HeForShe: mobilization of men for gender equality

In July, the twenty-four-year-old British actress and humanitarian Emma Watson was appointed as United Nations Women Goodwill Ambassador, upon which she commented, “Women’s rights are something so inextricably linked with who I am, so deeply personal and rooted in my life, that I can’t imagine an opportunity more exciting.” The young celebrity had already been involved in a movement for the education of girls in Zambia and Bangladesh prior to her appointment. In her new role as a UN Goodwill Ambassador, Watson recently visited Uruguay to stress the need for more women’s involvement in politics.

She continues her pursuit for women’s rights, delivering a powerful and emotional speech at the UN Headquarters in New York on September 20. Formerly known as Hermione Granger in the “Harry Potter” movie series, Watson launched a new campaign, HeForShe. According to UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, HeForShe emphasizes the involvement of boys and men to become “advocates and agents of change” in order to end gender inequality by 2030.

Men, I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue too.

The inspiring actress began her speech by discussing the literal and contextual definitions of “feminism” as used by society. As Watson pointed out, feminism “by definition is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.” Watson lamented that women’s rights activities have “become synonymous with man-hating” and “that feminism has become an unpopular word.” According to the young Ambassador, “I am among the ranks of women whose expressions are seen as too strong, too aggressive, isolating, anti-men, and unattractive, even.” Watson went on to stress that women’s rights for gender equality are human rights. Describing the environment in which she grew up, she said she was not limited by being female, and she encouraged more “inadvertent feminists [to change] the world.”

Watson also recognized the struggle for men to maintain the masculine image set by society and how they too are victims of gender stereotypes. In the end of her speech, she made it clear that men’s freedom from such stereotypes will positively affect women’s perceived roles and attitudes. “If men don’t have to be aggressive, women won’t be compelled to be submissive. If men don’t need to control, women won’t have to be controlled,” she said.

The Goodwill Ambassador expressed her hopes to achieve such freedom for both men and women. She said, “We can all be freer and this is what HeForShe is about. It’s about freedom. I want men to to take up this mantle so their daughters, sisters and mothers can be free from prejudice, but also so their sons have permission to be vulnerable and human too, and, in doing so, be a more true and complete version of themselves.” Watson further encouraged men to take part in the HeForShe campaign and the fight against gender inequality: “Men, I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue too.”

The HeForShe real-time map, found on the campaign’s home page, displays the number of men who already have joined the campaign from different countries all over the world.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that the initiative has set its first target of 100,000 people within the next year.

The Hollywood star’s speech was received with a standing ovation and the hashtag #HeForShe has been trending on Twitter in subsequent days, and Emma Watson herself has been one of the trending topics on Facebook as well. The good word is spreading.


Sources: independent.co.uk, rappler.com, unwomen.org