In the words of...

These first-person accounts by UN Women partners or beneficiaries detail specific problems, what’s being done to address them, and how change is underway.

Baby Rivona. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

In the words of Baby Rivona: “Once I fought for my rights, the other women followed”
Baby Rivona is a legend in Indonesia, loved widely, as well as feared by some. A passionate advocate of women living with HIV and AIDS, she is as often seen on the world stage, as she is the many districts and villages of her home country. Her mission is to guarantee access to treatment, services, and a life free of stigma and discrimination for women living with HIV and AIDS. She is a leading voice on ending forced sterilization of women and girls affected by HIV, and the current National Coordinator of UN Women’s partner IPPI, a Jakarta-based national network established in 2006, by and for women who are living with HIV. Read more »


Johanna Tantria T. Wardham. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

In the words of Johanna Tantria T. Wardham: “Gender inequality starts from the household”
Passionate and fiery Johanna Tantria T. Wardham, is known universally as Jo. A popular figure in the urban slums of Jakarta, she can often be spotted in Prumpung and other neighborhoods, on the outskirts of Indonesia’s bustling capital city. Her mission in life is to build a culture of gender equality, from the ground up. She leads community discussions, trainings on preventing violence against women and girls, and conducts gender audits, but in the midst of all this, what she has become is a GO-TO person for the community. Jo is a staff member of the NGO Kalyanamitra, UN Women’s partner for the Safe City pilot programme in Indonesia. Read more »


Nongnee Kondii. Photo courtesy of Nongnee Kondii

In the words of Nongnee Kondii: “I was told that being a lesbian woman is a sin”
Nongnee Kondii*, 25, from Yala, a southern border province of Thailand, never felt safe expressing her sexual orientation at home or in her community. When she experienced a traumatic sexual assault, she kept silent at first. In May 2016, after participating in a gender retreat for young people organized by Rainbow Sky Association(RSAT), an organization that works to promote the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual women, transgender and intersex persons (LGBTI) in Thailand, supported by the UN Trust Fund to end Violence against Women (managed by UN Women), Kondii decided to speak out and pursue the path of justice. Read more »


Pari Ibrahim.

In the words of Pari Ibrahim: “Escaping ISIS is only the beginning, we cannot leave them alone in that journey.”
Pari Ibrahim, 27, is the founder and Executive Director of the Free Yezidi Foundation (FYF), an independent, non-profit organization that provides services for women survivors of the violent ISIS attacks on the Yezidi community, in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The protracted violence has impacted many, as August 2017 marked the three-year anniversary of the genocidal ISIS attacks. There are still thousands of Yezidi women that are held captive by ISIS. With support from the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women (UN Trust Fund), the Free Yezidi Foundation is scaling up the trauma-response component of the organization’s services at their Centre in Dohuk. The Centre is providing post-trauma care and preparing women for employment through livelihood training. Read more »


Jana Mustafa. Photo: UN Women/Eunjin Jeong

In the words of Jana Mustafa: “Disability should not stop anyone from starting over”
Jana Mustafa is a former employee of a local NGO and a survivor of violence. She lost her job due to an abusive marriage and experienced years of physical and psychological violence. She got a divorce with the legal help of the Hayat Centre in the Gaza Strip. The Centre is supported by the UN Women programme, “A Holistic Approach to Sheltering Services for Women Victims and Survivors”, funded by the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation (AICS). As she hopes to begin a new life, Mustafa wants to open a small business to support her six-year-old son Jamal and prove that her disability is not an issue. Read more »


Varanisese Maisamoa’s insights were critical in helping UN Women adapt its Markets for Change project to provide humanitarian support to market vendors impacted by Cyclone Winston, which devastated Fiji in 2016. Photo: UN Women/Murray Lloyd.

In the words of Varanisese Maisamoa: “We want to empower our market vendors to be climate resilient”
In February 2016, Tropical Cyclone Winston devastated Fiji, showing the heightened vulnerability of people living in the Pacific Islands, where climate change has led to a series of increasingly severe cyclones in the recent years. With farms, markets, including the Rakiraki Market and its accommodation centre for rural women destroyed, livelihoods of market vendors such as Varanisese Maisamoa were compromised. But today, through UN Women’s Markets for Change (M4C) project, Maisamoa, aged 39 years, has not only got back on her feet, she has also become a strong leader in her community. Read more »


Sanja Pejović. Photo: UN Moldova/Andrei Bogus

In the words of Sanja Pejović: “Applying a gender perspective contributes to the success of military operations”
Captain Sanja Pejović is the highest-ranking woman officer in the Armed Forces of Montenegro (AF MNE). She is deputy chief of the Sub-centre for Peacekeeping Operations, and a gender equality coordinator for AF MNE. Captain Pejović was the first woman officer to serve in AF MNE. She serves as a regional gender trainer, training military personnel from all over the world, and has actively participated in regional and international projects on the inclusion of gender perspectives in security sector reform. Read more »


