Of course, these examples speak mainly to the experience of many middle- to upper-class persons in developed countries. But gender inequality is also a global issue. In some countries, the effects of gender inequality are much more dramatic -- for example, the practice of female genital mutilation in various regions of Africa and the stoning of female adulterers in parts of the Middle East.
One of the things that I have been struggling with since my feminist awakening is what seems to be a general sense of apathy among my male friends to the problem of gender inequality. Of course, when I ask my male friends whether they think gender inequality is a problem and whether something should be done about it, they invariably say "yes," and I don't doubt that they mean it. But most of my male friends seem unwilling to speak up in support of female advancement. On the rare occasion that I post an article with feminist undertones on social media, I receive plenty of recognition from females, but I rarely (if ever) receive comments or "likes" from my male friends. Moreover, anytime I speak about a particular instance of gender inequality in the media or my personal experience, my female friends are always more impassioned about the injustice of the situation. They take a more proactive approach, speaking in terms of what can or should be done. Most of my male friends may sympathize, but they (and the conversation) move on quickly. In these instances, I feel genuinely depressed about what seems to be a lack of meaningful support from my male peers. For some, perhaps their apparent disinterestedness has more to do with their uncertainty as to how they can contribute to the feminist dialogue.
In September, actress and UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson (best known for her role in the Harry Potter series) gave a speech at the UN that resonated deeply with me. Among other things, she spoke about the adverse impacts of gender inequality on males and children, and the importance of male participation in the feminist movement. Her speech (which you can watch here) shed a spotlight on the UN HeForShe campaign, which defines itself as follows:
HeForShe is a solidarity movement for gender equality developed by UN Women to engage men and boys as advocates and agents of change for the achievement of gender equality and women’s rights. The campaign encourages them to speak out and take action against inequalities faced by women and girls.On a tangible level, HeForShe seeks to engage civil society organizations, men's groups, universities, schools, corporations, and local government officials worldwide in launching campaigns to raise awareness about the importance of gender equality and of male participation in its promotion. As part of these efforts, HeForShe has made available an "Action Kit" in the form of a PDF document that provides information about the campaign and outlines steps that the institutions listed above should take in its support. People around the world are invited to show their support of the campaign by using the hashtag #heforshe.
For me, HeForShe represents several steps in the right direction. It is the first campaign I have seen that invites males into the feminist dialogue in a nonthreatening way. I am so excited to see where the campaign goes, and to use it as a platform to invite and encourage my own male friends to participate in the movement for gender equality.