Thursday, 9 September 2010

Gender Story

Young girl expressing in wonderful, simple words her vision of life: to learn a trade, to have a good job, a family, opportunities…Obi was listening and I know she heard her.

He is a university graduate and works for a multinational company in Juba. He is a Southern Sudanese and a Dinka. His girl friend of many years is also a university graduate and she works for the Government. She is also a Dinka. And she is tall, very tall, again like most Dinka. They were planning to marry at one point but were not yet ready and they didn’t have enough money for the wedding. And then her father “gives” her, or rather auctions her. She fetches a good price because she is very tall and educated. She is to be the third wife of a man rich in cows. So now, this nice modern couple is faced with a terrible dilemma? How can he outbid the other candidate and get the girl ? He has no money! Well, that’s what families are for in Africa. All his uncles chip in and he gets “pledges” for 200 cows. Then he goes and places his “bid” and… he wins!! The final contractual agreement is now for the price of 150 cows. Cash down or cows down, it doesn’t matter and the other 50 are “on call”. He now owes his relatives the equivalent of 200 cows or about 80,000 dollars. More than 10 years of work at current labor price. Whenever one of his cousins will want to marry he will have to provide cattle, or money. He is terrified eventually this will happen.
This trading goes on all the time. Girls are nurtured and raised to be tall ( the main attribute to set a high price) because they bring in cattle. And CATTLE means everything to a Dinka! Education is also good for price , but not too much!! Fathers ( if they can be called that) have learned that if the girl gets too educated , she starts being “uppity” and wants to be ‘in love’ with the man of her choice, not of HIS choice.
There are only 8 (eight, it is not a typo ) trained midwifes in South Sudan. 2000 young women out of 100,000 die every year giving birth. You can also put it that a girl has more chances to die giving birth than finishing high school.
What can be done about this? Human rights organizations and the whole humanity rises against slavery and the fact that approximately 200,000 Southern Sudanese were taken into slavery during the war is considered to be a horrible crime. But how can we define these everyday occurrences in Southern Sudan ? The work the Bank and other NGOs are doing here are a drop in an ocean. The Bank finances a project for vocational training for young girls that have dropped out of school. They will train about 3,000 girls. Let’s hope at least these girls will be able to make their own lives as they want , not to become the third or fourth wife of a Dinka or Bari man rich in cattle…And maybe they will raise their daughters to be independent and in turn…

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