Business women in Juba call for support

By Anna Nimiriano Nunu

Cecilia is sitting in the dirt on the ground, trying to sell maize at Konyo-Konyo market. The sun is hot, and a small borrowed umbrella gives her shade. She can’t afford her own. The maize is in a small quantity because she can’t afford to buy more. Even the bucket was borrowed from another market seller. There is no table or chair for her to sit on. Beside her, several children are playing, trying to catch what their mothers are selling. Their mothers are quarrelling upon them.

“I started selling maize and dura in Konyo-Konyo market since 1989, when I had only one child. Up to now I am doing the business,” said Cecilia, whose name has been changed to protect her identity. “During the conflict in 2013, my child was shot dead whom I brought up through difficulties,” she said. When her husband died, she thought his relatives would support her and their children, but she said nobody cares. “All my children grew in the market.”

Many women like Cecilia who are alone – because their husbands died during the war, or because they are divorced or because they were displaced – are struggling to survive in the economic crisis and to bring up their children. They are calling for support to make a business to sustain their lives.

The women working in Konyo-Konyo said the economic crisis has made the prices of market items unstable. Cecilia said one day she bought a sack of maize for SSP 3,000 and the next day it increased to SSP 3,500. The women are buying the items from wholesales, and they get little profits.

“I started doing this small business a long time ago in Konyo-Konyo market,” said Dorothy, whose name has also been changed to protect her identity. She said during the war between the Sudan government and Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM}, she went to Khartoum with her children.

“I was brewing alcohol and sold it in the house, which was not an easy business in Khartoum because of sharia law. I was taken several times in prison,” she said. “Then I managed to bring up my children and educate them. After Independence, I came to Juba thinking that my situation will improve. Instead it is becoming worse.” She said although her husband is doing business in the market, he is not supporting her. She lives with her parents and is taking care of their children.

Julia, whose name has also been changed, was selling fruits in the market. She said she faces many challenges. “The staff of City Council is chasing us from the place where we are selling our fruits,” she said. “Last Sunday a certain man was telling us not to put our vegetables in the place where we used to sell. He has no uniform, but he relates as City Council official.”

Timon Wani, director of Kator block Council Jubek State, said he knows the women face challenges. “We know some of these women are widows; others are in the markets because of hardship in life due to economic crisis in the country. They are getting little profits out of the business they are doing,” he said. “City Council has plans for them. We are going to provide them with tables where they will sell their vegetables and fruits.”

Wani said the challenges are that if City Council provides tables, some of the market women see it as the property of the City Council. What they can do for such groups is that they give them a piece of land. The women could then make tables and own them. The other difficulties are that, if you provide them with tables, and the women are not regularly in the markets, if the table is empty, city council can allow somebody else to use it. In case the woman comes, city council could take her to another place.

Wani further said the men who threatened the women on Sunday need money from them, but this is not a good way of getting money. “We should assign some staff to work on Sunday, to see who those people are that threaten women,” he said.

Wani stated that the City Council is chasing women because of hygiene purpose; they don’t want them to sell vegetables and fruits on the ground. “My message is that let women not sell their items on the ground. Let them put on the tables. If City Council finds them doing that, they would throw out the items,” Wani said. “We know the economic situation is bad; everybody is coming in the market to look for ways of survival, but let women listen to what the City Council said.”

At a church in Tomping, Angelina Michael opens a plastic container with beaded jewelry in it. She pulls out a bracelet that says peace on it and some colorful necklaces. These are handcrafted work a group of vulnerable women is making. Michael’s husband is not with her, and she’s caring for her daughter and some dependents. “Currently, I have three orphans living with me in the house, there father died. The mother is disabled; I don’t have money to pay their school fees and buy uniforms,” she said.

Michael, a chairperson of women group in Presbyterian Church, Munuki branch said they are doing handcraft activity in group, like making beads for decoration, earrings and other forms. Sometimes they sell the items within the country or abroad. She said the majority of the women in the group are widows whose husbands died during the war. Among them are elderly women, whose children were killed during the war too. “Nobody is taking care of them. They need help,” she said. “They started handcraft activity in Khartoum long time ago; we were making beads and bed sheets.

Anggelina Michael, a chairperson of the women’s group in the Presbyterian Church, Munuki branch, photo by Anna Nimiriano.

There is an NGO that hired a shop for selling our things, that has helped us a lot,” she said. “We trained women in Khartoum with this activity, especially women who were brewing alcohol and they were been taking to prison from time to time. She said the business is easier as a group, but that they still need support from NGOs or civil society to assist the women.

She said she presented the issue to the church, but was told the church has no money to assist them. “Now there is no shop where we sell our items,” she said. “If there is an NGO that can hire for us a shop that will help us a lot.” Rev. Paska Aciya, Deputy Secretary of the Women Desk office, with the Presbyterian Church in Sudan and South Sudan, said they provided small loans to women who are running small businesses, like selling vegetables, charcoal and making tea in the markets.

She said that the office of Women Desk is unable to get donors to support women business at the moment. “Let women continue with their business,” she said, adding many are widows who educated themselves and their children through such work in Khartoum. “Let them look for support and learn business skills from others.”

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