SHARJAH // Men are being encouraged to speak up for the equality of women in the workplace, in schools, universities and at home, and to join the United Nations HeForShe campaign.
"We have reached one million men who have formally registered but we need one billion men, so come on UAE, I need you to sign up, go to the website, www.heforshe.org, and become a registered HeForShe activist," said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngucka, the executive director of UN Women, on the final day of the Big Heart Foundation-organised Investing in the Future conference in Sharjah on Thursday.
“Once we have a public launch here, we hope more people, ordinary men, individuals who are leaders, will join. This is about making a personal commitment to change your own life.
“In every country, you need more men and boys as gender activists. The more men and boys think about this issue and do something about it, you decrease the number of men opposed to gender equality. In some cases, it’s unconscious bias - they don’t even know it’s wrong. We need to start a conversation.”
Hollywood and Bollywood actors, heads of corporations and students in Iraq have signed up.
Actress Emma Watson, who starred in the Harry Potter films, launched the campaign two years ago at UN headquarters in New York, asking men to take a stand for gender equality.
Heads of companies affirming support are expected to give a strong undertaking of real change and not just verbal assurances.
“If you lead an institution we expect your leadership to be such that you influence the institution and make sure the policies and the way the institution functions supports gender equality. We expect you to make that commitment and then tell us what actions you are going to take,” said Ms Mlambo-Ngucka.
During the introduction to the initiative, when a young Emirati student asked Ms Mlambo-Ngucka about the common challenges women in the region face, the questioner and the audience were asked to express their thoughts.
After initial hesitation, hands shot up with students eager to talk about challenges they faced in school and at home.
One student said her family described as dangerous her dream of being an international politician or political analyst. An engineering student said women’s projects did not get funding, and another young girl spoke of the dominance of men in society.
“It’s a good idea because if we start talking about this at home, then maybe our brothers will also want to study hard like us and support our dreams,” said Alina, a student who asked for girls to be encouraged to study maths, science and engineering.
Several girls and their teachers named women role models in the UAE Government and private sector and spoke of supportive government announcements on women’s education and participation in public life.
The campaign also addresses violence against women, child marriage, representation of women in politics and “honour” killings.
“Real change can only happen with real dialogue in society,” said Misha Ansari, a University of Sharjah international relations student.
“We need to start thinking and talking about issues concerning women - and men do, too.”
Asking the girls and men to speak up about their ideas, Ms Mlambo-Ngucka said: “We must not accept that girls are weak. We must change the narrative that women need help. Women need opportunity, we are not a charity case. Families can start this discussion very early, so brothers can stand by their sisters.”