I am reaching out to you because I need yourhelp. We want to end gender inequality—and todo that we need everyone to be involved.
This is the first campaign of its kind atthe UN: we want to try and galvanize as many men and boys as possible to be advocates forgender equality. And we don’t just want to talk about it,but make sure it is tangible.
I was appointed six months ago and the moreI have spoken about feminism the more I have realized that fighting for women’s rightshas too often become synonymous with man-hating. If there is one thing I know for certain,it is that this has to stop.
For the record, feminism by definition is:“The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of the political, economicand social equality of the sexes.”
I started questioning gender-based assumptionswhen at eight I was confused at being called “bossy,” because I wanted to direct theplays we would put on for our parents—but the boys were not. When at 14 I started being sexualized by certainelements of the press. When at 15 my girlfriends started droppingout of their sports teams because they didn’t want to appear “muscly.”
When at 18 my male friends were unable toexpress their feelings. I decided I was a feminist and this seemeduncomplicated to me. But my recent research has shown me that feminismhas become an unpopular word. Apparently I am among the ranks of women whoseexpressions are seen as too strong, too aggressive, isolating, anti-men and, unattractive. Why is the word such an uncomfortable one?
I am from Britain and think it is right thatas a woman I am paid the same as my male counterparts. I think it is right that I should be ableto make decisions about my own body. I think it is right that women be involved on my behalf in the policies and decision-makingof my country. I think it is right that socially I am affordedthe same respect as men. But sadly I can say that there is no one countryin the world where all women can expect to receive these rights.
No country in the world can yet say they haveachieved gender equality. These rights I consider to be human rightsbut I am one of the lucky ones. My life is a sheer privilege because my parentsdidn’t love me less because I was born a daughter. My school did not limit me because I was agirl. My mentors didn’t assume I would go lessfar because I might give birth to a child one day.
These influencers were the gender equalityambassadors that made me who I am today. They may not know it, but they are the inadvertentfeminists who are changing the world today. And we need more of those. And if you still hate the word—it is notthe word that is important but the idea and the ambition behind it. Because not all women have been afforded thesame rights that I have.
In fact, statistically, very few have been. In 1995, Hilary Clinton made a famous speechin Beijing about women’s rights. Sadly many of the things she wanted to changeare still a reality today. But what stood out for me the most was thatonly 30 per cent of her audience were male. How can we affect change in the world whenonly half of it is invited or feel welcome to participate in the conversation?
Men—I would like to take this opportunityto extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue too. Because to date, I’ve seen my father’srole as a parent being valued less by society despite my needing his presence as a childas much as my mother’s. I’ve seen young men suffering from mentalillness unable to ask for help for fear it would make them look less “macho”—infact in the UK suicide is the biggest killer of men between 20-49 years of age; eclipsingroad accidents, cancer and coronary heart disease. I’ve seen men made fragile and insecureby a distorted sense of what constitutes male success. Men don’t have the benefits of equalityeither.
We don’t often talk about men being imprisonedby gender stereotypes but I can see that that they are and that when they are free, thingswill change for women as a natural consequence. If men don’t have to be aggressive in orderto be accepted women won’t feel compelled to be submissive.
If men don’t have to control, women won’thave to be controlled. Both men and women should feel free to besensitive. Both men and women should feel free to bestrong… It is time that we all perceive gender ona spectrum not as two opposing sets of ideals. If we stop defining each other by what weare not and start defining ourselves by what we are—we can all be freer and this is what HeForShe is about. It’s about freedom. I want men to take up this mantle.
So their daughters, sisters and mothers canbe free from prejudice but also so that their sons have permission to be vulnerable andhuman too—reclaim those parts of themselves they abandoned and in doing so be a more trueand complete version of themselves. You might be thinking who is this Harry Pottergirl? And what is she doing up on stage at the UN. It’s a good question and trust me, I havebeen asking myself the same thing. I don’t know if I am qualified to be here. All I know is that I care about this problem. And I want to make it better.
And having seen what I’ve seen—and giventhe chance—I feel it is my duty to say something. English Statesman Edmund Burke said: “Allthat is needed for the forces of evil to triumph is for enough good men and women to do nothing.” In my nervousness for this speech and in mymoments of doubt I’ve told myself firmly—if not me, who, if not now, when. If you have similar doubts when opportunitiesare presented to you I hope those words might be helpful.
Because the reality is that if we do nothingit will take 75 years, or for me to be nearly a hundred before women can expect to be paidthe same as men for the same work. 15.5 million girls will be married in thenext 16 years as children. And at current rates it won’t be until 2086before all rural African girls will be able to receive a secondary education.
If you believe in equality, you might be oneof those inadvertent feminists I spoke of earlier. And for this I applaud you. We are struggling for a uniting word but thegood news is we have a uniting movement.
It is called HeForShe. I am inviting you to step forward, to be seento speak up, to be the “he” for “she”. And to ask yourself if not me, who? If not now, when? Thank you.