The greatest tragedy of the world’s youngest nation is perhaps that it is not quite tragic enough — at least by the standards of the 2014 news cycle. Despite the perfect storm of crises that engulfed the young nation last year, South Sudan was not quite as bloody — and the ethnic cleansing not quite as widespread — as Syria. Its outbreak of cholera and spikes in malaria and tuberculosis were not as pressing as that of Ebola in West Africa. And its food insecurities — the worst in the world — were not as severe as those in East Africa’s past, shyly missing the designation of “famine.” Malnutrition doubled among children under five, and more than 50,000 children faced death due to food insecurity, but neither was enough to line the fundraising campaigns of the United Nations and other aid operations in-country.
Yet, in 2014, in only its second year of existence, South Sudan teetered on the brink of genocide, disease, and famine — a deadly combination exacerbated by a particularly harsh rainy season and an endless race-to-the-bottom in what is becoming an international crisis-competition for limited resources and meager relief.
The role of women in my understanding of this narrative became very central quickly in my time in South Sudan. Consistently, women and girls were disproportionately and grotesquely affected by every element of each of the broader crises. Every hallmark of the most basic female experience — from birth, to motherhood, to sex — was disrupted by war, by disease, and by unspeakable choices of circumstance — all punctuated by rampant, and in many case, acceptable gender-based violence. Though in my edit I attempt to show the many faces and issues of South Sudan’s tragic “daily life,” I identified my female characters as the protagonists, guiding the narrative and the audience through South Sudan’s many challenges.