Adapted from a story originally written by Scovia Faida Charles, Communications Coordinator
When I was a little girl, my mother was the most important woman in my life. She was co-chair of our family, made independent decisions about resources, was compassionate but fierce when necessary, and a good listener and advisor.
She modelled all kinds of things for me but one thing I rarely think about is how grateful I am that my mother demonstrated leadership to me. She led in the classroom where she taught junior high and later as an adult educator; she led in church as a Deacon, Elder and Warden; and she led in the community as a volunteer. She was respected in these roles. I have realized—a bit late—that this is not something all little children, particularly girls
, get to see.
This is why I’m excited about these mothers in Yambio County, South Sudan, who are leading the charge for gender equality in their community.
For Mikelina Serezio, a 30-year-old mother of two, she never thought a woman like her could be a leader and make decisions.
Now, she chairs the Nagurudi Farmer’s Field Business School.
Mikelina said it is usually the men who make decisions and women do the work. “We grew up knowing that a woman’s place is in the kitchen. Once married, we follow what the men decide,” she said.
Together with Severina Philipo, a 50-year-old mother of six, Mikelina leads a farmers’ group composed of 50 women and men in their community.
Gender equality in the household and beyond
Thanks to training from FEED II, a World Vision project with funding from Global Affairs Canada, women learned how to have rich conversations with farmers about gender equality without making the men feel uncomfortable or guilty.
Using a variety of interactive and entertaining activities, the participants reflect on and learn the roles of women and men in their community.
Mikelina and Severina led ground-breaking collaboration between men and women in their community. Photo: Scovia Faida Charles
“My husband was afraid that I would not be accepted and respected as a leader. That was also my fear. But the skills I gained from World Vision made me realize that I have a role to play,” Mikelina said.
Previously, men and women in her community weren’t inclined to work together, but that changed when the group was organized. She said working as a group encouraged them to interact and share issues.
“In one year, I have advocated for the inclusion of women in decision-making,” Mikelina said. “I can confidently attest to how vibrant women’s participation have become in decision-making within families and the community.”
Planting seeds of gender equality in leadership
The farmers’ group received maize and green gram seeds to boost their livelihoods and support their families. In one year, they harvested 140 bags—50 kilograms each—of maize and green gram, resulting in earning 847,000 South Sudanese pounds (SSP), which is around $252 CDN.
“Women are now able to support their husbands for the family needs and pay for the children’s school fees. World Vision’s intervention gave us the courage as mothers to send our girls to school and not get married,” Severina said.
“We share the income among the group and use part of it to buy construction materials for the granary where we can store our farm produce. We were still able to save SSP 200,000 ($587 CDN). It was an achievement for us,” Severina happily added.
“Women have stepped up and our voices were heard,” 25-year-old Mary Nelson, one of the participants, said. “Severina and Mikelina are great leaders and we have learned so much from them.”
Mikelina's community put their savings to good use
–not only are they sending their children to school, her farmer's group also decided to build a storage space for their shared harvest. Photo: Scovia Faida Charles
Alana Mascoll, former Project Director for the FEED II program, said, “We are so happy to have women in positions of leadership. It is important that we support them with skills and resources to succeed. A lot of women do not believe in their own ability to lead. Providing them with training and guidance helps build their confidence.”
“We hope that women who lead their farming groups will also start to lead more activities in their communities and be examples for their girls in their area,” Mascoll concludes.
This Mother's Day, I too am happy to have women in positions of leadership in many areas of my life. Their example, like my mother’s, inspires me, and, I hope, inspires my own children.
I am also grateful for the example of women like Mikelina, who World Vision Canada is partnering with, and who are inspiring the next generation of leaders in their own communities.