Launching one of the largest solidarity movements of the 21st century, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and UN Women Global Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson, opened a star-studded event in New York this evening with strong calls on men and boys worldwide to raise their voiced for gender equality today and women's empowerment.
“Over the years, men have supported the women's movement. But for the most part, it was just that: a women's movement – when in fact gender equality is the responsibility of all people,” the Secretary-General said in opening remarks at the launch of the UN Women HeForShe campaign.
Moderated by renowned CNN Anchor Wolf Blitzer, the HeForShe event aimed to put men at the center of activism and dialogue to end persistent inequalities faced by women and girls around the world. Over the next 12 months, the campaign intends to mobilize one billion men and boys as advocates and agents of change for gender equality.
“States have an obligation to address violence against women. But we also need to change attitudes,” said Mr. Ban, noting that 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, said the UN chief, declaring: “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.”
In a highlight of the event, the Secretary-General capped his remarks by activating the HeForShe map – a real-time map with a geo locator to capture men's engagement with the initiative worldwide over the next 12 months and keep a tally towards the campaign's one billion target. The top UN official, through his map activation, was counted as the “number one man”. Mr. Blitzer became “number two”, by activating the map next.
In her remarks, UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said HeForShe is for every man, every boy, every individual, wherever they are. Despite the dire and very real statistics about the ongoing scourges of violence against women and gender inequality, “men and boys can change the course of history,” she said.
Urging male politicians, artists, actors and sportsmen to “stand up” so that through them, young men and boys could see role models willing to help change society's failures, she said people from all walks of life were invited to work towards creating a world of equal justice and equal opportunity, without discrimination.
“I am reaching out to you because we need your help. We want to end gender inequality and to that we need everyone involved,” said Ms. Watson in her remarks, stressing the HeForShe campaign was more than talk; it was about achieving tangible results.
Referring to her most iconic film role as Hermione in the “Harry Potter” film series, Ms. Watson said many in the audience might ask: “Who is this 'Harry Potter' girl and what is she doing speaking at the UN?”
While admitting that she had asked herself the same question since being named UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, she said, “all I know is that I care about this problem and want to make it better. I feel it is my responsibility to say and do something.”
To those present who might have similar doubts, she highlighted some start facts about the price of inaction. “The reality is, that if we do nothing, it will take 75 years before women can expect to be paid the same as men for the same work…and at the current rate, it will 2086 before all rural African girls can have a secondary education.”
“I want men to take up this mantle. So their daughters, sisters and mothers can be free from prejudice, but also so that their sons have permission to be vulnerable and human too – reclaim those parts of themselves they abandoned and in doing so be a more true and complete version of themselves,” Ms. Watson said.
Along with Sam Kutesa, President of the UN General Assembly, the brought together renowned personalities, including senior UN officials such as UN Population Fund (UNFPA) Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, and UN Educational, Scientif and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Director-General, Irina Bokova, along with actor Kiefer Sutherland and civil society representatives to discuss the central role men and boys can play in the achievement of gender equality.