Nelly is a South Sudanese refugee leader in the Bidibidi settlement in Uganda. In this story, adapted from the Who Holds the Microphone Series, she discusses her engagement with the humanitarian community and emphasizes the need for resources, income-generating activities and spaces dedicated to women, where they can freely discuss their experiences and challenges.
“This crisis changed a lot of things. Back then, in South Sudan, the men took care of us—they brought food, money, clothes and we would stay [at home] cooking and taking care of the children. Now, it’s the women who are looking for food for their children and even [for] their husbands. I don’t know where my husband is, so all the responsibility is on me, but at least in the refugee settlement, I’m trained to be a leader so that I can talk to women and counsel them.
My responsibility as a women’s representative and refugee leader is to gather information from the community and take it to the humanitarian actors. When I attend meetings, like a women’s conference in Arua, I [convey the information I gain] to the women in Bidibidi.
We [the leaders] also gather women to talk about our experiences, like when violence happens; we share these experiences so that we can counsel each other. We are called for meetings with humanitarian organizations, but often they do not talk to women separately (from men). If they met us separately, we could talk about our issues, women to women.
There are many organizations that [share] the voices of women on radio stations—but we want to put our voices into action, like when we say that we need a women’s centre.
[We want] donors to support us through income-generating activities and to [facilitate training] on different things. I didn’t go to school, but I can do something for myself. I can make soap, I can make beads, and I can make shoes. My mission is to be an exemplary woman. I would like the world to know about the women in Bidibidi.”
After the war broke in South Sudan, Nelly arrived in at Bidibidi Settlement in 2016 and is now a refugee leader representing her village while providing for her three children.A UN Women research project funded by the U.S. Government, “Who Holds the Microphone” worked with crisis-affected local women and women’s organizations in Bangladesh, Colombia, Jordan and Uganda to create participatory videos through which they shared their initiatives and priorities.