2015 Annual Awards Gala

“Every woman and child has the right to a roof over her head, an education, and freedom from fear. As long as corruption, poverty, and the scourge of rape plagues families and our society, there will be no lasting, nor meaningful peace.”

“The pursuit of gender equality cannot be the work of governments alone. That’s why organizations like Women for Women International are critical, and it’s why the courage and dedication of individuals like Dr. Denis Mukwege are so important,” noted U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues Catherine Russell during her keynote at WfWI’s 2015 Annual Gala in New York on November 10.

In addition to Ambassador Russell, special guests included Champion of Peace Award honoree and Founder of Panzi Hospital Dr. Denis Mukwege, NBA Hall-of-Famer Dikembe Mutombo, singer Rachel Platten, humanitarian and model Philomena Kwao, and dozens of other influential figures.

Nearly 500 guests and supporters attended the annual celebration at Cipriani 42nd Street in Manhattan where Dr. Denis Mukwege was honored with the Champion of Peace Award for his work healing and supporting the women of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The host for the evening was Ghanaian model and humanitarian Philomena Kwao who began the night with a warm welcome for guests attending for the first-time. In one of the many engaging moments of the evening, Kwao invited guests to not only celebrate the organization’s work but to share experiences from the evening and help raise awareness of the mission with friends on social media using the hashtag #SheInspiresMe.

Photo credit: Rick Gilbert/Skyhook

Women for Women International’s former CEO Jennifer L. Windsor underscored that serving more than 430,000 women was made possible because of the generous donors that recognized the power of investing in women. Announcing a one million dollar commitment from Jan Rock Zubrow and Barry Zubrow, Windsor urged others to invest.

“Together, our work helps the most isolated women grab that first rung of the ladder. We restore confidence, and invest in the power and potential each woman possesses,” said Windsor.

Windsor shared details of the innovative programs to give women access to support from the Village and Savings in Loan Associations to the initiatives to serve Syrian refugees in Northern Iraq, Windsor invited guests to join the effort.

Ambassador Russell underscored this point reflecting on her recent visit to WfWI-Rwanda’s Women’s Opportunity Centre and the role of partners including Gahaya Links to bring women into the global supply chain. But training and education are not enough when legal and social barriers prevent women from having access to markets, financial institutions, and land ownership.

Photo credit: Rick Gilbert/Skyhook

The Importance of Engaging Men as Allies and Partners

For women to fully experience their agency and empowerment, “there is no option but to engage men as allies and partners, explained Board Member Mary Zients. “It is the message we received from women in our programs, engaging men is essential.” Sharing insights from training more than 8,000 men in Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Iraq, Zients underscored the cascading effect of reaching local leaders as “our trainers help men understand that when women are stronger, families and communities are stronger too.”

The importance of engaging men to combat violence against women and the need to hold perpetrators accountable were the focus of Dr. Mukwege’s powerful acceptance speech.

“For two decades, Dr. Mukwege has given hope to people around the world because of his brave actions for women and girls in troubled, violent eastern Congo… His extraordinary humanity, his compassion, and, yes, his exceptional skills as a surgeon, turn despair and tears into smiles, even laughter and joy,” said Tony Gambino, WfWI and Panzi Hospital Board Member who presented the award to Dr. Mukwege.

A Call for Men to Stand in Solidarity with Women, for Women

Dr. Denis Mukwege, a gynecological surgeon and advocate from the DRC, has healed over 40,000 women, including 20,000 survivors or sexual violence and war crimes. In addition to providing women with health services, shelter, and opportunities for economic empowerment through Panzi Hospital and Foundation, Dr. Mukwege has become an outspoken advocate for women’s rights and ending gender-based violence and rape.

“Every woman and child has the right to a roof over her head, an education, and freedom from fear. As long as corruption, poverty, and the scourge of rape plagues families and our society, there will be no lasting, nor meaningful peace,” Dr. Mukwege said.

Citing the recent efforts in South Africa to force the country to leave the International Criminal Court and increased violence against women and girls around the world, Dr. Mukwege argued that the time to work towards ending impunity for gender-based and sexual violence and achieving justice is now.

“This evening, I am calling upon us men to take responsibility, because those who rape are men, but not all men are rapists. Not all men are evil. Many men do a lot for women. Our problem is that although only a minority of men rape, the majority does not denounce,” said Dr. Mukwege.

Photo credit: Rick Gilbert/Skyhook

But, he argued, the time has come to end indifference. “I call upon men who refuse to close their eyes and ears, to open their mouths and speak. I call upon men to join women in the fight they have been in over the last 100 years for their basic and fundamental rights. The time is now, to stand in solidarity with women, for women.”

Expanding Programs to Reach More Women

Wrapping up the gala, WfWI Board Chair Jan Rock Zubrow expressed thanks to her Co-Chairs Amy Towers and Debbie Harmon for their support underwriting the evening and called upon guests to support the organization’s programs serving women. Describing the new initiatives to support Syrian refugees and displaced Iraqis in Northern Iraq, Zubrow invited guests to become part of this important cause. By the end of the evening, the supporters contributed and pledged nearly 1.3 million dollars to support the programs.

Photo credit: Rick Gilbert/Skyhook

Closing the evening was a memorable and energizing performance by singer and songwriter Rachel Platten, who dedicated her number one hit “Fight Song” to the resilience and power of women around the world.

Photo credit: Ben Asen

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