women empowerment

Forced marriage is still an issue that affects more than 700 million women globally – a third of them are less than 18. In order to raise awareness of this issue, the UNICEF partnered with major African artists to write a song against child marriage.

In Central and Western Africa, 41% of the girls above 18 are married (illustrative photo, source: UNICEF)
In Central and Western Africa, 41% of the girls above 18 are married (illustrative photo, source: UNICEF)

In Central and Western Africa, 41% of the girls above 18 are married – in countries like Benin, one in ten girls is married under the age of 15. More than depicting a social issue, these statistics are alarming from a health care standpoint as many of these girls are not able-bodied for childbearing and could face permanent physical and psychological damage.

As part of the Zero Tolerance Campaign against child marriage that the government launched last June, nine artists from Benin committed themselves to breaking the silence around child marriage. UNICEF’s Goodwill Ambassadors Angélique Kidjo and Zeynab Abib, supported by Danialou Sagbohan, Kalamoulaï, Don Métok, Sessimè, Dibi Dobo, Norberka and Olga Vigouroux, gathered to craft a deeply moving song and a video that call the population to act.

“A little girl is still a child. She cannot be a mother or a bride. Let her grow up to live a fulfilling life. Say NO to child marriage!”; so goes the song, co-written by Angelique Kidjo and Zeynab Abib.

The artists sing in a variety of languages, including Fon, Mina, Mahi, Sahouè, Yoruba, Goun, Bariba and French in order for the message to spread throughout the country and neighbouring countries.

Artists from Benin are engaged in the cause
Artists from Benin are engaged in the cause

“The impact on these girls is terrible. Once married, they no longer go to school, they are raped, they get pregnant, which puts their health and that of their baby in danger. We artists are saying NO to all these injustices! Girls are not the property of anyone; they have the right to choose their own destinies”, says Beninese pop star Zeynab Abib, who was able to mobilise Benin’s greatest artists around this cause.

Early marriage prevents girls from getting proper education and leads them to poverty, while enforcing the prevalence of traditions and belief systems that are tied to the continued practice of child marriage.

“We need all the strength and weapons we can muster to fight the scourge of child marriage. Art, especially music, is a powerful weapon. As Nelson Mandela said, ‘politics can be strengthened by music, but music has a potency that defies politics’. This power must be harnessed!” says Dr Claudes Kamenga, UNICEF Representative in Benin.

Watch the video [English subtitles] [SAY NO TO CHILD MARRIAGE]1 Watch the video [French subtitles] [DISONS NON AU MARIAGE DES ENFANTS]2

Horyou is the Social Network for Social Good, which connects, supports and promotes social initiatives, entrepreneurs, and citizens who help the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals to build a more harmonious and inclusive world. We invite you to Be the Change, Be Horyou!

On the 20th of June, the World Refugee Day, we remember the most vulnerable group of refugees worldwide: girls and women whose basic humanitarian rights are denied. Alongside the UN motto for the Sustainable Development Goals which is to «leave no one behind», the Horyou blog stands for women empowerment and protection.

Woman in refugee camp in Democratic Republic of Congo
Woman in refugee camp in Democratic Republic of Congo

We live in a world with unprecedented numbers of refugees. The statistics of the UNHCR released this week show that, last year, the number of displaced people has reached a record 65,5 million, the vast majority living in challenging conditions in developing countries. More than a third of these refugees are women and girls in their childbearing years, being considered amongst the most vulnerable.

UN Women reminds us that women and girls face many humanitarian violations such as forced marriages and that, while many families believe they are protecting their girls through arranged husbands, many of them end up even more exposed to domestic violence and early pregnancies. Besides having their childhood shortened, they tend to drop out of school and to have their sexual and reproductive rights denied.

Woman prepares meals in a refugee camp in Cameroon
Woman prepares meals in a refugee camp in Cameroon

«On World Refugee Day, we acknowledge the unique vulnerabilities of women and girl refugees, and the need for us all to do better to serve them. We also celebrate their strength. From crisis to crisis, it is the resilience and persistence of women and girls that carries their families, their communities and their societies through hardship to durable solution», said UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka in a statement.

Phumzile stresses the strenght of women and girls who call tirelessly for effective services such as health and education, and who develop creative and efficient approaches to support livelihoods. «When in camps, they are rapid adopters of opportunities through new technologies, like education via mobile devices, or cash-for-work programmes that develop skills for a life outside the camp. They are the experts on safe sanitary facilities, female-friendly camp design and other aspects critical for reducing women’s risk of physical and sexual violence and increasing their capacity to live independent and fulfilled lives. We must listen to their insights and amplify them», added the UN Women Director.

