amongst the female students through debates and mentorship.
“It’s so difficult to be a girl and at the same time to finish school here in Kapoeta. Girls are often forced to marry at an early age against their will leading to girls leaving school, getting pregnant and even acquiring sexually transmitted diseases and unemployment, amongst others. To reach the level I am in, there are lot of sacrifices demanded from both my parents and myself.”
Encouraged to speak publicly about health-related issues and advising peers on sexual health and wellbeing, Seida continues:
“I gained skills which allow me to be more confident in my support of fellow students and the community. I talk to school girls and those in the community about hygiene management during the menstrual period. I also inform our fellow students about the dangers of open defecation and tell them to avoid sex at a young age and rather focus on their studies. I also discourage any form of Gender Based Violence in school and in the community, and urge students to report any form of violence to their teachers.”
To further promote good menstrual hygiene and keep the girls in schools, the programme also procured sanitary pads, which female students could collect from the peer educators.
Even though menstruation is a fact of life for women, many women in South Sudan assume it is a disease and dangerous due to the cultural taboo around conversations about it. As a result, many women try to hide the fact that they are menstruating. Coupled with a lack of resources, women often use leaves or newspapers as substitutes for pads, which leads to accidents which then inflict more shame on the women.
“We don’t have money to buy sanitary pads for our menstrual period so many school girls are absent during their period. This has been a great help.”
According to Seida, she has noticed a change among her peers: Girls are now reaching out to her for advice, and also those who have been harassed have spoken out to the teachers. She hopes the programme will continue to offer training to her and others and keep providing sanitary pads and soaps so that she and her fellow female students can remain at school.
Seida is one of the fortunate ones, however it is not only her who benefits from her education: According to the UN, there is a direct correlation between educational opportunities for girls and strong economies as well as positive social change. In fact, a recent study of eight emerging economies by Citigroup and Plan International concluded that ensuring all girls finish secondary school would boost GDP in those places by an average of 10% within a decade. And not only that: The Economist states that the children of educated mothers are more likely to receive vaccinations and therefore less likely to die before they grow up. The publication goes as far as saying that if all women finished secondary school, the number of global child deaths would fall by half, and 12m fewer children would suffer from stunting caused by malnutrition.
To achieve these ambitious goals, we must start at the grassroots: By continuing to support advocates like Seida to champion girls’ education within their own communities, and change behaviours and attitudes not only in South Sudan, but across the world.
 Founded in 1987, Amref CC is a foundation with experience in health interventions (including Nutrition) in Emergency conditions.
 Funded by the FCDO, USAID, the EU, Canada and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), the Health Pooled Fund is managed by Crown Agents and supported by a variety of implementing partners, including Montrose. It provides hundreds of thousands of citizens, especially women and children, with quality healthcare, delivering services across 80% of South Sudan.