Christine Joseph Ngbazande, is a mother of three, an activist and leads a women’s development organization in Yambio, the capital of Western Equatoria state in South Sudan.
“I lost my mother very early in life and, suddenly, my childhood became quite tough,” reveals Christine.
At an age when her focus should have been going to school and getting an education, Christine found herself caught in a cycle of domestic chores and farming. “I would often be late for school,” she recalls. “Because I was a girl, my family gave me no space to prioritize my education.”
Christine’s childhood dream was to become a teacher. However, like innumerable other young girls in the world’s youngest nation, she faced financial hardships. “We didn’t have enough money to pay my school fees. Moreover, in 1990, my family relocated to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Between money constraints and having to adjust to a new country, a totally new way of life, my dreams seemed to wither away,” she reveals wistfully.
But something within this spirited young girl refused to give up.
“As I started growing up with seemingly no prospects, I began to take a greater interest in the lives of women and girls around me. Everywhere I looked, there was one common denominator—young girls and women did not receive the same opportunities as their male counterparts,” states Christine.
“More importantly, women needed help to ensure they had a voice in decisions that impact them directly.”
It was at this point in her life that Christine found, what she calls, her calling. “I decided I would become a social worker and do my best to shine a light on the suffering of women and children.”
When South Sudan declared independence in 2011, Christine was witness to the promise that freedom brought. Vitally, she has also seen the devastation wrought by the civil wars of 2013 and 2016.
“It was a terrible time,” she reminisces. “It’s not possible for us to count the number of people who lost their lives. Young women were widowed and left to bring up their children on their own with little or no skills at all. The worst was the displacement. Families fled to Yambio to save their lives and many relatives were separated from each other; young girls were raped. It was devastation on a scale we had never witnessed before,” she elaborates.
Seeing the crises unfold around her, Christine started taking an active part in her community, supporting displaced people and becoming a powerful voice for peace.
Her work was noticed by community members and leaders alike and soon, she became Chairperson of the Women’s Union in Yambio.
For Christine, the Revitalized Peace Agreement, signed in 2018, holds immense significance.
“It’s impossible for me to express in words what a boon this relative peace has meant for the people of South Sudan. I can see more and more girls going to school, getting the same opportunities as boys; many young women are fast becoming entrepreneurs and there is a relative improvement in security conditions, though last year’s clashes in greater Tambura that led to massive displacement and deaths have been a setback for our state,” she avers.
But despite setbacks, Christine remains firm in her belief that for inclusive, durable peace to prevail across South Sudan, women must be equally included in politics, governance, constitution-making and the economic life of the country.
“Women and girls make up 50 per cent of any country. South Sudan is no exception. Therefore, much of the work I do involves building self-reliance and skills among women. If we can be economically empowered, our voices will be heard,” she states passionately.
Advocating for women’s rights is something Christine does every day. “Traditionally, our country is very patriarchal. Men take all the decisions while women are relegated to the background. My objective is to change this way of thinking, one person at a time and the only way to do it is to consistently raise awareness among community members.”
Sensitizing men is something she focuses on, during her advocacy sessions. “We cannot achieve equal rights for women without men supporting us; they are key in spreading the message that without involving women and girls, South Sudan cannot have a peaceful, prosperous future.”
Christina’s deep commitment to the cause of women’s rights has received due recognition.
“In the course of my career I have received awards and felicitations that have gone a long way to fuel my passion to build peace and continue lobbying for women in my country,” she reveals. “I have been commended for my leadership, my humanitarian work in protecting children as well as received a national-level gender equality award,” she states proudly.
But, with her trademark humility she is quick to point out that all her personal achievements have a single interface—uniting voices across Western Equatoria, and the country at large, to rally around the ongoing struggle to build a gender-equal South Sudan.
“Everything I have ever achieved; every accolade is because fighting for the rights of women in South Sudan is a worthy cause. My aim is for community members to unite and boost the resilience of women and young girls. Equality isn’t achieved overnight but I am optimistic that if we all stand up and say no to gender-based violence, say no to child abuse, say no to underage or forced marriages, say no to any form of discrimination, we will eventually get to a place where women and men can share the sunlight.”
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).