The Countess of Wessex is visiting South Sudan this week, focusing on issues related to girls and women’s rights, to coincide with International Women’s Day.
“The Countess’s visit, during International Women’s Week, will promote the rights of women and girls, through education, inclusivity at leadership level and by tackling sexual and gender-based violence,” according to Buckingham Palace.
“During her visit, Her Royal Highness will meet survivors of gender-based violence to learn about the impact of the conflict and hear about the ongoing challenges faced by displaced women and girls. The Countess will also join a conversation with men who are engaged in a programme to bring greater gender equality into their homes and communities by supporting each other and challenging the societal issue.”
The UK Embassy in Juba, South Sudan, has been posting about Sophie’s visit on Twitter, billing it as a way to “to champion women’s role in peacebuilding, to see how progress is being made to tackle sexual and gender-based violence and to promote girls’ education.”
Among her engagements so far, Sophie has met with church leaders at the South Sudan Council of Churches to hear about how they engage women and work towards “local peacebuilding efforts” that include promoting peace and ending violence against women and girls. The UK Embassy tweeted, “Religious leaders must continue to play an important role in promoting a peaceful future.”
She has also visited a project set up by the International Medical Corps, with UK aid from the Department for International Development, called the Women and Girls’ Friendly Space, in Malakal. The Space works to help women and girls who have been displaced by conflict.
The International Medical Corps tweeted about her visit, writing that they appreciated Sophie’s “efforts to amplify the voices of the women and girls in Malakal, South Sudan, who are rebuilding after years of civil war.”
Afterwards, Sophie met men taking the Engaging Men Through Accountable Practices programme, which educates them about gender equality and gives them tools to help women and girls in their families and communities.
Sophie also visited the Malakal Engineering Group, a part of the 75 Engineer Regiment based in South Sudan, which is working to help women and girls through the teaching of self-defence and infrastructure repair, including upgrading a road to ensure that women don’t have far to walk to collect food.
On Thursday, Sophie visited the Juba Diocesan Model Secondary School, a school that is supported by Girls’ Education South Sudan and the Department for International Development and UK aid. The school empowers girls through education and the organisation posted on Facebook that they were “honoured to have HRH The Countess of Wessex visit a GESS-supported school this morning.”
Sophie met with teachers and students to hear more about the learning environment. So far, Girls’ Education South Sudan has helped keep over a quarter of a million girls in school.
Sophie also met with Her Excellency Rebecca Nyandeng Garang, the first female Vice President of the country, to talk about equality and how women can be active participants in public life.
Sophie is the first member of the Royal Family to visit South Sudan, which is the world’s newest recognised sovereign state, having gained independence from Sudan in 2011. Upon arrival to the country earlier this week, she was screened at the airport for coronavirus symptoms.