Woman learns the French alphabet in a refugee camp in Cameroon
Woman learns the French alphabet in a refugee camp in Cameroon

The opportunities for these women lie in education programs, health care and open opportunities for small businesses, especially in camp areas which suffer from the lack of funds and international support. «The international community must recommit itself to placing women and girls equally with men and boys at the heart of humanitarian action for the world’s refugees. We, and they, cannot afford anything less», concluded Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.

Horyou is the Social Network for Social Good, which connects, supports and promotes social initiatives, entrepreneurs, and citizens who help the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals to build a more harmonious and inclusive world. We invite you to Be the Change, Be Horyou!

Six years ago, Lovern Gordon, a lady social entrepreneur, decided to give hope to many women victims of domestic abuse. Instigated by her own personal and family story, she set up Love Life Now Foundation in the US, an organization which, throughout the years, has helped collect thousands of dollars for shelters and raise awareness about domestic violence worldwide. In this interview for the Horyou blog, Lovern shares her thoughts on feminism and social media as an awareness tool, as well as her hopes for the future.

Lovern Gordon in a  Teen Domestic Violence Workshop
Lovern Gordon in a Teen Domestic Violence Workshop

Briefly, tell us a little about the beginning of Love Life Foundation and its main advances.

Love Life Now Foundation, Inc. was established in November, 2011.

I worked tirelessly to promote Awareness Against Domestic Violence as a platform after winning 2 beauty pageants (locally in Boston and nationally in Los Angeles in 2010), but did not want to stop there with advocacy, so Love Life Now was formed.

I am a survivor of abuse from a 2 year relationship, and was also a child witness to it…my mother was abused at the hands of our father throughout their marriage. My mother and I were unaware at the time of the tremendous and valuable resources available to victims and survivors that help save lives daily, and is the reason I seek to spread awareness on a daily basis today through the Foundation’s work.

Through the formation of the Love Life Now and its initiatives, we have been able to donate thousands of dollars to shelters statewide, raise awareness about resources available nationwide and assist victims and survivors in finding the necessary help as it relates to this issue.

Volunteers give brown bag lunches and toiletry filled care packages to homeless affected by domestic violence and beyond.
Volunteers give brown bag lunches and toiletry filled care packages to homeless affected by domestic violence and beyond.

What are the main inspirations for your work?

My mother. For all that she has endured, never letting it break her spirit and still coming out on top…she’s my hero.

What kind of impact does the organization want to make in the world?

When Love Life Now was formed, all I sought to do was help anyone that needed it. Over the years I have observed that our initiatives leave folks with a desire to do more as bystanders when it comes to this issue. If we can continue to help change the narrative while continuing to inspire, that will be more than I could have ever asked for.

Lovern Gordon
Lovern Gordon

Horyou is the social network for social good. How do social networks and technology influence the day-to-day running of the foundation?

I’d say it’s literally the bread and butter of Love Life Now. Our reach via social networks and technology has proven to be limitless. For instance, our newly launched digital domestic violence awareness magazine Love Life Magazine (www.lovelifemag.org), reaches folks in as far as Spain, Africa and the Caribbean. The same goes for our almost daily posts about what we’re doing to foster change…which in turn enables others to let them know they can do the same in their corner of the world.

Feminism is a movement that has gained momentum and has helped people to be aware openly about domestic violence. Do you see the change in women empowerment throughout the years?

Absolutely! Across the world, no matter where you lived…domestic violence was looked upon as a taboo subject, accepted by some cultures, or shameful all around. Though we still have a long, long way to go, I believe it’s no longer business as usual when it comes to women being abused. More women are standing in solidarity with those affected by it. One in every four women will be touched by this issue and in the age of social media where you can show support to other women who no longer want to be silent about it, the empowerment level has been raised up significantly.

White Ribbon Night Gala, where men are invited to speak out against domestic violence
White Ribbon Night Gala, where men are invited to speak out against domestic violence

We live in an age of constant transformation. What are the positive changes you want for women’s lives and for future generations?

A big hope is that the laws surrounding domestic violence and sexual assault are continuously tightened and enforced.

Horyouis the Social Network for Social Good, which connect, support and promote social initiatives, entrepreneurs, and citizens that thrive helping the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals to build a more harmonious and inclusive world. We invite you to Be the Change, Be Horyou!

