SSWEN was first formed through an electronic list-serve in 2005 and has since emerged as a driver of South Sudanese women’s transnational activism. In the beginning, it was composed primarily of women (and a few men) in the US and some women in Sudan who had begun to connect through online conversations. From the start, SSWEN leaders represent the three central regions of South Sudan, Equatoria, Bahr El Ghazal and Upper Nile.
As SSWEN grew in popularity and online membership increased, founders sought to reach out to a diverse range of women and began organizing conferences and fundraising events throughout the U.S. The goal of the meetings was to hear from a broad base of women and to take their testimonies into account while shaping an emerging mission and vision. Women (and some men) from widely varying socioeconomic classes, regions, and ethnicities attended early meetings, where heated debates unfolded around women’s appropriate roles in society, both in Sudan and in the diaspora, and who targeted members of the emerging organization should include.
By 2007, SSWEN leaders started to rethink their mission and vision to include women from all marginalized areas of Sudan. Furthermore, after the CPA was signed in 2005 between the Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the Government of Sudan, more Sudanese and South Sudanese began returning to their prewar homes from the diaspora. It became increasingly vividly for SSWEN members to focus their energy in South Sudan.They felt the needs of women in South Sudan seemed to be so much more significant.
In this way, political shifts at home in Sudan as well as in the international development arena worked to broaden the identity-based boundaries of SSWEN‟s work, pushing the group to rethink their level of inclusivity and to strategize ways to build unity along shared historical difference.
Following leadership training sessions in Washington D.C. in August 2007 and early 2008; SSWEN’s board decided that the entry point to South Sudan would be a conference in Juba, the capital of the South.
The conference brought together women leaders from a range of fields and expertise to create a collaborative and robust network of individuals and organizations working to promote and protect women’s rights and gender equity measures. The theme of the conference would be “Weaving Together” to echo the desire of SSWEN members to collaborate in efforts to rebuild a peaceful and just new Sudan and to build connections between women across difference.
Central to the theme of ‘Weaving Together’ was both a notion of diversity and unity – viewed as central to the formation of a grassroots women’s movement that was both sustainable and transformative, and that sought to center bottom-up, women-led and gender-just development goals and activities.
The Board of Directors and the President and founder of SSWEN, Lilian Riziq decided that empowerment at the conference should be centered on the need to improve women’s positions in seven key areas. Education, Health, Business, Politics, Social and family issues, Gender-based violence, and legal, customary, and judicial systems.
Since the Weaving Together Conference, which was a pivotal moment in the history of South Sudan and SSWEN, the organization has grown from strength to strength and continues to raise awareness and build upon civic education through advocacy, conferences, pieces of training, and events.