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Men and Boys Stand for Gender Equality
April 2, 2015

Man hoisting child above his head as woman looks on (U.S. Agency for International Development)
A family celebrates their happiness in Malawi.

“To all the men … I have a simple message. We need you to shake things up. Too often, women are fighting these battles alone, but men like you, progressive men who are already ahead of the curve on women’s issues, you all are critically important to solving this problem.”
— First lady Michelle Obama

Three women raising their left forefingers, child sitting with them (U.S. Agency for International Development)
Women proudly display their voting finger after casting a ballot in the 2013 Mali presidential election.


“If every man took responsibility for himself, this alone would be enough to end violence against women and girls.”

— U.N. Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson


Men and boys around the world are taking a stand for gender equality. Yet full-scale equality between women and men is yet to be achieved.

As the United Nations considers setting the next global development goals, “there is unprecedented opportunity” to quicken the pace to achieve universal gender equality, according to the U.N.’s HeForShe campaign.

Launched in September 2014 at U.N. headquarters in New York, HeForShe wants men and boys to recognize that they can play a significant role in ending the global, persisting inequality that women and girls face. “The campaign challenges men to recognize that gender equality is a human right and a social and economic imperative” that will benefit all people. It aims to show men and boys how gender equality can liberate both women and men from “prescribed social roles and stereotypes,” the campaign states.

Two teen girls sitting at school desks (Millennium Challenge Corporation)
Universal access to education is a hallmark of gender equality.

HeForShe uses social and other media, arts and pop culture to build understanding of perceived and real equality. The U.N. campaign reaches out to men online and offline and asks them to “sign up” to raise awareness of gender discrimination and to advocate for action. It asks them to note on the campaign’s website mentions of HeForShe in social media, online conversations, media interviews, resources and collaborations. The campaign provides action kits to individuals and to corporate, university and nongovernmental partners explaining how to plan and implement local gender-equality awareness activities.

Paramount Chief Kyungu of Malawi and Gilberto Macuacua, a media personality in Mozambique and a member of the U.N. Women Regional Civil Society Group, have signed on as male supporters of HeForShe, calling on other men to follow suit.

“The cultural leaders in Malawi have been on the forefront of discouraging cultural practices that infringe on the rights of women, such as early marriages, and will continue to do so,” Kyungu said.

Macuacua added: “The media is a powerful tool in shaping opinion, and I use the TV programme of Homem que é Homem (Men That Are Real Men) as well as my blog to talk about issues of gender equality and fighting violence against women.”

Another HeForShe effort is its one-year Impact 10x10x10 program. The program aims to partner with 10 governments, 10 corporations and 10 universities to identify and test various approaches to ending gender inequality.

Youth are a particular focus of HeForShe outreach. “The current generation of youth is better positioned and has more opportunities than previous ones to help shape development, with greater access to information, technology, education and training,” the campaign states, noting that roughly half of the world’s population is under age 30.

Two girls with arms around each other’s shoulders (U.S. Agency for International Development)
These two secondary school students received the U.S. Agency for International Development’s “Wings to Fly” scholarship. Both girls want to become entrepreneurs.

“Men and boys can prevent violence against women and girls by being conscientious about and changing their own attitudes, values and behaviors towards women and girls, and by ensuring that they do not personally engage in discrimination or violence,” U.N. Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson said at the launch of HeForShe. “Where violence has already been perpetrated, men can take the initiative to change their behavior so that they do not commit violence again,” the actress said.

Further, men and boys can be proactive by intervening when they witness discrimination or violence by other men and boys, Watson said. They can voice disapproval when peers make sexist, degrading or derogatory remarks. They can support friends to make respectful choices, like not making sexual advances to a woman who is intoxicated. And if they see violence, they can directly intervene after determining that no further harm will come to the woman or themselves, or contact appropriate authorities such as the police.

“If every man took responsibility for himself, this alone would be enough to end violence against women and girls,” Watson said.