“Bringing one half of humanity in support of the other half of humanity for the benefit of all.”
Advocating for women’s rights has historically been viewed as a women’s issue, but a shift in perspective is on the horizon to fully engage men in this endeavor.
The HeForShe Solidarity Movement, an initiative by UN Women, seeks to “mobilize one billion men to speak up and take action in ending the persisting inequalities faced by women and girls around the world.” On September 20, 2014, UN Women, with co-host Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson, kicked off one of the largest solidarity movements for gender equality of the 21st century.
Why engage men? Because it makes sense. Just ask some of the male celebrities who have identified as #HeForShe, like Patrick Stewart: “Domestic violence isn’t a woman’s issue—it’s a man’s. Prevention lies in our hands—literally.” Or Keifer Sutherland, who has difficulty with the fact that “simply being born a girl means you don’t get to realize your full potential.” Or Wolf Blitzer, HeForShe’s moderator for the evening, who observed that in developing countries, one in nine girls becomes a child bride, “and HE should say ‘No.’”
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon began his address by noting that those responsible for acts of violence against women were often intimate partners, family members, or other men known to the victim. In fact, UN Women’s Executive Director Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka noted, “Of all women killed in 2012, almost half were killed by intimate partners or family members.” The Secretary General urged that we desperately need a change in attitude – where male leaders “will lead by example – [and] say to men and boys, ‘Do not raise your hands in violence, raise your voice to stop it.”
Violence against women and girls, however, is only one element of this global issue. Women do not receive equal pay for equal work, face disproportionate and unique burdens during times of conflict, and are overwhelmingly underrepresented in leadership positions in government and business. More women than men are living below the poverty line, millions of girls are forced into early marriages and robbed of an education, and many more are trafficked into the lucrative sex trade. This is just a sampling of the reality of gender inequality across the globe.
In his remarks, the Secretary General addressed Goodwill Ambassador Watson, teasing, “I hope you will use your magic wand to stop violence against women.” UN Women selected Emma Watson, who has a fan-base of 14.5 million, as a Goodwill Ambassador to help spread this issue broadly – especially among youth. However, Watson brings more than a following to the issue – she brings sincere passion. Watson poignantly noted that “feminism” has become a dirty word equated with “man-hating,” but “feminism, by definition, is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.”
Watson reminded the audience that not one country in the world has yet achieved gender equality. To stress the urgency of this societal shortcoming, Watson asserted, “If we do nothing, it will take 75 years before women can be expected to be paid the same as men for the same work.”
Watson’s call to action is spot-on: as a society, we must stop equating the pro-gender equality movement with an attack on men’s rights, and engage both men and women in dialogue and action. In a panel discussion on understanding gender dimensions, former President of Finland Tarja Halonen shared a story that related to this misunderstanding. When she became Finland’s first female head of state, she received correspondence from a young boy who innocently asked, “Is it true, Madame President, that boys can’t become president anymore?” to which she responded, “No, my dear, it means that boys AND girls can become president.” The idea is not women’s rights at the sake of men’s; the idea is equal rights for all. Gender equality is a human rights issue, the resolution of which will benefit everyone – socially, politically and economically.
Of course, it will take more than a magic wand to achieve gender equality; as Mr. Gary Barker, International Director of Promundo, reminded the audience, “It’s easy to click on the website…if you feel too good about tonight, you don’t know how much work we have ahead of us.”
You can learn more about HeForShe and take the first step by pledging your commitment to support gender equality here: http://www.heforshe.org.
You can watch the full video of Emma Watson’s HeForShe speech here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pTG1zcEJmxY.