The campaign calls for men to stand up for women’s rights.
Despite Monday night’s snow showers, more than 100 George Washington University students took part in the D.C. launch of an international campaign for gender equality.
The United Nations introduced its “He for She” movement last September with an impassioned speech from actress and UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson. The campaign aims to enlist men and boys as advocates for women’s rights.
Nearly 211,000 men from around the world already have signed the “He for She” commitment to “take action against all forms of violence and discrimination faced by women and girls.” The goal of the D.C. chapter of the U.S. National Committee for UN Women is for 10,000 boys and men in the District to sign the pledge.
Students, including members of fraternity chapters and Students Against Sexual Assault, filled every seat and lined the perimeter in the Marvin Center room where the campaign’s D.C. launch took place. The event included speakers from GW’s Global Women’s Institute, Men Can Stop Rape and Promundo, a nonprofit organization that works internationally to engage men and boys to promote gender equality. Orlando Dixon, an R&B singer and contestant from NBC’s the Voice, led the signing of the online pledge.
“An equal society means that men and women occupy the same proportion of leadership positions. It means that they work for equal pay. It means that women do not have to fear sexual harassment or abuse in schools,” said Manuel Contreras-Urbina, director of research at GW’s
Global Women’s Institute. “We are all a part of the systems that reinforce gender inequality. And we all must work to break free of them.”
“Take action every day”
Neil Irvin, executive director of Men Can Stop Rape, said it’s easy for men to turn a blind eye to issues like sexual assault and domestic abuse.
“These are things that as men we are told ‘It’s not our problem.’ The research is clear: Most of us are not going to beat women, we’re not going to rape women, we’re not going stalk women,” he said.
But most boys get taught early on to “disconnect from their humanity,” Mr. Irvin said, and have no ability to navigate their emotions once they grow up.
“And so when we see violence happening, when we hear attitudes and behaviors that promote men’s violence against girls and women, we kind of ignore it. We think we are the only guys who see a problem with it,” he said.
Mr. Irvin emphasized that supporting gender equality doesn’t have to mean working at a rape crisis center or starting an activist campaign. Instead, he said, men at GW can take small, personal steps to promote “healthy masculinity” within their own peer groups and to “take action every day” to serve as role models for others—even when it means having tough talks with friends.
“Men need to practice normalizing these conversations,” he said. “I think ‘He for She’ might get men to realize that we’re not alone. We’re not the only men trying to do this.”
Student Association President Nick Gumas added that it may be easy to say, “I support gender equality,” but more difficult when students are in situations where they have to put those words into action.
“I think the best thing to do in those situations is giving individuals the benefit of the doubt that they don’t realize their actions are harmful, and then maybe finding a time to politely call them out after the fact,” Mr. Gumas said. “We trivialize those conversations as kind of corny, but that’s the best way to make a meaningful contact with someone, as opposed to yelling and screaming and calling someone a sexist.”
Pi Kappa Alpha President Dan O’Donnell, who attended the event with about 25 members from his fraternity, said he hopes that the “He for She” campaign will help to spark conversations about gender roles within his fraternity.
“I think one of the biggest things that we as an organization are going to take away from this is just talking to our buddies about what we learned,” said Mr. O’Donnell, a junior in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences.
He also said he would like to invite female students to chapter meetings so they can share their experiences.
“When you’re sitting in front of someone, and she’s saying straight from the heart, ‘This is how it is. This is how I feel,’ that really hits home,” he said.