• Nabie Loyce | Media and Communications Assistant

Malakal, South Sudan – In many parts of South Sudan women are forbidden or its considered taboo to perform certain types of work.

Doing physical work, including construction, is particularly frowned upon, and considered to be against the culture. In many communities a woman’s place is believed to be in kitchen, cooking, or looking after children and other family members, or working in the garden.

Julia James, an Internally Displaced Person in Malakal, South Sudan, is challenging these norms. Julia lives in a Protection of Civilian (PoC) site with 42,000 thousand other IDPs.

Despite her knowledge of traditional and cultural beliefs about the place of women in her society, in 2022 Julia decided to challenge the status quo.

Julia and her team work on a new bathroom door to replace a damaged one. Photo: IOM/Nabie Loyce

IOM’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Department in the PoC where Julia lives advertised for trainees in construction and masonry work. Julia’s PoC is one of the largest of five Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps in South Sudan. The need for hygiene, water, and sanitation for IDPs is immense. When Julia saw the advert, she decided to apply. The desire and need to provide for herself and her family, meant Julia needed to try for this opportunity.

Initially she was very anxious about what people in her community would say. She knew this type of work was considered to be for men only. But she decided to give it a go. She vividly remembers being laughed at by her community, the first time they saw her wearing overalls to head to the training

Julia replaces a damaged bathroom door with a new one. Photo: IOM/Nabie Loyce

“I didn’t know anything about construction or masonry work. I grew up in a traditional and typical South Sudanese family, being told this type of work was only for men. When I decided to join the training, at first, I got a lot of criticism from my community members. “How can a woman learn how to construct toilets? That’s a man’s job”, people would say.

But Julia desperately wanted to learn new skills that would help her gain an income working in the camp, rather than doing nothing.  

Today, the skills and knowledge she acquired are being put to good use. Julia works full time with IOM fixing toilets, bathrooms, sinks and other similar work.

Julia replaces a damaged bathroom door with a new one. Photo: IOM/Nabie Loyce

“The training has enabled me to gain an income, which is helping me to provide and support my family. Most of the women now look up to me as an example to women and girls. My job is a lifesaver. I can pay my children’s school fees and still save money that can help me start a new one day if I decide to leave the PoC” says Julia, as she hammers a nail into an iron sheet finish repairing a bathroom stance.

Julia's story shows that investing in women and girls today lays the foundation for the feminist change-makers of tomorrow and her achievements show us what becomes possible when we ensure equal access to opportunities and services as said by IOM's Director General Amy Pope in her message on International Women's Day. 

IOM’s WASH activities in Malakal are supported by USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance, European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations, South Sudan Humanitarian Fund and Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
SDG 5 - Gender Equality