Gender inequality is an issue existing in this world for as long as any history books have recorded. Various manifestations and people (both men and women) have fought against it throughout the years, but despite some positive changes, the issue still persists today.
In medieval times, women were granted the title of Queen only if they married a King.
In 1789, the French Revolution questions the social inequalities between women and men, and gives hopes in women’s fight for equal rights.
In 1911, the term feminism becomes popular.
In 1920, American women were finally given the right to vote.
In 1971, Switzerland accepts universal suffrage, giving women the right to vote at the federal level.
In 2010, free healthcare for pregnant women is launched in Sierra Leone.
In 2013, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speaks up for feminism on her TEDx speech “We should all be feminists”.
September 2014, famous “Harry Potter” actress and UN Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson is one of the founders of the “HeForShe” campaign, focusing on involving men into sustaining and increasing awareness of gender equality.
March 2015, our fellow Glioners Shirley Ko and Franco Benítez took the initial #HeForShe campaign to the next level by getting colleagues from all classes, nations and cultures involved – all asking themselves a simple question: “What does gender equality mean to you ?”
They’ve encouraged students to write down their definition of gender equality and upload it via social media with the hash-tags #HeForShe and #HeForSheGlion. The results speak for themselves.
These team members were kind enough as to answer some questions regarding the campaign and topic of gender inequality.
How had this campaign started initially?
The #HeForShe campaign is a global initiative that was started by the UN Women in September 2014 to fight against the ongoing inequalities faced by women and girls. As part of the campaign, the ‘Impact 10x10x10’ pilot programme was created to engage governments, corporations and universities around the world to accelerate and enhance the impact of the campaign.
After watching Emma Watson’s speech on the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this year, we decided that we would try to put in practice at Glion the implementation plan tailored for universities provided by UN Women. By launching the #HeForShe campaign in Glion, we hope to mobilize young people to accelerate the process towards the achievement of gender equality.
In your opinion, what is the ‘root’ of gender inequality?
Several factors can be considered the ‘root’ of gender inequality, but one of the most prevalent ones is the common misconception that women are morally inferior to men, and that women are by nature weak and emotional. Even more, women are sometimes considered to be a “second sex”, because they are regarded always as an “other” to the primary male sex. It is these prescribed social roles and gender stereotypes that cloud our minds and keep us from envisioning the potential of having full inclusion of women in society.
Furthermore, traditional moral philosophy has tended to support the view that women should develop “women’s virtues,” such as modesty, humility, and subservience. These traditional notions have been around for centuries and are strongly associated with a long history of the subordination of women. In order to change these misconceptions of the role of women in society, we believe that men and boys must be included as advocates and agents of change.
What are the contemporary issues that define gender inequality?
One issue that is very common in our times is the existence of a gender gap, both for payment and job opportunities, in all countries around the world. In fact, according to the Global Gender Gap Report 2014, in nine years of measuring the global gender gap, the gap for economic participation and opportunity has closed by just four percentage points.
Not only does this show that there are still wide gaps in women’s political and economic participation, but also that, with all else remaining equal, it will take 81 years to close this gap completely. For the time being, no country in the world has thus far been successful in closing its overall gender gap.
Moreover, if women continue to be clustered in a narrower range of lower paying occupations, it is clear that they will not be treated equally in both the public realm and the realm of the home and family.
Finally, the issue of women having a disadvantage in terms of advancement in many professions due to the fact that they are the primary child care providers in most families and due to the financial threat of having women employees asking for maternity leaves. In order to solve this, men could take an equal share of child care and be more supportive in general in the whole paternity role.
What are the best ‘tools’ to build a strong sense of gender equality?
Raewyn Connell, a leading researcher on men, masculinity and gender equality, has argued that the achievement of gender equality has two pre-requisites.
The first is cultural and social change – or, mens’ and boys’ acceptance of the importance and benefit of a gender-equal society. The second is institutional change. In driving this cultural and social change, we believe that technology can have a massive impact; technology is critical for universal access to education, and it can mean that girls can learn in safe places where there’s a threat of terrorism.