Hikmah Bafagih. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

In the words of Hikmah Bafagih: “Our vision is to create an inclusive Islam, having people oppose me is very common”
University professor, community organizer, peace-builder, Counsellor, mother, wife, Hikmah Bafagih from Malang in East Java, Indonesia, has many roles. She is also a religious leader, steering the women’s wing in her region of Nahdlatul Ulama (commonly known as NU), a traditionalist Sunni Islam movement which is considered to be the biggest Muslim organization in Indonesia. She guided community discussions at the massive gathering in Pesantren Annuqqayah—one of the oldest Islamic boarding schools in the country—on how women contribute to peace in their communities. Read more »


Sonya Lokar. Photo: UN Moldova/Eduard Bizgu

In the words of Sonja Lokar: “If there are so few women in politics, who will put on the agenda the priorities that affect women’s lives?”
Sonja Lokar is the Executive Director of the Central and Eastern European Network for Gender Issues and has worked with women activists across all social, ethnic, religious and political divides in 21 countries. She has been a political activist from her youth and is a specialist in political party development, social welfare state issues, and gender issues. She is a feminist and an advocate for women’s human rights in Slovenia and internationally. Read more »


Ainuru Altybaeva, Member of Parliament in Kyrgyzstan. Photo: UN Moldova/Eduard Bizgu

In the words of Ainuru Altybaeva: “Bride kidnapping is not a tradition, it’s a crime”
Ainuru Altybaeva serves as a Member of Parliament in Kyrgyzstan, and has been an activist for women’s empowerment for over 10 years. She was the initiator of a law on toughening penalties for bride kidnapping, and a vocal participant of the national UNiTE to End Violence against Women and Girls women’s movement, coordinated and led by UN Women in Kyrgyzstan. UN Women partnered with Altybaeva on several advocacy initiatives in Kyrgyzstan, including an advocacy campaign in the parliament on adopting the new law on domestic violence. She is the former chair and initiator of the Kyrgyz Parliament’s Women’s Caucus. Read more »


Sunita Kashyap. Photo: UN Women/Deepak Malik

In the words of Sunita Kashyap: “We believe in trade, not aid”
Sunita Kashyap, is the secretary and founder of Mahila Umang Producers Company (Umang), an organization run by rural women in the districts of Almora and Ranikhet, in the Indian state of Uttarakhand. Locally owned by women farmers and producers, Umang sells knitwear and organic jams and jellies. In addition to selling the produce, Umang supports its members through micro-credit, used for education of family members, improvement of livestock, or other household needs. Read more »


Shobhna Verma at her stall in Suva Market. Photo: UN Women/Caitlin Clifford

In the words of Shobhna Verma: “Once I came into the market, there was no turning back”
For the past 35 years, Shobhna Verma has made her living selling produce at Suva Market in Fiji’s capital. Today, Shobhna is the Legal Advisor with the Suva United Market Vendors Association in Fiji and has attended a series of trainings starting in 2005, on financial literacy, organizing, leadership, first aid, and disaster risk resilience, as part of UN Women’s Markets for Change project (M4C). Read more »


Magda Alberto participates in a workshop about women's political participation. Photo: Bogotá Women's Secretariat

In the words of Magda Alberto: “The idea of a more just, democratic society…comes hand in hand with equality for women”
Magda Alberto is a young feminist and member of UN Women Civil Society Advisory Group in Colombia. She advocates for the recognition of women in the Colombian peace-process and was part of the Women and Peace Summit in 2013 and 2016, supported by the UN system and led by UN Women, which led to the formal recognition by the parties of women’s role in the Colombian peace process. Read more »


Elena Kochoska. Photo: UN Women Europe and Central Asia/Rena Effendi

In the words of Elena Kochoska: "Women bear a double burden because of their gender and disability”
Elena Kochoska is a vocal advocate for persons with disabilities in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and works at the local organization, Polio Plus, Movement Against Disability. She participated in training and mentoring sessions on gender-responsive budgeting (GRB)—analyzing a budget to ensure women’s needs are met—organized by UN Women’s regional programme on GRB, supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and the Austrian Development Agency. Thereafter, she prepared a report that did a cost-benefit analysis showing the benefits of including children with disabilities in mainstream education. Read more »


