Wherever you go in South Sudan you see women entrepreneurs. They are selling vegetables in the markets, running beauty salons, setting up fashion boutiques, providing tailoring services and using their creativity in craft businesses and restaurants.
In 2010, a group of women who attended entrepreneurship skills and microfinance training formed a private association called “Southern Sudan Women Entrepreneurs Association”. which after the independence of South Sudan became “South Sudan Women Entrepreneurs Association” (The World Bank, 2011). The association is concerned with the empowerment of women through entrepreneurship, capacity building, networking and business development. Since the formation of this association, many women became members and some got training and grants. In the same time, progress has been made by female entrepreneurs—there are women owned companies and many other women started small scale businesses to support their families.
Encouraging more women entrepreneurs
In South Sudan, like in most African countries, the patriarchal culture has negatively affected women, and many cultural practices are biased against and imposed mostly on women.
Clause 16 of South Sudan’s Transitional Constitution 2011 clearly states that women have rights to own property, however cultural practices are contrary to this part of the constitution, affecting women’s ability to start or be involved in businesses. For one to become a successful entrepreneur, you need to be self- sufficient and financially stable, but because of traditions that believe women are meant to stay at home to look after children and do only domestic chores, many women are dependent on their spouses. Husbands dictating to their wives on what they can and cannot do is a real challenge especially for ambitious women who want to be self-reliant. Because almost all disputes in South Sudan are dealt with in customary courts, there is need for a review of the formal and customary legal system to protect the rights of women as espoused in international law (The Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, Policy Brief, July 2013).
There is need to talk about the great things that women are doing. Much is done but little is brought into the light for the world to see and learn from. There are women in South Sudan who are already selling in the regional and international level, for instance, Ms. Florence Gordon, the Managing Director of the South Sudan Women Entrepreneurs Association said in one of her interviews that she made it to the regional market and she encourages more women to do the same: “I was able to display South Sudanese products in Rwanda, Tanzania, Egypt, and China”. (City Review, 2022) South Sudanese women who live in Kampala and Nairobi also engage in small scale businesses to sustain their families; there could be many other women who have markets in the region or even globally but are not noticed. There is need to identify them and have them share their experiences and challenges.
Support for women entrepreneurs to prosper regionally
South Sudan women entrepreneurs have aspirations to own banks, companies, and industries; to have increased access to credit facilities through Savings and Credit Cooperatives (SACCOs), to see more women participating in the East African Common Market and other international economic blocks, to be treated in a respectful and dignified manner, and to compete favorably with other women entrepreneurs from the region and the continent (South Sudan National Women’s Strategy September, 2016).
There is already some support for women entrepreneurs within the country, both at the national and grassroots levels. Humanitarian and development organizations in South Sudan have programs for women’s economic empowerment and entrepreneurship, for example, in Yambio, Masaia market was rehabilitated by UNDP and UN Women so that women entrepreneurs selling fruits and vegetables would have proper and hygienic facilities for their businesses (UNV, 2019). In this intervention more than 88 women beneficiaries were provided with additional entrepreneurial and business skills so they can provide better customer service, save for, invest in, and even expand their businesses.
However, more needs to be done by the government and its development partners in order for women’s aspirations of competing in regional and international markets to be realized.
The Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan which was signed in 2018 calls for the establishment of a Women’s Enterprise Fund to support women-owned businesses and build capacity of women entrepreneurs. This will be a great opportunity for women entrepreneurs if it is implemented.
Support like the Women’s Enterprise Fund should not be limited to entrepreneurs working only in South Sudan, we need to support women so they can capitalise on opportunities in the region and beyond. For instance, the Dubai Expo 2020 put emphasis on Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) and welcomed participants from 192 countries to showcase their innovations and cultures. South Sudan participated in the Expo 2020 and showcased the country’s rich cultural heritage, opportunities and welcomed investors into the country. Displays included crafts made by South Sudanese women (South Sudan Pavilion, Expo 2020 Dubai video). Women’s participation in the Dubai Expo was an amazing way to encourage women to establish their own SMEs and have big ambitions.
One woman’s story – an inspiration for others
South Sudanese women have potential, and with support they can create and sustain their businesses.
Anna Enosa Lomerika is one of South Sudan’s most talented fashion designers. She discovered her talent in 2016: “when my boss saw my sketch she was impressed and encouraged me to improve on my talent”. Anna took her boss’ advice seriously, “I started to look for a fashion and design school, I landed on Career Gate in Egypt and I enrolled”. For three years, Anna learnt professional design and tailoring.
It takes courage, discipline and determination to do what Anna did, but now she is a professional fashion designer, among the very few in the country who can actually do the work herself without having to hire tailors. She is the only fashion designer who specializes in wedding gowns.
Anna wants to see more women to become like her, “I now offer training to people who have a passion for fashion and want to make money out of it”. Anna is admired in the country because of the great products, “each year am becoming stronger and more creative” Anna said.
Entrepreneurship is the backbone to every country’s economic development, it creates jobs for the youth, men and women and increases the GDP of a country. When women are involved in entrepreneurship, it means they can become financially independent and able to support their families, and their voices will be respected at the family level and in the public spheres. South Sudanese women can be breadwinners in their families—we know they are supportive but they also need support.
If women entrepreneurs are fully supported, the burden on men, who are considered the head of a family and believed to be the sole provider, will be reduced. In South Sudan, empowered women who understand their rights, are working, earning and taking the lead in providing for their families. This shows that if we invest in women’s economic empowerment and encourage more women to venture into entrepreneurship, we will have more financially stable families and a bright future for the next generations.
|Vellendi, Stella. Supporting the livelihoods of women in South Sudan with UNDP. UNV, 2019.|
|The World Bank, 2011. https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2011/05/25/female-entrepreneurs-in-africa-southern-sudanese-women-make-their-mark-on-the-private-sector|
|South Sudan Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan, 2018.|
|https://www.kas.de/c/document_library/get_file?uuid=78fdebb6-65c1-4185-1a24-c02d25ba5bdb&groupId=252038. SSuDEMOP, 2016.|
|Ponnie, Shelia. https://cityreviewss.com/south-sudan-crafts-business-excels-in-regional-market/. April 2022|
|Expo 2020 Dubai | South Sudan Pavilion https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BczpkfmZh_8|
|The Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, Opportunities for gender justice and reconciliation in South Sudan, Policy Brief No.10, July 2013|
|Chol Gabriel Majer, (2021). “The roles of South Sudanese women Entrepreneurs in Small Business Development and Sustainability”.|