“Music is a way to deliver messages of unity and enduring peace”—Achol Lul, Singer, South Sudan
UPPER NILE – Achol Jock Lul, believes that being an artist is her calling. This 27-year-old mother of three is a singer based in Malakal.
But following her passion in conflict-torn South Sudan wasn’t easy.
“When the war began in 2013, women and children were among the worst sufferers,” she recalls. “We were terrified and had to leave our homes, all our earthly possessions and flee, seeking refuge wherever possible. Many girls and women were raped, families were separated, never to see each other again. And in 2016, it was like a nightmare repeating itself.”
But it wasn’t just violence that proved to be a roadblock for Achol. She also had to deal with an overarching patriarchy in the world’s youngest country, where underage and forced marriages are a reality and education for girls is not a family’s highest priority.
“I remember, when I was a young girl, all I wanted to do was sing and make music. However, life is never easy for a South Sudanese girl,” she reveals wistfully. “We are expected to handle a large share of the household chores, get married as soon as possible and, somewhere in between, try and go to school. There is no space for an artistic temperament to flourish,” she continues wryly.
However, this remarkable young woman did not let go of her dreams and today is a rising star on the musical firmament of Upper Nile state. “I sing in three local languages, but I absolutely love Arabic. It’s a beautiful language and understood across the country. So, for me, it’s a great way to deliver messages of unity and enduring peace that reach all communities,” she says.
Being a musician is a challenging job. “Whether we are male or female musicians, we are all plagued by the lack of professional equipment and recording studios. However, we persevere because music is understood by all and it is a powerful tool for peacebuilding,” she says.
For Achol, a key element for inclusive peace: Ensuring South Sudanese communities understand the importance of women participating equally in decision-making.
“Often men undermine the immense contribution of women to society,” states Achol. “However, we make up half of society and, speaking specifically of South Sudan, women and girls have traditionally always been overshadowed by men. If we are to build a peaceful nation, our voices, our opinions and our capacity to effect long-term change must be recognized.”
Her solutions for a more gender-equal South Sudan are simple. She believes every woman should be empowered by the government to build their skills and resilience.
“The government and other organizations must support girls and women in becoming economically self-sufficient, either through donations, capacity building or helping us set up our own businesses. We also have our own part to play, though. Girls and women need to stand up for themselves because they have the power and ability to be leaders,” avers Achol passionately.
This inspirational young singer’s message to women and girls on International Women’s Day: “Rise up to support each other and help shape a peaceful, prosperous future for South Sudan. Let’s build a better society together.”