Last September, UN Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson gave a passionate speech at the UN Headquarters in which she launched the ‘HeForShe’ Campaign, encouraging men and boys across the globe to become greater advocates for gender equality in the social, economic and political arenas. The initiative has received widespread praise across the globe, but some critics have questioned the effectiveness of the campaign.
There has been great work done so far, but there is also vast amount of progress that still needs to be made. One year on, has the campaign been a resounding success, or a stark disappointment despite having the noblest of intentions?
“Men – I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue, too.”
There is a good amount of evidence to suggest that the ‘HeForShe’ Campaign is working. In March, Union Council passed a motion formally supporting the ‘HeForShe’ Campaign. Although a number of US universities have publicly given their backing, it is believed that SUSU is the first Students’ Union in the UK to do so.
Sam Bailey, SUSU’s Vice-President Welfare, has praised the initiative, saying:
It’s really great to see so many people around the world joining together to support women’s equality – the map on the HeForShe website says 448,456 people have signed up already and it would be amazing to see that grow. The important thing now is that people hold their governments, politicians and community leaders to account, ensuring that real change happens.
The campaign has truly had an international reach, with success even in countries where gender equality has been a seemingly impossible challenge to overcome. Until October 2001, the city of Kabul raged with war as the Taleban regime attempted to enforce Sharia Law on the people, which treated women as second class citizens. Earlier this year, Afghan men in the capital took the rare move of encouraging others to pledge allegiance to the campaign.
However to think that gender discrimination is no longer an issue would be a grave misunderstanding. In Saudi Arabia, women were allowed to register to vote in elections for the first time ever this year, seen by some as a massive leap forward. Indeed while a degree of progress has been made, the human rights group Amnesty International have warned that the change is too little, too late. Women will still need a male to take them to the polls if they are to have any say at all, as women themselves are banned from driving in Saudi Arabia.
Critics of the ‘HeForShe’ Campaign have also argued that the initiative is flawed because it leads men into believing that they are making a real change by signing a pledge to support gender equality, instead of taking real action to confront the most pressing issues.
Ultimately it could be said that the ‘HeForShe’ Campaign has gone a long way to encourage men and boys to stand up for gender equality across the globe and call for an end to prejudice and discrimination. However to suggest that the campaign has been a glorious success would be rather far-fetched. To truly tackle the issue of gender inequality; men, women, girls, boys, governments, charities and human rights groups must all stand together on a long-term platform of solidarity. An issue of this magnitude could never be solved in one year.