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The recently announced Nobel Peace Prize 2018 was awarded to Dr. Denis Mukwege, a doctor who has dedicated his life to repair sexual violence victims in civil war zones. I had the chance to meet and interview him, and feel honored to share his story.

Dr. Mukwege
Dr. Mukwege founded Panzi Hospital, with capacity for 3600 women, where he performs reparative surgeries. Photo credit: Miguel Bueno

Written by Vivian Soares

Dr. Denis Mukwege’s voice has a calm and nice cadence – he chooses his words very carefully when he talks and never shows any sign of anxiety or nervousness. His face does not reveal what he has had to confront in his brilliant career as a gynaecologist and obstetrician who, for more than 15 years, has helped rape victims to recover their dignity by performing reparative surgeries.

His story began a few decades ago when, still a young doctor, Denis Mukwege started working as an obstetrician and was quickly engaged in the fight against maternal mortality. After having his hospital attacked during the Congo civil war, he became a human rights activist. “I’ve never understood why patients had to suffer for a war they didn’t start and I thought something had to be done,” he says.

By 1999, he started to receive women who had faced rape by militias and provided treatment and reparative surgeries for the serious cases. The appalling situation of those women made Dr. Mukwege start a hospital for rape victims, which has capacity for 3600 patients per year. Since then, despite facing death threats and adversities, Dr. Mukwege has never given up. He fought for more and started a worldwide campaign against sexual violence, and is now one of the global symbols of the campaign against rape, winning the Prize Sakharov in 2014 and the Alternative Nobel Prize in 2013 for his work.

Besides working as a surgeon and helping women recover from this violence, he also developed a 4-pillar model to be implemented in different hospitals and countries. He believes the victims should have medical, psychological, socioeconomic and juridical assistance to be empowered and to be able to regain their lives. The 4-pillar model is already in place in Congo – medical students are being trained in Dr. Mukwege’s hospital on surgical techniques and complementary treatments, while he has established partnerships with local governments on music therapy and social assistance projects. “We also try to make sure women are given opportunities to study or to find an economic activity to earn a living after the trauma,” says Dr. Mukwege.

Dr.Denis
The work of Dr. Mukwege was portrayed in a documentary screened during the International Festival and Forum for Human Rights (FIFDH 2016). Photo credit: Miguel Bueno

He believes women empowerment won’t come without fight and culture change and this is the reason he engaged in the United Nations’ #HeforShe campaign. “We are equals and need to be together. Women have been struggling alone for many decades and it is now time for men to take the responsibility on it as well.” He warns that sexual violation is a global problem, which is not concentrated in developing countries or war zones. “We need the conscience that we can do more as individuals and as a civil society. The cure for this barbarity will not come only from a surgery but from government recognition of such violations and of a change of mentality.”

Dr. Mukwege’s work is portrayed in the documentary L’homme qui répare les femmes, screened during FIFDH – the Human Rights Film and International Forum, which is currently taking place in Geneva from March 4th to 13th. Horyou believes Personalities like Dr. Mukwege should be even more vocal and an even bigger visibility. Humanitarians like him are Horyou’s inspiration in creating a social network for social good, as we work together to spread the word on positive and meaningful actions worldwide.

On the 25th of November, we celebrate the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. As part of its support of the cause, Horyou interviewed Juncal Plazaola Castaño, UN Women Specialist on Ending Violence Against Women.

Orange the world is a UN Women Campaign for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

What is UN Women’s approach to the elimination of violence against women?

We focus on four areas of work. The first of them is to work with partners, governments, civil society and stakeholders to revise or approve legislations and policies that meet international standards. It does not only regard violence but also equality and opportunities issues, like divorce and custody. We also work to improve services provided to women, namely legal, social, police and security services. Another area is prevention of sexism, men privilege and men dominance. We do that through women empowerment and by promoting more positive masculinity. The fourth pillar is about evidence and data. In order to know the magnitude of the problem and make governments and actors aware of it, we need to collect evidence. We do this with our partners, mostly academic.

Have you scored any recent progress in these areas?

In the area of legislation, UN women was an important actor on defining legal age of marriage in Malawi and some places in the Caribbean, focusing on preventing child marriage. We also helped to implement Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces, a program that aims to address sexual harassment. We are working with 27 cities in developing and developed countries, like in Winnipeg, Canada. The city has very high sexual harassment rates, especially with indigenous women and we involved with indigenous organizations to understand the scope of the problem and to set new public transportation initiatives. In Quito, Equador, we were partners of the municipal observatory of violence, which includes violence against women, too. They have a municipal budget allocation to the program, which shows great ownership and sustainability.

