Champion of Women and Children in South Sudan Says “We, Too”

by Heather Robinson

Meet Yom Deng Bul.

Born in the midst of South Sudan’s second civil war, which claimed 2.5 million human lives and which many describe as a genocide, she has personally survived horrors, and gone on to found and direct the Achut Foundation, a nonprofit organization that advocates for South Sudanese youth to receive education and to protect girls from child marriage and abuse.

Yom’s own personal story is one of great suffering, endurance and triumph.

After South Sudan gained independence from the Islamist North on July 9, 2011, President Salva Kiir Mayardit’s government cracked down on human rights activists, journalists, political opposition leaders, and dissidents. Extra-judicial killings and apprehension and detention of citizens became common.

Among those voices of dissent was Yom, who says that, following the establishment of the new country, she became “serious” about her work to protect the rights of women, children, the disabled, founding the Achut Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to enabling South Sudanese girls to receive an education, and advocating against child marriage, rape, and even “torture” of many girls that she says takes place at the hands of men in countries like South Sudan, Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, and Ethiopia.

Yom was organizing conferences which brought together Muslims and Christians, to sensitize communities about protecting and valuing girl children, traveling from village to village, trying, she says “to change cultural perception that girls are only meant to be married and bear children.”

She was also advocating for protection of girls in the legal system. One goal was to amend the Constitution to include protection from child marriage for girls and discrimination against girls.

“Most communities [in South Sudan] are only focused on education for boys; at an early age girls are married off,” says Yom. “Sexual exploitation of girls is common. Many girls are physically or emotionally abused as well. Many are tortured to death by the men they are sold to.”

She added, “I was keen to see that the new country was founded with clear provisions to protect the rights of the vulnerable groups like girls, children, women, and the disabled. This earned me friends and foes alike. I was actually risking my life but never saw anything wrong in advancing general concern for the community.”

Others, however, thought differently.

On April 26, 2014, three men with ties to the government of Salva Kiir Mayardit attacked her, stabbing her in the face, beating her with bricks, and leaving her for dead. She spent three months recovering at Aga Khan University Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya.

“National security individuals dragged me out of my house, I was beaten and stabbed,” said Yom. “You can be tortured to death and your dead body can be dumped somewhere.”

Miraculously, she survived, and after recovering in Kenya, she completed a degree in international relations from the University of Nairobi.

In Nairobi, her house was broken into, and she was threatened.

She came to the United States on April 15, 2018 for a speaking engagement at Trinity College in Connecticut, and has appealed to the U.S. government for political asylum.

Yom would like to become a US citizen and advocate for protection and rights of girls and women in Africa, where she says women have “less voice” than in the U.S.

“I’d like to advocate for girl child protection, for our South Sudan community to embrace girls as human,” she said. “What I would like to do the most is to get girls scholarships, for me to be able to bring girls to where they can get access to quality education is a dream I have in mind.”

“If I get asylum, I will be doing this work from here, mobiliz[ing] resources to help girls in [countries like] Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and South Sudan … I can mobilize resources here to get support for my mission there.”

She would like to advocate for the US government to bring warring factions in South Sudan to the table to halt the brutal, widespread violence she says has taken the greatest toll on the women and children of South Sudan.

“I’d like to see if the US government can help with the mass scale sexual assault and killing that is going on right now … I’d like to express my views and to tell why is it important for the US as a superpower to call for the warring factions to abandon violence.”

More to come.




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