On September 20th, British Actress Emma Watson stepped into her role as the Goodwill Ambassador for UN Women, co-hosting the launch event for their new solidarity movement, the "HeForShe Campaign".
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of UN Women, proudly unveiled HeForShe as an essential tool, to mobilize a vast and far-reaching movement to support men and boys to become advocates for gender equality. Joining her on this momentous occasion was the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, who spoke about the need for closing the gender gap, saying, "We need to say to men and boys: Do not raise your hands in violence – raise your voices to stop it—and to support human rights for all,” The Secretary General became the first man to sign HeForShe's online pledge to end gender violence and discrimination. The HeForShe website is a place for men and boys to sign up as advocates, protectors, and activists on an issue that is no longer being portrayed as solely a women’s issue, but as a violation of human rights for all.
The underlying message of HeForShe is to engage men and boys in eliminating the disparity between men and women, for the good of their families, communities, and themselves. During her speech, Ms. Watson put into clear terms why this message of gender equality is as much a man's issue as it is a woman’s issue. “Men—I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue too… I’ve seen men made fragile and insecure by a distorted sense of what constitutes male success. Men don’t have the benefits of equality either.”
After exposing the double-edged sword of prescribed gender stereotypes for men and women, Ms. Watson elaborated on the benefits of liberation.
“If men don’t have to be aggressive in order to be accepted, women won’t feel compelled to be submissive. If men don’t have to control, women won’t have to be controlled. Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive; both men and women should feel free to be strong… It is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum, not as two opposing sets of ideals. If we stop defining each other by what we are not, and start defining ourselves by what we are—we can all be freer…”
It is important to note that gender inequality is inextricability linked to sexual violence, and the prescribed gender stereotypes that confine men and women have clear and striking implications. In instances of male sexual violence, many men and boy victims refuse to come forward out of fear for being perceived as vulnerable and emasculated. Growing up, boys learn not to cry; they learn that girls are vulnerable and submissive from a society that reinforces masculine concepts of invulnerability. In many conflict-affected areas, this idea of masculinity often leads to the perpetration of sexual violence against women, and the underreporting of sexual violence against men.
This has to stop. In order to end rape and sexual violence conflict, we must ensure that all voices are heard: men, women, and children alike. We must #EndTheSilence. With the success HeForShe, we can expect a new world where all are involved in the achievement of gender equality. A world where victims of sexual violence are empowered to come forward, and where perpetrators face prosecution instead of impunity.