Eric Coly’s professional trajectory is not a usual one. After moving from native Senegal to the US to pursue a successful career in finance, he decided to make a radical change and thus created Le Dessein , a sustainable clothing company which supports African girls by using their drawings as embroidery. In addition to valuing their creative work, Coly helps improve the girls’ education through a foundation in Liberia. Ever-optimistic about the prospects of sustainable business, he shared with Horyou blog his views on social entrepreneurship, women empowerment and the challenge of providing education for girls from underprivileged communities.

Girls drawings are used as embroidery
Girls drawings are used as embroidery

What’s the story behind the creation of Le Dessein?

Hailing from Senegal, I thought I had fulfilled my childhood ambitions by pursuing a ten-year long career in Finance. Attending the UCLA Anderson Graduate School had the opposite effect of cementing my career in finance, and instead triggered a deep feeling of dissatisfaction and uncertainty about my professional trajectory. A year of self-examination led those feelings to be supplanted by a desire to enter the world of Fashion. Introduced to it at an early age by my mother, I felt like Fashion alone still would not suffice. I realized the deep impact that education had on the women of my family on a socio-economic, cultural and social level, starting with my grandmother’s introduction to college back in the 1920’s, passing through my mother and trickling down her four children, I found it to be a great addition to Le Dessein’s mission: providing the opportunity of an education for young girls from underprivileged communities from around the world by featuring their art onto our fashion.

Like Horyou’s CEO, you had a career in finance before launching your own company. What made you decide to quit the glamorous and profitable world of finance to that of a social entrepreneur?

It was about seeking a sense of pursuit and human validity in this world. My first sign of freedom came when I realized that money didn’t have the highest place in my hierarchal tower of needs. Second came a deep and painful, yet highly rewarding journey of self-introspection designed to figure out who I was exactly – since I believed that one should know oneself in order to know what one’s passion thus career could be. Last was mustering the courage to fully embrace what I was convinced would revive my life and give myself permission to execute it. I had always had a nurturing nature, and needed to find a way to honor that. What better way to do it but to be of service to courageous and brave girls who have the potential to be powerful leaders and create rich legacies?

One of the drawings used by Le Dessein
One of the drawings used by Le Dessein

Beside the drawings, the girls also design some of the clothes?

Actually not – the girls’ activities involve the drawings of the artworks which we embroider on our clothes. We will be adding the creation of jewelry into their artistic activities soon. This endeavor is about more than just the financial contribution that the girls receive. The more important beneficial attribute in my own estimation is the self-readjustment of their own value when visualizing the final product worn by the customers. This is about heightening empowerment and self esteem which are generally acquired through ownership – ownership of their art.

What is the relation between your company and educational projects for girls?

We have the pleasure of working with the More Than Me foundation, which is dedicated to educating girls in Monrovia, Liberia. They have done an excellent job after Liberia’s long war of taking young girls from the street in order to give them access to education. We work directly with them and use them as a conduit, given their expertise. Part of their duties is to adequately allocate the funds that are contributed to the girls’ education.

What is the ultimate goal of Le Dessein?

Our ultimate goal is to put 10,000 girls in school in the next ten years. The ripple effects of women and girls educated are quite far reaching. 65 million young girls are currently not in school. 40,000 girls are given away in forced marriage every day. 3 million children under the age of 5 are lost every year because their mothers are not in school. A lot of work still needs to be done in trying to educate girls and we intend to devote our full participation along with our peer partners in eradicating this issue.

An example from Le Dessein's lookbook
An example from Le Dessein’s lookbook

What is your vision about socially responsible businesses?

Highly optimistic. There seems to have been a systematic shift in the global world community in prioritizing human, environmental, animal and a slew of equally important issues. This has been reflected in the birth of a number of socially responsible businesses. Their successes have further justified the creation of new ones and given validity to the world’s appetite for consuming socially responsible products. For instance, the presumed leader in the socially responsible industry, TOMS (known for the one for one business model – they give one shoe to a person in need for every shoe purchased) has given to date over 45 million pairs of shoes worldwide. Its current annual revenue is over $400 million – in just years of existence, in not only in the competitive world of fashion, but also in the totally uncharted territory of the socially responsible world. Our future vision for this field remains high indeed.

Horyou’s tagline is “dream, inspire, act” – what do those words represent for you and your business?

These words represent the quintessential pillars of our company’s mission statement. They do not seem to mean much when taken apart, but put together they have the power to move mountains, revive cultures, and provide restoration to humanity. We fully stand by them and do our best to uphold their intended messages.

By Vivian Soares

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.

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.

Written by Vivian Soares

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