March 01, 2018

#ChangeTheCulture: Live blog from Theirworld's International Women's Day breakfast event

Rae survivors Nidia Cortes Parra, left, and Esperande Bigirimana, centre with Lyse Doucet and Sarah Brown

Photo credit: Theirworld / Geoff Crawford

The theme of the event, which will feature inspirational speakers, is changing the culture of violence against girls and women around the world. 

The women’s movement has seen incredible momentum worldwide over the past 12 months. Against that backdrop, Theirworld is holding its annual International Women’s Day breakfast event in London today.

The theme is changing the culture of violence against girls and women around the world. We want the girls and women we stand with - and our many supporters globally - to unite and work together to #ChangeTheCulture of violence.

This live blog will bring you a flavour of the proceedings as they happen.

7.35am. Ahead of International Women’s Day on March 8, a host of well-known names and inspirational people are gathering at our event today at the De Vere Grand Connaught Rooms. With the snow that’s blanketed most of the UK - causing transport problems across the capital - we appreciate the efforts of people to get here for what will be an inspiring occasion.

Today's event is especially significant this year - the 100th anniversary of some women getting the vote for the first time in the United Kingdom. 

Theirworld President Sarah Brown introduces everyone to the event

Photo credit: Theirworld / Geoff Crawford

8.20. Theirworld President Sarah Brown opens the event and welcomes our guests. Theirworld was founded more than 15 years ago. 

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As part of the United Nations Common Ground initiative, the marketing giant Omnicom has been working with Theirworld. A short film made by Omnicom about our work is shown - the theme is "make the possible probable".

Sarah says: “"Not a single woman in the whole world goes through her day without thinking about her own safety, without making a judgement call – large or small – about how to stay safe. Equality and opportunity are interlinked with our daily experience of safety.

"It is not just the challenges girls and women in the UK face every day - it’s the recognition that there are far worse horrors awaiting women all around the world.

“In some countries, young girls face the threat of violence just trying to make their way to school, and this risk continues within the school environment, with the danger of abuse in a space that should be safe and enable young girls to learn and thrive. 

Here's a view of the audience at our event today in London

"Even this week we have had the horrific news that another 110 girls have been abducted from their school in Nigeria.”

8.30. Sarah introduces TV broadcaster June Sarpong, best known in the UK for her work on the shows T4 and Loose Women. She is also on the Advisory Board of Theirworld.

June says that - while there has been progress in many areas - about 85,000 women are victims of rape or attempted rape in England and Wales every year. One in five women aged 16 to 59 will experience some form of sexual violence. 

June Sarpong sets the scene for our next speaker Cressida Dick

Photo credit: Theirworld / Geoff Crawford

June introduces Cressida Dick. She joined the Metropolitan police as a constable in 1983 and last year was appointed the first female Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Force.

8.30. The Commissioner says: “I have admired the work of Theirworld for some time. The unrelenting focus over the last 15 years on improving the safety of the most vulnerable children and young people is so important. 

“We all have to do what can to protect our young people, to make sure they can thrive and develop in the best way possible.”

She adds: “We have to press for progress on the crimes that affect women and girls the most.

“The hidden nature of these offences can make them even harder to uncover, investigate and prosecute – the police’s central role in the fight against crimes affecting women and girls. 

"This makes the need for us to work even more closely together to change the culture more imperative than ever ... to engender confidence among girls and women to report these crimes, to speak out about them wherever they are encountered and stop them – doing this needs to be ‘’everyone’s business’."

“We must end the silence and change the culture."

Met Police Commissioner Cressida Dick talks about the need to tackle gender violence

Photo credit: Theirworld / Geoff Crawford

Paying tribute to campaigners on gender violence, the Commissioner says: “By talking more openly, we can end the stigma and break down the wall that is preventing people, especially girls, from having the confidence to come forward to report, to know they will be heard, be listened to and to get the help they need and deserve.”

8.45. We now have a discussion section where guests will collaborate with their tables to discuss what actions can be taken to change the culture of violence against girls and women can be tackled.

9.05. For the second part of our #ChangeTheCulture event, we’ll be focusing on changing the culture of sexual violence around the world. Sexual violence in warfare is an under-reported, common and deliberate military strategy, that leaves girls and women not just physically scarred but often facing shame and stigma in their own communities.

Sarah says that a champion of those women is Dr Denis Mukwege from the Democratic Republic of Congo, founder of the Dr Denis Mukwege Foundation.

Dr Denis Mukwege is saving women’s lives in Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo

Photo credit: Panzi Foundation

She explains that for many years, he has been saving the lives of tens of thousands of gang rape victims. 

She says: "He first wrote to me over a decade ago  and his letter stood out amongst all the correspondences I received and it opened my eyes to the scale of the brutality."

Sarah adds: “Just recently I read a second letter that has again raised this issue.” She introduces Pearl Mackie - who plays Bill Potts in the TV show Doctor Who -  on stage to read out the letter. Written by Tatiana from the DRC, it’s a harrowing and defiant letter to her rapist.

Pearl Mackie reads out Tatiana's letter to her rapist

Photo credit: Theirworld / Geoff Crawford

Pearl says: “Tatiana couldn’t be with us today but she has asked me to read her letter out.”

It begins…

Hello to you, my Rapist, my Perpetrator,

You will know that I have not forgotten and I never will.
You will pretend it never happened, but if I were you, I would feel ashamed.
You will always be a man without heart or honour.

