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Chuck Carney
Director, communications and media relations, IU School of Education

Last modified: Tuesday, April 16, 2013

IU earns $4.2 million federal grant to promote higher education for women in South Sudan

April 16, 2013

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The U.S. Agency for International Development through Higher Education for Development has awarded Indiana University $4.2 million for a 2½-year project to promote women's access to and success in higher education in South Sudan.

The project, through the Center for Social Studies and International Education, will be headed by Terry Mason, professor of curriculum and instruction in the IU School of Education, and Arlene Benitez, interim director of the center. The project will also partner IU with Virginia Tech and two South Sudanese institutions to promote gender equality and empowerment of women by creating a supportive environment for women to pursue secondary and higher education.

The grant is part of USAID's and HED's new Women's Leadership Program targeted for South Sudan as well as Armenia, Paraguay and Rwanda.

"It's a series of partnerships between American universities and universities in developing countries all built around creating mechanisms for women to have greater access to higher education," Mason said of the overall Women's Leadership Program. "In our case, it's focusing on teacher education and university capacity development."

The IU project will involve the University of Juba, Upper Nile University and the Ministry of Higher Education, Research, Science, and Technology in South Sudan.

USAID, the federal government's major agency for distributing economic and humanitarian assistance worldwide, works with HED to promote higher education engagement in social and economic development. HED coordinates international activities through six major higher education associations in the United States.

Two wars with Sudan in the past 40 years and another conflict in 2012 have ravaged parts of South Sudan. As a consequence, the education system is in dire circumstances. According to UNESCO, 1.3 million school-age children are not in any school, and most who enter do not finish. The numbers are worst for female students: UNESCO estimates that for every 20 girls entering first grade, just 11 make it to third grade and one reaches eighth grade. Only about 8 percent of South Sudanese women are literate.

Heading the project in the country will be Julia Duany, a Bloomington resident and South Sudanese native. Duany and her family fled her country when civil war broke out in 1984; she earned her bachelor's, master's and Ph.D. from the IU School of Education. She has been splitting time between Bloomington and Sudan, most recently serving as the South Sudan undersecretary for parliamentary affairs. Always concerned with social justice issues regarding her home country, she founded South Sudan Friends International and wrote a book, "Making Peace & Nurturing Life: A Memoir of an African Woman About a Journey of Struggle and Hope."

Duany said her work with South Sudan's ministry of parliamentary affairs was focused on bringing women into parliamentary leadership roles.

"Education is the soul of whoever is going to become a leader," she said. "It has to be within education. In this program, not only will we work with the universities, we will also work with the secondary schools and have programs that can enlighten young women and help them finish their education. They have to seek more capacity-building programs so that they can become leaders of tomorrow."

To build the opportunities for women in higher education, Mason said the project would focus on education from the ground up.

"They have enormous needs in terms of materials and curriculum," he said. "We'll be conducting classes; we'll be bringing in computers and software, with databases to enable people there to do various kinds of curriculum development and research."

The project also will focus on more strongly linking secondary schools with universities to ensure young women become academically prepared and willing to consider higher education.

"In this program we'll have master's degree students and faculty members from the universities going into the secondary schools to encourage girls to complete their education and consider moving on to university," Mason said.

IU School of Education faculty members will participate in various ways to develop the project.

"For example, Kathryn Engebretson (assistant professor in curriculum and instruction), whose area of interest is gender and women's issues, will help develop a gender-sensitive curriculum to create an environment more conducive for girls' education and for women to participate as faculty members," Mason said.

Duany left last week to return to South Sudan, where she'll travel often between offices at both of the partner universities. Despite continuing headlines about conflict in the region, she said, the battles that have torn the country apart are now largely contained in areas far away from where she'll work. Duany is confident this work can help bring a lasting peace.

"The challenges are logistics, which somehow people can overcome," Duany said. "I think the project will be viable, and it will make a lot of difference in South Sudan."

The U.S. Agency for International Development administers the U.S. foreign assistance program providing economic and humanitarian assistance in more than 80 countries worldwide.

Higher Education for Development mobilizes the expertise and resources of the higher education community to address global development challenges. HED manages a competitive awards process to access expertise with the higher education community in coordination with the American Council on Education, the American Association of Community Colleges, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, the Association of American Universities, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, and the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.