The United Nations is using it’s Women’s Global HeforShe initiative to drive gender equality

Gender equality is a fundamental human right but remains a distant dream for many women worldwide.  The United Nations’ HeforShe is a solidarity campaign for the advancement of gender equality.  Its goal is to achieve equality by encouraging both genders to partake as agents of change and take action against negative stereotypes and behaviors, faced by people with feminine personalities/genders.

Grounded in the idea that gender inequality is an issue that affects all people—socially, economically and politically. It seeks to actively involve men and boys in a movement that was originally conceived as “a struggle for women by women”.

The HeForShe movement is gathering momentum globally as a cohort of select leaders from both the public and private sectors join the drive and stand out as visionaries on gender equality.

On behalf of Standard Bank Group, Chief Executive Sim Tshabalala, has become one of the global “Thematic Champions” in the HeForShe movement. These leaders have committed to implementing game-changing policies and concrete actions towards gender parity.

“Achieving gender equity is a moral duty, a business imperative, and just plain common sense. Women embody half the world’s talent, skill and energy – and more than half of its purchasing power.

So every sensible business leader must be committed to achieving gender equity in their company and to contributing to gender equity in the societies in which we operate,” says Tshabalala.

Sim Tshabalala
@StandardBankZA will improve the representation of women in executive positions from the current 35% to 40% by 2021. #HeforShe Click To Tweet

In the World Economic Forum’s latest Global Gender Gap report, it is estimated that it will take more than 217 years to achieve workplace equality after gender parity took a step backward in the past year.

Concrete commitments made by Standard Bank Group in order to bring about tangible change include:

  • Reaching parity in executive positions and to improve the representation of women in executive positions from its current 32% to 40% by 2023.
  • Lift the representation of women on the Board from 22% to 33% by 2021.

Standard Bank is also committed to increasing the representation of women Chief Executives in its Africa Regions network from 10% to 20% by 2021, while Standard Bank South Africa will improve the representation of women in executive positions from the current 35% to 40% by 2021.

While progress has been made in certain countries in Africa to close gender gaps, others remain behind the curve. Namibia and South Africa both score in the Top 20 in the WEF global report on gender equality – after closing 78% to 76% of their gender gaps – but Sub-Saharan Africa still displays a wider range of gender gap outcomes than practically any other region.

Launched by Emma Watson and the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in 2014, HeForShe represented the first global effort to actively include men and boys as change agents for gender equality at a time when most gender programs were only targeting women.

The U.N. recently reported that nearly 20 percent of women surveyed said they had experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner in the previous year. #HeforShe Click To Tweet

It was the beginning of a trend that only seems more relevant as stories emerge of sexual abuse and harassment suffered by women in the workplace.

The Sustainable Development Goals call for gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls, but campaigns such as the most recent International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women highlight that there is much work to be done.

The U.N. recently reported that nearly 20 percent of women surveyed said they had experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner in the previous year.

Originally conceived as a one-year media campaign to raise awareness about the role of men and boys in gender equality, the HeForShe website garnered more than 100,000 male supporters in its first three days.

These males affirmed their commitment to the cause by declaring themselves “HeForShe” and saying that gender equality is not just a women’s issue. Early adopters included a clutch of celebrities and politicians, including former U.S. President Barack Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and actor Matt Damon.

Since then, 1.6 million men have signed up online, including at least one man in every country of the world, and its “Impact Champions” include the presidents of Rwanda, Ghana, Malawi, and Indonesia, among several other heads of state. 

The issue has also been the subject of 2 billion conversations on social media.

But HeForShe is not without its critics. Many in the gender equality community say they would like to see the movement make more concrete demands of its male champions, and have called for civil society to play a greater role in developing and monitoring the movement.

“Now is a good moment for reflection and discussion about HeForShe, which has achieved high visibility, clear successes, and also drawbacks,” said Gary Barker, co-founder of Promundo, an NGO working to engage men and boys for gender equality, which has advised the HeForShe campaign since its launch three years ago.

“Having that amount of reach and star power on board means there’s huge potential, but we need to harness it before the movement loses momentum … [and] we need to push UN Women to go further and ask more of men,” he added.

Johannesburg : 9th October 2018.

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Covert Allies: A tale of Nigeria’s secret feminists

As a Nigerian woman, I have a lot of things on my mind. Things such as the disappointment about the Nigerian Senate recently not passing the Gender Discrimination Bill. Or the daily panic that there would be a power cut as I’m putting on my makeup and getting ready for work. My mind is full. I now have to add the pressure of saying the words ‘I am a feminist into the mix.
The words are easy for me to utter, but often heavy for others to accept. The reactions are often disdain from a lot of men and suspicion from a lot of women. This surprises me greatly.

What’s really wrong with demanding gender equality?

It is surprising because to me, it is very evident that we Nigerians are all feminists – whether obvious or covert.
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Take, for instance, the working mum who says that feminists are unhappy spinsters who are angry with the world because they can not keep a man. This working mum is educated up to university level. She has a career where her salary is paid into her own bank account. She can post her thoughts on social media without her husband’s permission. She is a covert feminist, reaping the fruits of trailblazing feminists before her.
But please, don’t let her know about it; that would spoil the secret.

Actually, there are covert feminists!

We definitely mustn’t forget the special variety of feminists which are the secret male feminists. They are often belligerent and patronizing to women who declare themselves to be feminists. Don’t you dare as a woman turn down the advances of the secret male feminist; he will ask you why you’re carrying this ‘feminist-thing’ on your head. His disdain for you would be oozing out of his pores.
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However, watch the secret male feminist talk with pride about his mother who worked several jobs against all odds to make sure that he got an education. Watch him puff out his chest when he announces that his wife has bagged a Masters Degree with distinction.
Watch him talk with concern as he worries that the secondary school where his daughter is studying isn’t up to world-class standards, and therefore not allowing her to reach her full potential. Watch him talk with frustration about what to do his sister’s boss who sexually harasses her.
Watch him look horrified when you call him a feminist.

Who is then a feminist?

To quote author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, ‘a feminist is a person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes’. That’s it.
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Feminism is not a cult for angry women; it is a movement which simply suggests that men and women should be treated with equal respect, consideration and dignity.
When this is fully understood, bills which would protect the right of a woman to inherit her husband’s property would be passed into law. When this is fully understood, secret feminists-male and female-would come out of the dark shadows cast by misconceptions, and stand tall for equality.
It would be one less burden to have on my mind as a Nigerian woman.