Chevening Alumna leads the way tackling gender-based violence

Chevening Alumna Khongorzul Amarsanaa (Zola) has dedicated her life to eliminating violence against women and children in Mongolia. We speak with her about her achievements to date.

How are you working to tackle gender-based violence?

Established in 2012, Beautiful Hearts Against Sexual Violence (Beautiful Hearts) is a member-based, non-religious, non-governmental organisation based in Ulaanbaatar. Led by Zola, who is both co-founder and chairperson, its mission is to advocate, prevent, and protect women and children from all forms of violence through advocacy, psychological services, capacity-building, and raising awareness.

However, unlike other organisations, all of their outreach activities, which are led by girls and women, use various forms of art (including music, dance, painting, drawing, zentangle, story-telling, and photography) to spread their message.

‘Using art is the best way to approach government as well as the general public. Art engages us. Art touches our heart. All of our activities use art to really engage people, men especially,’ says Zola.

As a qualified psychologist since 2005, Zola recognised the need to reduce domestic and sexual violence in Mongolia, which is why she teamed up with other psychologists and social workers to found Beautiful Hearts. However, like many new NGOs, they needed money to get up and running, so Zola held an exhibition where she sold original paintings to her friends. She even painted the logo that Beautiful Hearts uses today.

Levelling up

Then in 2015, Zola received a Chevening Scholarship to study Social Research Methods at the University of Sussex. Studying at Sussex, she says, gave her the tools, theories, and practical experience she needed to further enhance the work of Beautiful Hearts.

‘I did an MSc in Social Research Methods, specifically focusing on gender-based violence. The reason why I chose social research methods was that I needed to learn the research methods specifically related to gender-based violence, domestic violence, and sexual violence.’

Zola says that her studies also taught her the importance of tailoring her approach in order to reach different audiences.

International recognition

Since 2012, Beautiful Hearts has worked hard to fulfil its mission. It has since delivered over 50 capacity-building training sessions on trauma-informed service, reached over 5,000 service providers and 80,000 school children, and piloted numerous ‘artivism’ initiatives. It even contributed to the passing of the Law to Combat Domestic Violence in Mongolia, in cooperation with other national NGOs.

It is not surprising then that Beautiful Hearts was honoured at the With and For Girls awards, which recognises locally-led, girl-centred organisations that are working to empower women and girls around the world. 20 organisations from five continents were selected, including five from the Asia Pacific region.

‘This award really gives inspiration to our Mongolian girls. We are part of the world, part of the girl-led community globally,’ says Zola.

A safe future for all

When asked about the future of Beautiful Hearts, Zola says that we must continue to talk about the issues facing girls and women, all the while including men in the conversation.

‘We need to involve more girls, as well as boys. Gender-based violence is not only a girl’s problem, it’s our problem. It’s everyone’s problem. We need to talk about it now and all the time.’

Beautiful Hearts currently has several projects underway and is using technology to spread their message among different groups. Projects include the educational Strong Girls Strong Nations smartphone app, educational animations for young children, posters for parents about how to prevent and protect children from sexual abuse, and various podcasts, radio programmes, and TV talk shows to discuss things like healthy relationships and the role men can play in reducing gender-based violence.

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