Furthermore, and this is one of the reasons why we decided to launch this campaign in Glion, according to a UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs 2013 report, roughly half of the world’s population is under the age of 30. Young people can be mobilized, supported and challenged to contribute to advancing gender equality, yet they remain underutilized as agents of change.
Our generation is better positioned and has more opportunities than previous ones to help shape development, with greater access to information, technology, education and training.
How has this idea been implemented throughout the students and staff members of the university?
Since the beginning, we tried to follow the guidelines that were given to us in the implementation plan, but we have come up with some initiatives of our own to promote the campaign.
As a medium to create awareness while capturing the momentum of the launch of the campaign, we decided to ask students to write their personal opinion and thoughts on gender equality and share them on social media using the hashtag “#HeForSheGlion”. This was a great success and an effective tool to get students and faculty members talking about the campaign, and also to set the base for future initiatives.
What key aspects should anybody (women and men) have in mind when being involved in such an activity?
Perhaps first and foremost, is an open mind to what the campaign stands for. This applies to both the gender equality movement as a whole, and the more novel idea of having men take an active stand for the movement too.
As with any civil rights or human rights movement that was met with resistance, support has to come first from a mental commitment to the cause, which arises from a willingness to learn about it and to set aside assumptions. It is this mental commitment that will compel an individual to go out of their way to do something to promote gender equality or to suppress gender inequality.
And it is the actions you do today that you didn’t do yesterday that grow the movement, be it large or small.
What other methods would you recommend to contribute to this campaign?
Donating to UN Women for their efforts to eliminate gender inequality globally. We organized a party to raise funds to donate to this cause. In addition, organizing panel discussions, forums and debates are key to engaging supporters on a more intellectual level, which is arguably the most powerful method.
However, engaging in this campaign only scratches on the surface of what you can do. At the end of the day, we go back to our lives, and it is here in our everyday lives where the contribution truly matters. Here, there are two things we would recommend: read and relay. Read more about gender equality and deepen your understanding of the cause so you are more equipped to perform the second part, relaying the information.
You need to speak up against those who perpetuate gender inequality. Educate them about the campaign and the underlying issue of gender equality. As Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
Have the overall results met your expectations?
The results have met and exceeded our expectations! We set goals for the number of photos and Facebook page likes in the first few days of the launch and the results surpassed them everyday.
However, it wasn’t so much the raw numbers that excited us. What these results conveyed, was not only that the campaign had succeeded in becoming popular, but also that people truly cared about the cause, evidenced by what some of the students wrote in their answers. It was especially rewarding to see that some of the most meaningful answers came from men.
Based on results, what was the impact of the campaign throughout the Glion community?
The amazing results showed that when given the opportunity, both students and faculty could unite to show solidarity for a great cause. It was heart warming and humbling. The Glion spirit had never become so palpable in our time here and this is something that will make us always think of Glion fondly for.
However, above all, was the mental impact of being asked the question, “What does gender equality mean to you?” Answering this question wasn’t about promoting the message of the campaign or what we, the organizers thought or what their friends thought, it was about what the individual thought about gender equality. It required them to define the cause for themselves and that is what we want to encourage. We do not want to endorse one way of looking at it because the applications of gender equality and feminism are subjective. Taking a moment to think about and write down what gender equality means to an individual will hopefully give one more confidence in showing support and in owning one’s stance in this movement.
What message do you have for whoever is reading this article or would like to express interest in the campaign?
Partaking in what some claim to be a controversial campaign means you will encounter resistance. While we saw the overwhelming support, there were some students who remained skeptical about the campaign and made negative assumptions about what it stood for.
This reaction is inevitable. Remember not to think of this as a setback but instead as an opportunity. Human rights campaigns are not about preaching to the converted, it largely involves giving the skeptics a chance to expose themselves to the arguments supporting the movement. We hope that even if the skeptics didn’t show downright support this time around, that we made them warm up to the idea a little bit so that the next time they find themselves among a campaign, they’ll think for a second, “perhaps these people have a point.”
Refrain from feeling discouraged when you don’t see change arise overnight and know that it takes patience, persistence and perseverance. Instead of looking to produce absolute support from the skeptics (because you will not get it that way), aim to become a part of the process.