United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS)

11 February is annually commemorated as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science.

Peacekeepers from India serving with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) deployed to Malakal decided to use this Day for an awareness raising session.

They joined forces with other UNMISS personnel to sensitize 55 young students at the bandar Primary School, covering topics such as gender equality, roles and careers available for young girls in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The main aim: To encourage young South Sudanese girls to have equal access to and participate in career options that were traditionally considered male-dominated and empower them.

For Lieutenant-Colonel Phillip Varghese from India, such activities give peacekeepers the opportunity to interact with youth and, hopefully, motivate them to eschew violence by focusing on education.

“Education is a powerful tool that can bring about transformational change in any nation,” stated Lieutenant-Colonel Varghese. “In South Sudan, some 70 per cent of the population is under 30 years of age. Young people here have witnessed much suffering and conflict and we’re aware that whenever violence breaks out in a society, it is women and girls who are affected the most. Therefore, we wanted to use this International Day to reach out to students, especially girls, and encourage them that there is no career, no profession that they can’t aspire to. Girls can do everything boys can, and be as successful.”

Rejoice Luke, one of the students participating in the outreach sessions by Blue Helmets, said that her ambition is to become a journalist. “Its very inspiring to have UNMISS peacekeepers come and speak with us. As girls in South Sudan, we are often pressured into giving up our education to get married early. I think its important for all of us, girls and boys, to be allowed to complete our education and be economically independent. Personally, I want to become a media personality like my aunt,” she revealed.

Phillip Kuol, Headmaster, Bandar Primary School, shed more light on Rejoice’s summary of issues faced by young girls and the struggles they face. “Numerous cultural practices, such as early or forced marriages, hinder South Sudanese girls from completing their education. There is also the mistaken notion in some families that young girls should only be limited to domestic work. This is why it is very motivating for students to meet with UNMISS peacekeepers. It opens their eyes to the immense possibilities available to them once they receive a proper education,” he averred.

For his part, Yoseph Damena, a Civil Affairs Officer with the UN Peacekeeping mission, parents and teachers alike should commit to supporting young girls to pursue careers, especially in scientific fields. “Science opens up innumerable possibilities and girls should be guided towards disciplines such as engineering or mathematics, if they are interested. But what is most important is that every young girl has the freedom to complete their studies and be economically empowered. Women constitute 50 per cent of society and they must have the same opportunities as men for South Sudan to be a truly peaceful, prosperous nation.”

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).

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