What is UN Women biggest challenge on eliminating violence against women?

One of them is accountability of perpetrators. It requires involvement of other actors and all of the pillars I mentioned before. If no legislation is involved, for example, the violence will continue as the perpetrators will think there is no penalty or consequence. We also need to address stereotypes, men dominance, men privilege and other social norms. Another big challenge is to reach those there are left behind, women who are exposed for their condition as women with disabilities, from ethnic minorities, lesbians, bisexuals, or women who are very young or older who experiment different types of violence. The last challenge I will mention is monitoring impact. We expect something to be achieved in 3 or 4 years, some change of social norms and attitude. I think we need to find the impact the work we are doing in a more realistic way.

Orange the world campaign. Photo: UN Women

Can we be hopeful that one day we will eliminate gender violence?

I am hopeful and I have observed some recent signs that gave me even more hope. One of them is the #metoo campaign. It shows the power of women’s voices and how to reach a momentum as the topic is not being hidden anymore. The campaign calls for accountability of perpetrators. And they are actually being called. It also shows that women are exposed not only related to domestic violence and women mutilation, but also to sexual and verbal harassment, rape and many other aspects. The other sign of hope is agenda 2030. The SDG set one specific goal for women, but there are also other hidden goals in the agenda. For instance, SDG goals dedicated to achieving inclusive and sustainable cities. It recognizes the centrality of equality, and how relevant it is for the international community.

What is the role of social media in UN Women campaigns?

The Internet and social media have a strong power to shape the ways we think. They are enablers of women empowerment. Social media gives voice to women and features stories of positive empowerment. It’s a very powerful tool for shaping stereotypes and the way we think and act, and a way to condemn discrimination. It creates a sense of community.

What does the color orange mean on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women?

From the 25th of November, we are ‘oranging’ the world for 16 days as part of the campaign. The color orange is a symbol of bright and optimistic future. The idea is to make social media to initiate a discussion about this future we want to have.

The 4th UN Sustainable Development Goal relates to education and change. How to implement inclusive and quality education for all, and promote lifelong learning, to build a fairer society.

Children in Pakistani School. Photo: UNDP

Malala Yousafzai was only 12 years old when she wrote a moving blog article about her life in Pakistan under the Taliban regime. Her bravery almost cost Malala her life – she was shot by a gunman and had to flee her country to remain safe. Things have changed for her since. Her voice was now heard and she became famous in global media for advocating education for girls in her country. Last summer, Malala received the news that she was accepted at the prestigious Oxford University. She’s a good example that education can change people, build dreams, move the world.

Like Malala in her early years, many children have poor or no access to education. According to the UN, 57 million children are out of school. Half of them live in conflict-affected areas. Even when they do go to school, it is often not enough to provide them with the basic education: 103 million youth lack basic literacy skills, and more than 60 percent of them are women. The most vulnerable groups are persons with disabilities, indigenous people, refugee children and poor children in rural areas.

Some progress has been achieved in the last 17 years – more schools have access to computers, and schooling is growing; yet the numbers are unequal and can’t always equate with quality. «Even though more children than ever are going to school, many do not acquire basic skills in reading and mathematics», said a recent assessment report published by the UN. Teachers do not have proper training and the poor conditions of schools in many parts of the world jeopardize quality education prospects.

Funds for infrastructure and training are needed, as well as public policies that prioritize quality education. Many non-government organizations have acted tirelessly to improve the situation, especially in the most affected regions and with the most vulnerable groups.

Girls education is a critical issue for our society. Photo: Ma belle école

On the Horyou platform, the NGO Avante – Educação e Mobilização Social, based in Brazil, provides empowering education to children in poor and socially vulnerable communities. In addition to funding teacher training and tech inclusion in schools, it promotes citizenship, encourages gender and racial identity debates with children, their families and social actors and train them to become community leaders.

The association Ma Belle École works within school inclusion projects in developing countries. Through individual sponsorship programmes, it provides children with regular access to school in conflict-affected countries like Syria and Mali. It also helps their families, providing them with food and other basic resources, so children are not forced to abandon education and thus be used as cheap labor.

If you wish to support this SDG, you can do so through Horyou. Go to Horyou platform and choose an NGO or project that helps promote education in your region or anywhere in the world. Your support can be made easier and more effective with Spotlight, our digital currency for impact. Check it out and start using it to engage in any cause you feel concerned about. Be the change, be Horyou!

