Last Saturday UN Women launched a campaign called “HeForShe”.
HeForShe is a solidarity movement that changes traditional perception of gender equality: it is not just women’s fight for their rights; it is men’s responsibility as well. To quote the Canadian actor Kiefer Sutherland, who also participated in the launching: “This is no longer about women or men, but rather about women and men working together”.
UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, was the first man to sign the HeForShe Commitment, which has already been signed by more than 147,000 men all around the world. He also delivered a speech at this special event in UN Headquarters in New York. He emphasized the importance of men’s participation in preventing violence against women. “One in three women is a victim of violence – but this is a men’s issue. Men are responsible for most of the threats and violence against women. Often, these men are close to the victims – fathers, husbands, boyfriends or supervisors.” He appealed to men and boys: “Do not raise your hands in violence – raise your voices to stop it”.
This event gathered together devoted leaders as Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka (UN Women Executive Director), Wolf Blitzer (Executive Director of UN Women), Tarja Halonen (the first female president of Finland), Gary Barker (Director of the gender, violence and rights team for the International Center for Research on Women), Kiefer Sutherland, and other speakers. UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson’s speech was particularly noteworthy and inspiring. She condemned the harm that gender discrimination causes to both men and women: “The reality is that if we do nothing it will take 75 years, or for me to be nearly a hundred before women can expect to be paid the same as men for the same work; 15.5 million girls will be married in the next 16 years as children; and at current rates it won’t be until 2086 before all rural African girls will be able to receive a secondary education.” These facts are striking.
Speaking at the event, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka also addressed some frightening facts. “Fact: Many women experience violence and even death from their intimate partners.
35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence. In some national violence studies that figure goes as high as 70 per cent.
Of all women killed in 2012, almost half were killed by intimate partners or family members.
Fact: Rape has been a rampant tactic as a weapon of war. Women are abducted and sold as sex slaves and taken as spoils of war.” She urged men to stop this violence and protect women. It is in men’s power to stop forced marriages, denial of education, and rape, especially in conflict regions: “Whether it is in Nigeria, Iraq, Syria, or Ukraine, this violence—which rages as we speak—has a particular impact on women and girls”.
Men and boys can change the course of history. And if we do not start now, when? And if it is not us, who?