Know that I am repairing my world, the one you destroyed in the blink of an eye profiting from the war to destroy everything that mattered to me.

The letter is part of a book Tatiana is writing titled In the Land of Despair. The letter is deeply personal, stark and she is expressing both hate and pity. But, remarkably, it ends with sheer defiance and maybe even hope.  It ends…

I am fighting and I will keep fighting so that you can never do again what you did, and if one day you try, I will be here standing in your way with every legal possibility.

You can read the full letter here on the Mukwege Foundation website.

Tatiana from the DRC wrote the incredibly powerful letter to her rapist

Every year for International Women’s Day, Theirworld gives awards to honour individuals or groups for their courage to stand up for equality and justice - and who enable women to find their voice.

9.15. Sarah introduces on to the stage Lyse Doucet - the BBC's Chief International Correspondent and a courageous journalist who has reported from some of the world’s toughest places for more than 30 years.

Lyse talks about the Dr Denis Mukwege Foundation, which has been working with survivors of rape and sexual violence from around the world to help them raise their voice and share their stories in order to bring about change. This has seen the formation of the Global Survivors Movement.

Lyse says: “You wouldn’t, you couldn’t forget Dr Denis Mukwege. Not when you hear him speak with such heartrenching detail and such profound compassion when he talks about the ordeal the girls suffer.”

The first #ChangeTheCulture award goes to two members of the Survivors Movement - Nidia Cortes Parra from Colombia and Esperande Bigirimana from Burundi.

The BBC's Lyse Doucet receives a #ChangeTheCulture award from Sarah Brown

Photo credit: Theirworld / Geoff Crawford

Nidia is 43 and a mother of two. She is from a region of Colombia that was affected by the armed conflict. She was a victim of sexual violence by FARC guerrillas - and then became a community leader.

She says: “My life experience, and my leadership, have committed me to work, now and always, for the rights of women, to prevent sexual violence and for the construction of peace at home and in the country.”

Esperande says: “Sexual violence is a major strategy that has turned rape into a weapon. The victims and survivors have their bodies mutilated and broken. We are stigmatised and cast out in our community.

“These atrocities occur on a massive scale, impacting societies in addition to severely damaging victims. Those who have perpetrated sexual crimes seem to be exempt from blame.”

Esperande tells of her work with the survivors movement. She says: ”With help of the Dr Denis Mukwege Foundation, we survivors or victims are now able to build a global network that connects us with other survivors or victims of conflict-related sexual violence.”

9.30. Lyse Doucet now hosts another discussion segment on how we can support and nurture a new global survivors’ movement.

9.45. Sarah calls Lyse back on to the stage and surprises her - with a Theirworld #ChangeTheCulture award of her own. Sarah says: “Lyse is quite a heroine for many people on the Theirworld team. We have seen her champion causes that people are not listening to - we often feel like we are following in her wake.”

This year Lyse presented an outstanding series called Her Story Made History. where she interviewed remarkable women about the relationship between women and democracy. 

Nidia Cortes Parra from Colombia and Esperande Bigirimana from Burundi with their Theirworld awards

Photo credit: Theirworld / Geoff Crawford

Lyse says: “It’s a challenge to journalists not just to look - but to see. There is one quality for journalism which should be beyond question - and that is empathy.”

9.50. As we approach the finale of the event, we have another Theirworld #ChangeTheCulture award. This goes to Scottish singer, songwriter, political activist and philanthropist Annie Lennox and The Circle organisation - for their work empowering, supporting, connecting and inspiring women to become advocates and change agents.

The Circle works towards equality for women and girls in a fairer world. It works on projects around the globe, including in India, Rwanda, Nepal and Pakistan, focusing on women’s safety, mental health and child trafficking.

Over the years The Circle has collaborated on events, raising funds, raising awareness and exploring potential. It has now raised close to £2 million which, working with partners, has been used to reach and make a difference to over 100,000 women and girls in more than 13 countries, including the Panzi Hospital in DRC founded by Dr Denis Mukwege.

Annie Lennox and The Circle are honoured for their work in inspiring women to become advocates and change agents

Photo credit: Getty Images

Sarah says: “Annie is a champion and activist in her own right - but today’s award recognises the role she has played in founding The Circle and the approach she’s made to bringing women together to bring about impactful and meaningful change.”

Annie says she is thrilled to accept the award on behalf of The Cirle. She says: “About three years ago we created a formal charitable institution. We are still very young - but we work so hard to get up to scale. We are still in the early stages, even after 10 years."

She talks about her travels to various parts of the globe, adding: “Wherever I went in the world I saw it - girls have no rights and are not getting an education. Women who couldn’t buy property.

“In the West, we think it’s done. It’s a global issue - we have to understand feminism is global. I want to be able to reach out. There is so much we can do - with our ideas, our connections. We can do so much with our sisters on the other side of the world.

“I cannot get my head around the notion of girls and women being raped as a weapon of war. It’s so evil. We do nothing here about things that are going on in other parts of the world - and we can do so much."

10.0. Now for the finale - and another very special moment. Sarah says: “Just a few weeks ago survivors from all around the world met in The Hague to discuss their aims and objectives, and how they can support each other in their journey to change the culture of violence. Music and art is a key part of their journey.

“One of the things they have done is written a song together which the women from around the world have recorded. It is their song.”

She introduces Little Bird, a song that is a show of strength and defiance.

And with that the #ChangeTheCulture event is over. But please keep the discussion going and continue the conversation on women’s equality and safety - to ensure we all work to #ChangeTheCulture. 

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