A year ago, Sophie Gray was a very successful fitness influencer – her Instagram account @wayofgray was a plethora of selfies, abs and workouts which inspired many in the pursuit of the perfect body. Yet, in spite of all the praise and hundreds of thousands of followers, she felt she was not being honest with herself in promoting the unreachable idea of perfection. After a nervous breakdown, she decided to explore a new path – one that leads to self-acceptance. Today, Sophie advocates self-acceptance and aims to foster women empowerment on social media. In this interview, she talks about her inspirations, plans for the future and the responsibility of being a role model for the next generations.

Sophie Gray

Why did you decide to advocate self-love and acceptance?

We live in a world where we are at war internally. We have become so disconnected from ourselves and I experienced this personally. For me, I decided to advocate self-love and acceptance because I didn’t have any other choice. I needed it in my own world, and through my inner work, it flowed over to my professional work through my channels.

Was there a moment when you felt you could do something different from other health and fitness influencers?

I had a panic attack on an airplane that had me step back and evaluate my personal life. From there, I connected with how I truly felt and realized I didn’t want to show up through my accounts in the ways that I had been. From there I decided to completely step away from fitness and have refocused on inspiring others to connect with themselves through introspection.

How important is it for you to empower girls and women?

I struggled with self-harm in my youth, and this was before social media really took off. I couldn’t imagine going through what I went through with the added pressures brought on by social media. I actually am establishing a nonprofit that works with youth in school creating space for them to show up and dive into their relationship with themselves.

I believe women have such an important role in our society. Often, we are the ones who raise the next generations and when we have a mother who is strong, confident and feels at home within herself, we are able to teach the younger generations to feel the same.

This isn’t to say all women are going to have children. And regardless of whether they are or not, they are, in some way, a role model to those growing up. I know for myself personally, I want my self-acceptance to inspire others that they’re deserving of their own acceptance.

Sophie now advocates for self-acceptance

Tell us about the self-love challenge – when and why did you come up with the idea and what does it consist of?

I hosted a challenge from Jan 1st to 5th 2018. It was about having my followers commit to coming home to themselves. There is a stillness that exists within all of us – this stillness, rooted in love, also exists within everyone. I want those who follow me to make 2018 the year they come home to themselves by diving through what they go through. This involves sitting with themselves, working through their experiences and feeling at peace with themselves. This challenge was a fun way to start the new year committing to coming home to yourself.

What are your goals for 2018?

In 2018, I am launching an app that will help men and women start conversations with themselves that will lead to greater self-awareness, emotional resilience and help develop a better love and appreciation for yourself and others. This will be launching in April.

I also plan to have my new name changed account, @sophiegray (formly @wayofgray), focus more on my passion for writing – while focusing on encouraging others to take time to turn within.

Changemakers is an Horyou initiative which aims to highlight remarkable people & projects related to the Sustainable Development Goals. In this article, we shed a light over #SDG5 / Gender Equality.


The Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES), an event co-organized by the United States Government and the Republic of India, will take place in Hyderabad, India, on 28-30 November. This year, it will highlight the theme Women First, Prosperity for All, and focus on supporting women entrepreneurs and fostering economic growth globally.

Acting Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Alice Wells delivers opening remarks at the U.S.-India Business Council Road to GES Entrepreneurship Conclave, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Washington, D.C. (Photo: U.S. Chamber of Commerce)

A strong group of entrepreneurs, government officials and impact investing actors will attend the event, reflecting the GES diversity of cultures and expertise. The Summit aims to foster the conditions that empower innovators to take their ideas to the next level. Horyou will present aspects of its experience as a social network for social good, in resonance with this inspiring social innovation initiative. Yonathan Parienti, founder and CEO of Horyou, has been invited by the US State Department and its Permanent Mission to the United Nations in Geneva to attend the GES and speak for the network on the topic of “Go For It: Tapping Alternative Financing Solutions”. Before the international attendees, he will share his vision and perspective around the launch of Spotlight, the first digital currency for impact that supports philanthropy and economic inclusion.

With Spotlight, as well as its many other events and initiatives, and Foundation, Horyou supports the implementation of the 2030 Agenda of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, while aiming to provide philanthropic support to millions of social entrepreneurs, women, youth and social good projects.

