Mary Boyoi is the executive director and founder of Voice of the Peace (VOP) in South Sudan. VOP is a national NGO that provides psychosocial support and referral pathways for medical care to survivors of Gender-Based Violence (GBV). They largely focus on community awareness by reaching out to various groups in the community. VOP has child-friendly spaces as well as girl-friendly spaces to provide a safe haven for survivors of GBV. They also work with vulnerable women and girls by providing them with skills such as basket weaving, embroidery and other crafts to empower them to become financially independent.
From a music career, to a career helping women
I started singing when I was very young – in Sunday school– and in 2006 I was discovered. By 2008, I had become very well-known. With fame, my dream to help women became possible, and I said to myself: “I should start a charity organization with the support of my music.” That’s how Voice of the Peace began, and at the time I was giving half my music career proceeds to the organization.
These days I don’t do music anymore, unless I am asked or invited. Music is full time. I used to make music and make money at the same time and support the organization. But because I’m working on very sensitive issues like GBV I need to dedicate the time to do it properly – to ensure I do no harm.
My motivation: the future of girls
The motivation for my work is simple: where I come from, girls are not sent to school, they are being violently targeted, and many are forced into marriages. In most cases, even when you see an educated family, they send the boys to school but leave the girls behind.
I really wanted to empower other women and that’s why I decided to form my organization. With the money that I used to get from singing, I started sponsoring two girls to go to school. I’ve always had a desire to support women and young girls to be self-sufficient.
Where I come from, the challenges for girls and women are immense. Women are discriminated against and they are not allowed to express themselves. They are not allowed to choose what they want. They are not allowed to choose their partners. They are forced to marry against their will. They are seen as objects, things. They are voiceless.
When a girl or woman wants to report sexual abuse, it is very difficult. Those who come forward have to face shame from others who question why they are talking about it.
Fighting sexual violence against girls means working together
As organizations working to address GBV, we need to work together and not see each other as competitors. If we do, we will not achieve our goals. I say this all the time. We should work together and share ideas and good approaches.
We also need to talk with local chiefs and reach all women and men in general because if we only do GBV programmes with women, they will not work. We need to convince men that they are supposed to consider us, and that women are good leaders. And we need them to understand that if they have a daughter who is educated and self-sufficient, she can support a family.
In South Sudan, there is a lot of harassment including in the workplace.We also need a movement to mobilize women here to do the same – to speak out. We could adopt the same name, or create our own name but we need to do more in this space as this is an issue here too.
The power of music
Music is a powerful way of communicating messages. Normally when we do awareness-raising, we start with musicals so that people want to come and take part. We use songs that will educate people and you know when you try to do awareness raising without music, people will not come. But when you have a catchy melody, people come. For example, when we sing songs like “We are the World” and bring artists from different places, it can serve as a tool for peace. Through music I can bring people together and travel around South Sudan to campaign for peace.
Mary Boyoi is human rights activist, philanthropist, singer and the Executive Director of Voice of Peace, an NGO in South Sudan. Mary was born in Malakal, South Sudan in 1980, three years before the civil war erupted. Mary uses her exceptional talents in music to shed light on issues and calls for peace and reconciliation among South Sudanese people.
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