Girls Just Cannot Have Fun!




As many of you already have guessed the girls in the Fugnido refugee camps do like their mothers, they work. Hard. After a whole days search we finally came across a girl doing gymnastics in a tree with a bunch of boys. Her name was Nyacat Dey (7). She was supposed to look after her baby brother, but he was sleeping so she had a few minutes to enjoy herself.

We saw plenty of girls of course, but all of them, except Nyacat, were doing some kind of domestic work. They were cooking, sweeping, fetching firewood, carrying water and looking after their siblings; women’s duties in the Nuer culture. Traditionally the Nnuer boys were brought up to be herdsmen, looking after the livestock. The problem in camps like Fugnido is that there are no animals to herd. Therefore the boys have plenty of time to play and the men have plenty of time to waste. Unlike the mothers and daughters who have more or less the same duties as they did back home.

Cindy Lauper might be right when she sings that Girls just want to have fun. But one thing is what you want, another thing is what can and cannot do.

The questions for you, dear reader are these: How can boys and girls be given equal opportunities in camps like this? Should the boys be playing less, or should the girls be playing more? Or is it simply an illusion to think that some sort of gender equality is possible here at all?





26 Responses to “Girls Just Cannot Have Fun!”

  1. […] Life for girls in Fugnido camp on the border of South Sudan isn’t easy. They are cooking, sweeping, fetching firewood, carrying water and looking after their siblings; women’s duties in the traditional Nuer culture. My colleague Øystein and I write and show more photos about girls’ life in the camp in the latest post on the our blog Untold Stories. […]

  2. Or is it, perhaps, that our ideas of gender equality don’t necessarily fit into all cultures? That’s one issue.

    Another issue is that a refugee camp is a world unto itself. In a sense, the girls may be luckier than the boys. Their raditional roles, and the sense of stability and worth they provide, are more easily transferred into the camp. Perhaps the issue isn’t precisely fun vs. work, but how to better maintain a sense of worth, of contributing, for the boys. It’s complex, for sure.

    • I couldn’t have said it better, Shoreacres.

      When you’re brought up to be the homemaker and live in a culture where females are homemakers, I’m not sure that life for girls in a refugee camp is any different to life back home.

      I think the boys need to be given some short of work or chores which fit in with their role within the family structure. Not what is considered ‘girl’s work’, but something in which they can feel a sense of pride and still keep their male role.

    • Excellent point.

  3. I enjoy the atmosphere innocent children! of very beautiful portraits of living simply

  4. Young girls need fun and an outlet from their daily responsibilities..All work and no play will make one weary from day to day…

  5. It’s a tough question with no easy answers. Your readers above raise some good points, but at the end, I think the culture itself would have to change to where women are valued, whether in the camp or not.


  6. There definitely seems to be some kind of imbalance with two genders. However, as you say the boys have been taught by their fathers to do what they did and they can’t do that in these camps. They should be learning other useful skills to become self sufficient. Perhaps they could learn some of the things the girls have to and then they could split the duties but culturally that may be far off. Obviously, things have to change for these people to find some kind of balance and purpose for all of them in their community.

  7. I would say it’s an illusion.
    This tradition is burnt into them, they don’t know better.
    And like shoreacres said, they are better off doing what
    they are used to do. When the camp is over and they
    return home, the girls just pick up their life. While the
    boys will have to get used to work again.
    At least they carry the water! 😉


  8. I think it’s their culture. Having lived in Africa myself, I’ve seen that in rural ares, the women do all the fetching and carrying, whilst the men sit and ‘chew the fat’ over a few beers and a pipe of tobacco. I don’t think things are going to change much in the near future. 🙂 Good for Nyacat Dey, that managed to find some free time for herself.

  9. Says:

    Hard to comprehend isn’t it?

  10. It’s definitely a culture thing and history has well shown us that we shouldn’t try to impose one culture on another. Having said that, it would be a wonderful thing if girls were able to play more and men had less time to waste – perhaps there would be a little less fighting and that has to be a good thing.

  11. Excellent report.

    The first thing they need, of course, is to get back to living a normal life for them, outside of the camp. Then only time will tell whether they stick with their traditional ways or not.

  12. It seems like they do have time… at least for the boys. Any schooling possibility? Maybe a couple of hours a day and girls can participate too? Maybe I am too naïve…

  13. That girl that took time to play-watch her, she is going to be a leader if she isn’t already. But don’t give her too much attention or jealousy will rise its ugly head and life will be very difficult for her.Whoa, sounds so pessimistic. I guess the difference is whether women are respected for their roles. And don’t boys need a healthy way to use their energy?

  14. The ladies need to revolt! Band together and strike! Say to the blokes, “Stop playing the @#$%! Get up and help in the chores or you won’t get any food to eat or fire to keep you warm at night!” Help to start a new an improved culture.

    • As a Nigerian who has issues with boys sitting around/play while girls run around from one chore to the other – I see your points so as African girls go, it is the only thing that could work – revolt!
      The girls already are thinking about it already but they needed someone to empower them, assurance their backs are covered in case their actions backfired and it would but once they are sure of the support they’ll go miles – unstoppable.

      What I’d do in this situation was to reverse the role, give boys jobs to girls and watch the boys see girls completing the tasks on time and better – that’d shame the boys.

      Actually, I just yesterday had a chat with my nephew highlighting how my niece of similar age is occupying her free time with value added activities – she teaches at two schools, making liquid soaps to sell, and learning how to sew leather bags – all of these as she completed her mandatory youth corpse service in Nigeria. I concluded that someone like her will always get my attention. He nodded in agreement, he is well aware of my discontent with the unfair gender inequality even at home afterall I am a girl.

      • Yes, and I even use the word “revolt” only for a lack of a better one. That word suggests that the men are in charge, and that the females must overcome their rule. Are they really the leaders? In my mind, leaders don’t act this way. Leaders are fair and proactive.

      • Revolt is perfect here I think. Well, I have never seen any men around me who feel the need to surprise women around them as leaders. Many African men with this mindset are naive and just too scared to let their women have the same opportunity for the fear their mediocre would show.

  15. The photos are so compelling. As always, you really tell a story of people in your photos and I feel like I get a feeling that draws me into that story. Women simply don’t fare very well in a large part of the world. I wish I could honestly say that I felt a sense of hope for the genders to have equal opportunity but I really don’t, at least not until there is generally more stability. Sadly, I think that until there isn’t a question of survival, it’s going to be really difficult to dismantle an entire social structure. We can hope.

  16. For me, this is the most important topic around the world. Children need to play ~ they need to feel happy and experience happiness…if they do, then they will be prepared to handle life. Wonderful photos and wonderful backstory to the situation… A happy child is a happy adult (wealth, for the most part, is irrelevant).

  17. Good questions.

    If boys are always free, and men too, then they should actually help the females in doing their tasks. This will help in reducing their work load, as well as provide them some time for themselves.

    I know life isn’t easy, and what I am saying might not be feasible, but I believe that would be the right thing to do.

  18. It is so easy. The boys can help the girls. Why is this difficult

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: