03 September 2015
Contributor post
Anatomy of a campaign: UN Women’s HeForShe

Launched in 2014, HeForShe is UN Women’s global campaign to engage men and boys in removing the social and cultural barriers that prevent women and girls from achieving their potential. Focused on generating online and offline action, HeForShe has experienced strong backing from a range of supporters, like heads of state, politicians, celebrities, and community and business leaders, and garnered more than 300 000 signatures from men who have committed to advocate the campaign’s message of equality. Daily Development interviewed HeForShe Head Elizabeth Nyamayaro of UN Women to learn more about the campaign.

DD: How did the campaign come about and why HeForShe—the initiative’s long name is UN Women Solidarity Movement for Gender Equality?

EN: HeForShe, as the initiative’s name suggests, is inviting men and boys around the world to stand together in solidarity with each other and with women for the achievement of gender equality. This is an invitation for those who believe in equality for women and men—and those who don’t yet know that they believe in it. HeForShe provides a platform for men to self-identify with gender equality and its benefits, which liberates not only women, but also men, from prescribed social roles and gender stereotypes.

This moment in history represents an unprecedented opportunity to reshape the dialogue on women’s rights and position gender equality at the heart of the global agenda. We stand at the junction of several historic processes: the review of the Millennium Development Goals; the deliberations on the post-2015 development framework and sustainable development goals; and the 20th-year review and appraisal of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. HeForShe is part of UN Women’s new agenda to address gender inequality as a human rights issue, which requires the full participation of both women and men.

DD: How has the initiative unfolded?

EN: HeForShe launched in September 2014. The immediate response was extraordinary. In the first three days, more than 100 000 men signed up, committing to be change agents for equality. Within the first week, at least one man in every single country in the world had stood up to be counted. And in that same week, HeForShe created more than 1.2 billion conversations on social media. Beyond these online actions, a large part of our engagement is offline across all the global UN Women Council offices, of which we have 90 around the world.

In January 2015, we launched the HeForShe pilot programme, IMPACT 10x10x10, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The pilot programme is calling upon governments, businesses and universities to change their policies with concrete HeForShe commitments, engaging male leaders to become role models and change agents within their own institutions. Now, just eight months later, a movement is growing and we are seeing men sign up and take action. This is the beginning of the vision that HeForShe has for the world that we want to see.

DD: What do you think resonates most about the initiative? The issue? The specific call to men and boys? The engagement factor?

EN: HeForShe is about uplifting all of us—women and men—together. The initiative is based on a simple idea, that what we share is more powerful than what divides us. We feel the same things. We want the same things. Even if those things remain unspoken.

The initiative makes the issues personal. We are hearing from women and men around the world tell us the same thing: HeForShe is igniting something inside them, something that was already there. The initiative is about connecting to women’s and men’s dreams, dreams that we have for ourselves, and dreams that we have for our families, our children, partners, friends and communities.

By encouraging men to publicly raise a hand, we are establishing a new social norm and effectively changing the perception of gender equality. The men we’re reaching aren’t on the sidelines. They’re working with women to build businesses, raise families and give back to their communities. They’re problem solvers, and they don’t want solutions limited by outdated ideas. HeForShe provides a platform to activate that energy, and gives them the tools and ideas they need to grow the movement in their own way.

DD: How important have been the initiative’s endorsements, including the role of Emma Watson?

EN: HeForShe is showing that men and boys from all walks of life—from celebrities and political leaders to men on the street—understand what’s at stake, showcasing how they’re making a difference and inspiring them to become part of the solution. We are seeing men take action—from the United Nation’s own Secretary-General to the secretary-generals of NATO and the Council of Europe, from the Prime Minister of Bhutan to the President of Sierra Leone. In Europe alone, all of the male European Union Commissioners and the Members of Parliament of the Swedish and Icelandic governments have signed on to be HeForShe. In fact, one in every 20 men in Iceland has joined the movement. The passionate rallying call from our own Global Goodwill Ambassador, Emma Watson, has been essential to HeForShe. Her authentic voice has propelled the initiative to garner more than 5 billion media mentions, inspiring hundreds of thousands of students to create more than 100 HeForShe student-led university associations around the world.

DD: What has HeForShe brought forward in terms of generating action?

EN: Getting to a world where women and men are equal is not just a matter of bringing men to the cause. HeForShe is asking men to take concrete action, calling on them to intervene at a personal level to change their behaviour.

We receive numerous emails every day, sometimes as many as a thousand a day. Many of these are men sharing their personal impact stories. We heard about a man in Zimbabwe who after hearing about HeForShe created a “husband school”. He went around his village, hand-picked all of the men who were abusive to their partners and made a commitment to turn them into better husbands and fathers. In Pune, India, a youth advocate organized an innovative bicycle rally mobilizing more than 700 cyclists to spread awareness of HeForShe in their community. In one impact story, a man sent this note about a personal incident that had happened in his own community. He wrote: “Dear Madam, I have lived all of my life next door to a man who continuously beats up his wife. Two weeks ago I was listening to my radio and your voice came on and you spoke about the HeForShe initiative and the need for men to play their role. Within a few hours of hearing the interview, I heard the woman cry again next door. For the first time in my life, I didn’t just sit there. I felt compelled to do something. So I went over and confronted the husband. Madam, it has been two weeks and the woman has not cried since. Thank you for giving me a voice.” Personal impact stories like these show that we are tapping into something within men, and they are taking action.

DD: How has HeForShe influenced thinking around other future UN Women campaigns?

EN: UN Women is currently leveraging HeForShe as an accelerator for the implementation of the organization’s strategic plan. HeForShe is about moving us towards an inflection point for gender equality. I like to imagine the advancement towards the achievement of gender equality as a blank page with a single horizontal line splitting it in half. Imagine that women are represented above the line and men are represented below the line. At our current population, HeForShe is about moving the 3.2 billion men across that line—one man at a time—so that men can stand alongside women and ultimately be on the right side of history, making gender equality a reality in the 21st century.

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Elizabeth Nyamayaro

Elizabeth Nyamayaro is Senior Advisor to the Executive Director of UN Women and Head of the HeForShe Initiative. A strong advocate for women’s rights and economic empowerment, Ms Nyamayaro has worked at the forefront of Africa’s development agenda for more than a decade in both the public and private sector, and previously held positions with UNAIDS, the World Health Organization and the World Bank. Prior to UN Women, she was Director External Affairs & Policy, Africa, and part of the Corporate Strategy Office at Merck. Born in Zimbabwe and a political scientist by training, Ms Nyamayaro holds a MSc in Politics from the London School of Economics and Political Science.

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