Still waiting for the education peace benefit
8 March 2013 – Although she only possesses a primary school education, Jennifer Kujang is a community leader and head of a women's union. Yet she believes she could have done much more if she had continued her education.
"Can you imagine where I would be in my life if was a university graduate?" asked the Chairperson of the Central Equatoria Women's Union.
The union, headquartered in Juba, was formed to tackle challenges faced by women in the state. Its members move around the six Central Equatoria counties, sensitizing women on gender-based violence, health, poverty reduction and political processes.
Equally as importantly, they also provide adult learning for girls and women who missed out on education, insisting it is never too late.
"Girls and women that are educated are empowered and able to make informed decisions about their lives and the lives of their children," UN Women Representative Izeduwa Derex-Briggs said in a joint UN statement to commemorate this year's International Women's Day.
But few girls have been able to attain this empowerment. "Although much had been achieved since South Sudan emerged from conflict, many parents and children were "still waiting for an education peace premium, "UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown said in his 2012 report, Education in South Sudan: Investing in a better future.
"In what is a desperate situation for all children, South Sudan's girls face additional challenges, Mr. Brown added. "Just six per cent of 13-year-old girls have completed primary school."
The South Sudanese government underlined the gravity of this situation when it chose "The Gender Agenda: Educate Women and Girls" as it national theme for International Women's Day, expanding the global theme, "The Gender Agenda: Gaining Momentum".
Statistics clearly paint the picture. A June 2012 Education Status Report by the World Bank revealed that out-of-school children had a particular profile -- poor, rural, overage and female.
At 27 per cent, South Sudan has the lowest literacy rates in the world. Only 19 per cent of women aged 15 or older are literate. Only about 37 per cent of eligible girls enroll in primary school, and just 1.3 per cent of them enroll in secondary level education. About 65 per cent of non-literate youth are female.
Alongside the government, both local and international development partners, including UN agencies, are attempting to remedy the situation.
Even before independence, UNICEF initiated the Girls' Education Movement in Central Equatoria. Using drama and music in communities to promote education, it contributed to increased enrolment of girls in school.
Others, like UNMISS police, are providing adult learning across the country for South Sudan National Police Service (SSNPS) officers who had received little education before joining the force.
Female police officers said they were reduced to roles like cleaning and serving tea at the police stations before receiving education. With enhanced skills, they could have similar rights as their male counterparts and compete with them for promotions.
The Central Equatoria Women's Union, with support from the government, is also running classes for women – and men – from age 16.
"They attend our weekly classes, which cover the first three years of primary level education," said Ms. Kujang. "So far, we have been able to send 20 people to start class four in more formal establishments."
The efforts are paying off, with different age groups enrolling in school at the same time.
According to the World Bank report, the gap between boys' and girls' enrollment still affects all levels of education, but has diminished greatly. There is a much smaller gender gap in the current generation of children than among adults.
"This shows that girls are among the main beneficiaries of the recent expansion in educational coverage," the report said. "Gaps in school participation remain, however, and girls are also affected by higher repetition and dropout rates than boys."
"The full participation and empowerment of women in society is necessary if South Sudan is to achieve development and sustainable peace," said Special Representative of the Secretary-General Hilde F. Johnson in the joint UN press statement.