Itumeleng Komanyane. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

In the words of Itumeleng Komanyane: If male policymakers don’t understand gender, how can they pass progressive policies to protect women?
Itumeleng Komanyane is the International Programme Manager at Sonke Gender Justice in South Africa, which advances gender equality and addresses HIV and AIDS across eighteen countries in Africa. At Sonke, she coordinated a multi-country project funded by the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women from 2011-2014, which focused on increasing support among men and boys to end gender based violence in Kenya, Rwanda and Sierra Leone. Recently, Komanyane attended the 61st session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, the global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women. Read more »


Patricia Munabi. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

In the words of Patricia Munabi: “Citizens must engage with the budget and hold leaders accountable”
Patricia Munabi is the Executive Director of Forum for Women in Democracy (FOWODE), a women’s rights organization in Uganda. From 2010 - 2012, FOWODE was supported by UN Women’s Fund for Gender Equality to implement gender-responsive budgeting at a local and national level in Uganda. This involved training women in 16 local communities to form Village Budget Clubs to ensure that women are actively involved in budget allocation and decisions at the local level. Some 200 legislators and government officials were also trained to implement gender-responsive programmes at the national level. Read more »


Ani JIlozan. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

In the words of Ani Jilozian: “Ultimately, this violence stems from patriarchy”
Ani Jilozian, 31, is the Research and Data Specialist at the Women’s Support Center in Armenia, which has been supported by the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women (UN Trust Fund), for the period of 2015-2017. Read more »


Tarcila Rivera. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

In the words of Tarcila Rivera Zea: “My parents, illiterate as they were, pushed to learn more”
Tarcila Rivera Zea is a Quechuan activist from Ayacucho, Peru, and Founder of the organization Chirapaq, and leader in the movement of indigenous women of the Americas. From 2013 – 2015, UN Women’s Fund for Gender Equality has supported Chirapaq’s work on strengthening rural indigenous women’s economic empowerment. Ms. Rivera Zea was recently elected to the UN’s Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. She is a journalist by profession and for more than 30 years has worked as an activist for indigenous peoples' rights, particularly those related to women, children and indigenous youth in national and international areas. Read more »


Aisulu Jenalieva. Photo: UN Women/Aijamal Duishebaeva

In the words of Aisulu Jenalieva: “Women can have more freedom and men can share domestic work”
Aisulu Jenalieva, 48, has gone from being an abandoned wife of a migrant worker without the means to support her family, to leading a self-help group and collective that runs Jirgatol district’s first dairy production facility in north-east Tajikistan. Her entire perspective has changed since participating in the project. “Earlier, my only wish for my daughter was that she got a good husband, a good household and a piece of land. Now, I want a good education for her,” says Jenalieva. Read more »


Maxmina Salazar. Photo: UN Women/Ricardo Bohórquez

In the words of Maximina Salazar: "My friend, you have rights, don’t let others trample on them."
Maximina Salazar was born in 1952 in Pedro Carbo, a town on the outskirts of the city of Guayaquil, Ecuador. She has worked as a domestic worker since the age of 11 and started organizing domestic workers in her community after receiving trainings through the María Guare Foundation, a UN Women partner. Read more »


Luiza Karimova. Photo: UN Women Europe and Central Asia/Rena Effendi

In the words of Luiza Karimova: “We were sex slaves”
Originally from Tashkent, Uzbekistan, Luiza Karimova left her son with her family and travelled to Osh, Kyrgyzstan to find work. In Kyrgyzstan, she was sold into sex slavery and trafficked into Dubai. After 18 months, she was arrested and sent to jail. Today, Karimova works with Podruga, an organization based in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, which is supported by UN Women. Podruga works to end violence against women and assists women subjected to sex and drug trafficking. Read more »


Ndèye Daro Niang explains menstrual hygiene management to girls with hearing and speech impairment, as part of the Gender Equitable Local Development (GELD) programme. Photo: UN Women Senegal

In the words of Ndèye Daro Niang: “I am a valued member of my community”
Ndèye Daro Niang is one of 213 women with disabilities who have benefited from the Gender Equitable Local Development programme implemented by UN Women in 58 local councils in Senegal, with financial support from Luxembourg. Through workshops and information sessions, women with disabilities have been sensitized and trained on Senegal’s landmark social orientation law, adopted in 2010, and on addressing the unique and specific needs of disabled women in menstrual hygiene management. Read more »


In the words of María Alejandra Martínez: From revolution to reconciliation
Originally from El Bordo, Department of Cauca, Colombia, María Alejandra Martínez, is the daughter of fighters for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP). After they died during military operations, she was trained for guerrilla warfare. She was “recaptured” at the age of 16 and today, at 26, she writes, performs and participates in an artistic-political project that brings together displaced/demobilized survivors, police and military to build peace, reconciliation and reconstruction. Read more »