Horyou founder and CEO Yonathan Parienti with members of the US State Department from the US Mission in Geneva

«It is a great credit to our efforts to be given such a unique opportunity to share with this international audience the disruptive innovations we have been working on over the past few years at Horyou to further social good and to set up more harmonious conditions for economic inclusion», says Mr. Parienti. «Horyou, the social network for social good, has many stories to disclose about inspiring women, with our member organizations, whose initiatives lead by example in shaping a better future for their communities », he adds.

The Global Entrepreneurship Summit is one of the most important annual entrepreneurship gatherings in the world in that it showcases the efforts of both emerging and developed countries to answer the challenge of furthering joint business opportunities worldwide. GES 2017 aims to create an empowering environment for innovators, especially women, to take their ideas to the next level. The Right Honorable Prime Minister of India, Mr. Narendra Modi, is expected to inaugurate the Summit on 28 November 2017 and Mrs. Ivanka Trump, advisor to the President of the United States on advancing policies and initiatives for women empowerment, is due to lead the US delegation. As she recently reminded the World Assembly for Women in Tokyo: «Ensuring 50% of our population can fully participate in the workforce is critical to strengthen our communities and grow our prosperity».

Ivanka Trump at the World Assembly for Women in Tokyo

GES participants will be supported by mentors and coaches, through workshops and networking sessions, and will be provided with opportunities to meet funders, build partnerships and find their target customers. Plenary sessions will highlight businesses led by women and their stories while master classes will discuss innovative topics as Blockchain, Fintech and e-commerce. «It is an amazing ecosystem to be part of and feel inspired by, due to the diversity of its participants. We will be there to speak the language of social entrepreneurship to shape a better future for the generations to come», concludes Yonathan Parienti.

Horyou blog will provide regular GES updates! Be the change, be Horyou!

The 5th Sustainable Development Goal concerns nearly half of global population – girls and women are still far from having the same opportunities and privileges as men

Photo: UNDP

Internet and social media are full of hashtags concerning women’s challenges in our society. The most recent one was #metoo, in which women shared their personal stories about harassment. The idea was to prove a grim reality – believe me if you are a man, almost every female on the planet has a sad story to tell about it. If you are a woman, you already know how it feels.

From corporations in the developed world to slums in the poorest countries, we share the same vulnerability. Since we’re born, our gender defines our challenges – we are going to face more difficulties to access education; if we get into the job market, our salaries will be lower; we are more exposed to violence and forced marriages; we have poorer access to health services. Women empowerment is urgent, and we, regardless of gender, should work together to promote it.

We need more representation: according to the UNDP, in 46 countries, women hold 30% or more in national parliament seats. Globally, women’s participation in single or lower houses of national parliaments reached 23.4 percent in 2017, just 10 percentage points higher than in 2000. It’s not enough.

We need more education: in sub-Saharan Africa, Oceania and Western Asia, girls still face barriers to entering both primary and secondary school.

We need equal opportunities: in the corporate world, women are underrepresented in managerial positions. In the majority of the 67 countries with data from 2009 to 2015, fewer than a third of senior- and middle-management positions were held by women.

We need liberty: only half of women in reproductive age make their own decisions about consensual sexual relations and use of contraceptives and health services.

We deserve respect: A fifth of women of reproductive age have suffered physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner in the 12 months prior to the survey, made in 2016.

Association El Khir promotes cooking workshops for women in Morocco

The SDG 5 defends the end of all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere. In 2014, the UN Women launched the campaign He for She, inviting men to join the fight for equal opportunities – since then, the discussion has improved and many debate spaces were opened in media, companies, governments and civil society. Many organizations have been working towards the same goal. The Horyou community has great examples of NGOs and projects that support women and create an empowering environment for them to overcome difficulties and thrive personally and professionally.

One of the active members of our platform is Association Féminine de Bienfaisance El-Khir, based in Morocco, which promotes better life condition for women in the country, supporting their independence by providing them with legal assistance and career opportunities through education.

One of the activities of Fundação Laço Rosa during Pink October

In Brazil, Fundação Laço Rosa, yet another active nonprofit organization in our platform, empowers women with breast cancer, by helping them with self-image issues and to create bonds to overcome the disease.

If you wish to support this SDG, you can do so through Horyou. Go to Horyou platform and choose an NGO or project that helps promote women empowerment in your region or anywhere in the world. Your support can be made easier and more effective with Spotlight, our digital currency for impact. Check it out and start using it to engage in any cause you feel concerned about. Be the change, be Horyou!

Written by Vivian Soares

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