Human rights

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

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 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.

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.

Written by Vivian Soares


Written by Amma Aburam

The International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights (FIFDH) is held every year at various cinemas and cultural hubs across the city of Geneva. From Feb. 27 to March 8, the Humanitarian Film Festival will bring together producers from around the world as well as a new vision of the impact of films on social actions and good. Horyou got to sit with the director, Isabelle Gattiker, to find out what will make this year’s cinematic event one of a kind.

This is Gattiker’s first year directing the festival. We met her at the cinemas of Maison des Arts du Grütli, where we found a soft-spoken lady with a determined dream of what the festival will bring this time around. She was one of the founders of the festival in 2003 and was its deputy director before leaving to be a movie producer, then eventually returning to what she started. “I’ve always found the basic idea of the festival just very excellent, the idea of having a movie, a subject and a debate all happening in one place,” she said. Her passion is evident. Gattiker On the inspiration behind the selection of films:

The festival comprises fiction films and documentaries. These are divided into three sections for the competitions: fiction and human rights, creative documentaries and OMCT selection (OMCT is the world organization against torture in Geneva). There are a total of 48 films at the festival. “I wanted to have a tight selection that we could really frame correctly. Meaning, I wanted films for which we could have the producers at the festival,” Gattiker said. “I wanted international producers, a balance between the Northern and Southern hemispheres, as well as a variety in subjects. I wanted films that people know as well as some that would be pure discovery. Films such as ‘Citizenfour’ were selected way before we knew it would win an Oscar, for example. It’s a selection purely based on films that are simply good from producers with unique visions.”

On what will make this year’s festival different:

Despite it being her first year directing the festival, Gattiker as a co-founder has always had a hand in it. This year under her full reign, she wanted to focus on interactivity. “Something new this year are the discussion spaces. I included the café in that space so that there is a dedicated place for exchanging ideas and just chit-chatting,” she said. The debate times also help this interactivity. The audience gets to sit with a panel, the producers included, to discuss the film. Edward Snowden was even present via Skype at the debate for “Citizenfour.” The festival also involved social media like never before. “We are live-posting the event and debates on our various social media platforms. On Twitter, we have dedicated hashtags,” Gattiker said. “Even though these platforms are important, they should be complementary.” She emphasized that people need to meet in real life and interact – that’s the point of the debates and discussion spaces.

On engaging the younger generation through critical interaction:

Gattiker clearly has a passion for youth as well as for critical thinking. “We are really interested in young people, in engaging them. It’s hard, but we are able to. For one of our films, ‘Sunrise,’ we had at least 80% of the crowd that were young people,” Gattiker said. She also believes that success with the youth lies in the interactivity of the festival. Between social media and the discussions, young people feel concerned and engaged. They become a part of the creation process when they get to talk to producers in the discussions. “The film alone or the conference alone is of no interest to the young audience,” Gattiker said. “What they want is to discuss and be critical about what they see as much online as during debates.”

On taking the festival a step further:

The festival is not called humanitarian for nothing; it goes beyond the films and transforms thoughts into actions among the many who are inspired by seeing a movie or debating. How? The festival offers real options to act. “We talk about real actions that the audience can engage in after the movie or during debates. It’s during those moments that people have that rush, that desire to change things, so it’s the moment to offer them that possibility,” Gattiker said. For example, projects to house kids in need have been set in place through these action proposals.


On Dreaming, Inspiring and Acting:

“My dream really is to give meaning to things – I need to disturb order. Not in a total-rebellion sense; I just have a hard time with things that exist that shouldn’t. I need to question things, have critical thinking even though I believe in our systems, in democracy,” Gattiker said. “I also believe critical thinking helps it. Our motto here is watch, debate and act, so it’s quite similar to yours.”

On June 21st, the Horyou team attended a wonderful barbecue on the banks of Lake Leman hosted by the girls of Girl be Heard. The girls are in the midst of their European Human Rights Tour but were able to make a quick stop in Geneva. It was lovely getting acquainted with the girls, representatives from various NGOs and the U.S. Mission over dinner.

Issues relating to women’s rights are not strictly confined to the developing world; there are also a number of issues in most Western societies. Even though women’s rights and their position in society has moved forward in some ways, there is still a tremendous amount of work to be done. One problem many women face is an inability to get their voices heard. What is the cause of this silence? Well, the vicious circle of non-expression that leads everyone – male or female – to keep quiet when their voice is truly needed to make a difference. The objective of GBH is to create an environment where individuals can feel safe and secure enough to share their stories and speak out. The performance hopes to function as a vehicle to perpetuate communication, listening and empathy. The Girl be Heard project is a New York-based, non-profit theater company that brings global issues affecting girls center stage, thus empowering young women to tell their stories. “If a girl can change her own life, she can change the lives of girls everywhere,” their slogan proclaims.

Sharing stories, as opposed to just dry claims, allows the sharer to include context as well as their own personal, emotional and raw stamp. This is how the Girl be Heard crew is doing it: The stories they share about young American girls and their experiences become more than just gender issues; they are stories of the struggle of humankind.

The show comprises spoken word, voice and guitar. The girls develop a subject within six months and work on how they can share their story with the help of a specialist. Positivity met sadness, and despair was chased away by all the smiles we saw on each and every face present, as if to say: “Yes, the subject is heavy to carry, but we will make a change together.” This approach promotes compassion, inclusion and a way for these brave women to be heard.

Even Mrs Suzan LeVine, recent U.S. ambassador in Switzerland, made an appearance and delivered a short speech in support of the cause. We at Horyou enjoyed the show so much, we went back for the following performance shown at the United Nations Office in Geneva.







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An overview of their great performance is here.

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