Julienne Lusenge. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

In the words of Julienne Lusenge: “Women are the first victims of war” in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Julienne Lusenge is Director of the Fund for Congolese Women (FFC) and President of SOFEPADI in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where she says “violence is a part of daily life”. In October 2015, she spoke about gender-based violence in conflict at the UN Security Council's Open Debate on Women, Peace and Security. Read more »


Alaa Murabit. Photo: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard

In the words of Alaa Murabit: The overlooked tool in efforts to prevent conflict
Alaa Murabit is the founder of the Voice of Libyan Women, a women's empowerment and development organization which focuses on women, peace and security through both practical on-the-ground measures as well as legal and policy change. She is a member of the High-Level Advisory Group for the Global Study on the implementation of Security Council resolution 1325. She is also a youth representative on UN Women’s Global Civil Society Advisory Group. Read more »


Edith Chukwu, 29, is among a team of lead Girl Guides trainers in Zambia for a workshop. Photo: UN Women/Urjasi Rudra

In the words of Edith Chukwu: I want to see a world free of violence against women and girls
Edith Chukwu, is a Girl Guide from Ebonyi, Nigeria. A trained peer educator and a biochemistry graduate, she is a Committee Member for the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) in the Africa Region. She is among a team of lead trainers who came to Zambia for a week-long training of trainers workshop. Edith shares her story about how she got involved in the programme and the impact she has seen. Read more »


Evelyn Amony

In the words of Evelyn Amony: “I was forced to become one of his 27 'wives' ”
Evelyn Amony was abducted by the Ugandan rebel group known as the Lord’s Resistance Army when she was only 12 years old. Today Evelyn is Chair of the Women’s Advocacy Network, comprised of over 400 formerly abducted and war-affected women, many of whom are speaking out and effectively advocating for gender justice in Uganda. Read more »


Samantha Ro’otsitsina de C. Juruna

In the words of Tsitsina Xavante: My father told me ‘I want you to be able to help your people one day’
Samantha Ro’otsitsina de C. Juruna (Tsitsina Xavante) is an indigenous woman of Xavante heritage from Namunkurá community in the indigenous territory of San Marcos, Mato Grosso state, in the Amazonian region of Brazil. Trained in social services, she has a Masters in Sustainability for Indigenous Peoples and Territories. She is a member of the Comisión Nacional de la Juventud Indígena and the Red de Juventud Indígena. Read more »


Aili Limakka Laue

In the words of Aili Limakka: We must embrace diversity by accepting our past
Aili Limakka Laue is a 33-year-old Inuit activist from Kalaallit Nunaat, Greenland (Denmark). She is studying social and political science at the University of Greenland, has been a union volunteer for almost a decade and in 2009 she was elected to the board of the National Inuit Youth Council, Sorlak. She is also a single mother of four. Read more »


Saran Keïta Diakité (right), speaking on behalf of the Malian branch of the non-governmental Working Group on Women, Peace and Security, addresses the Security Council debate on sexual violence in conflict on 17 April 2013, in New York.

In the words of Saran Keïta Diakité: Girls receive a visit from a different man every night, a ‘new husband’
Saran Keïta Diakité is a lawyer in Mali and President of the Malian branch of the NGO Working Group on Women Peace and Security . In her own words she speaks about the atrocities occurring in her country, which has been plagued by political instability and the proliferation of armed groups that have uprooted more than 415,000 people since a military coup d’état in March 2012. Read more »


Chamathya (left) polls local families and women about their living conditions. Photo: Setavya Mudalige

In the words of Chamathya Fernando: In Sri Lanka, MDG results are a mixed bag for women and girls
Chamathya Fernando is a 20-year-old activist with the Sri Lanka Girl Guides Association talks about how the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) goals have impacted the lives of women and girls in an urban low-income settlement in Sri Lanka. Fernando spoke at a panel on the MDGs at the Stakeholders Forum on 5 December, 2013. Read more »


Chi Yvonne Leina

In the words of Chi Yvonne Leina: How I stopped grandma from ironing my budding breasts
Cameroonian journalist and women’s rights advocate Chi Yvonne Leina is the founder and coordinator of Gender Danger, a grassroots women`s organization that is fighting to end the practice of breast ironing in Cameroon. She is also starting a media centre to train women and girls to use digital media to educate, raise awareness and transform society. She tells her first-hand account of the practice of breast ironing. Read more »


In the words of Mwasapi Kihongosi: How ending violence against women and girls became my passion
A remarkable young man from Tanzania, 24-year-old Mwasapi Kihongosi won the global UNiTE T-shirt design competition in 2011, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in March 2012 and led a Caravan for Change against violence and harmful traditional practices in November 2012. Mwasapi tells us how the plight to end such forms of violence became his passion. Read more »