On the Grind for Success: a grinding mill business brings new opportunities for women’s group in Juba
In the heart of a bustling market street in Jebel Yeshua, on the outskirts of Juba in South Sudan, a group of women sing, dance and ululate. Like in many parts of Africa, ululating is a popular way of expressing happiness.
Today, these women have every reason to celebrate.
“We are open for business,” says an ecstatic Cecilia Kuluk, the Chairwoman of the Muhaba Women’s Empowerment Group.
The women’s group, made up of ten women from the community, has opened a grinding mill shop after receiving support through the Integrated Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Response and Prevention of Gender Based Violence (GBV) Program funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in South Sudan. The programme aims to empower women-led groups in business skills and enable women, who are usually among the most vulnerable in their communities, the opportunity to participate and contribute to the economy.
In July, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in partnership with Active Youth Agency (AYA), a local organization, provided the women’s group members with a series of training and support, including 3 days training on small business skills,3 days on women’s leadership, communications and relationship building. Thereafter, the team provided support to women on a weekly basis to develop realistic business plans to ensure group members build confidence and vital skills in starting and growing their business, with monthly follow-ups after the business set-up.
“We received new skills from the workshops but what really makes us proud as a group is that we chose the type of business to open ourselves – this is something that we are very proud of and I think it will inspire us to work harder and see the business grow,” said Cecilia Kuluk.
The women that the UN Migration Agency and AYA worked with came to the session with the odds against them.
“Most of the women were a bit despondent. We could tell that some of them had really taken the infamous term mara-sakit to heart,” said James Walla, IOM’s GBV Community Mobilizer.
Mara-sakit is derogatory term in Juba-Arabic which loosely translates to ‘just a woman.’
“Before the women could move to a stage where they were confident enough to open and run a business, they had to feel empowered and know that they are more than just a woman,” said Mr Walla.
The Chairwoman of Muhaba women’s group added that: “as women, we did not think that we had anything to contribute except for staying at home to cook, clean and look after the children.”
“But now I know I can come to work at the mill and get some money to send my children to school and buy them food and clothes,” said Cecilia, who was surrounded by the other members as they all nodded in agreement.
The members of Muhaba, which means love in Arabic, said that they hope to grow their business and help other women, especially survivors of gender-based violence, to also open their own shops.
“We want this place to be more than just a business,” said Kukula. “We want it to be a safe space for women to come and talk about things that affect them and we see how we can solve them together,” she said.
The Integrated Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Response and Prevention of Gender Based Violence (GBV) Program aims to improve accessibility to clean and safe water and sanitation. The program also aims to bring hope and prosperity through livelihood projects to women like Cecilia and their communities.