Educating Men and Boys on Female Advocacy and Equality Commentary
Educating Men and Boys on Female Advocacy and Equality
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JURIST Guest Columnist Anjelica Violi, Valparaiso University Law School Class of 2016, discusses the education of men and boys on female equality …In the last six months the UN has gained newfound attention with its strong efforts to perpetuate the education of males on female equality and human rights. This past September 2014 UN Women officially launched the HeForShe campaign with actress and UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, Emma Watson, at the helm. HeForShe is a solidarity movement for gender equality that aims to engage men and boys to advocate and take action for achieving gender equality. The campaign seeks to have one billion men by July 2015 to become advocates for women around the world. UN Women seeks to engage global country offices to develop programs in support of gender equality, collaborate with government officers, men’s organizations and schools to promote events and campaign within their respective communities. Through education of men and boys about gender equality the UN seeks to create role models who are willing to stand up for women.

While Emma Watson and the UN Women’s HeForShe movement has been criticized by many as focusing too much on women’s rights instead of men’s, another criticism is that the campaign promotes men to stand up for women as saviors rather than stand with them for basic human rights. The problem with this criticism is that it completely neglects the basic facts and focus of the campaign.

In a recent Time article this year, the author only criticizes Emma Watson (without even mentioning, let alone criticizing, the UN) for neglecting discrimination against men. The author discuses how problems affecting men and boys should be brought to light and how the campaign focuses on “First World problems.” However, what the author and many others do not seem to realize is that this campaign seeks to create change in other countries aside from “First World countries” like the US and Britain where women have less rights and respect. To take the HeForShe campaign and criticize it for the work it truly aims to do is baffling. Perhaps the UN has something in the works for men’s and boys’ rights but in the meantime focusing on women in other countries around the world who are persecuted solely for being female is a worthy cause.

UN Women seeks to advocate for government implementation of national laws, policies and strategies in order to create equality for women globally. The keyword which many seem to overlook is global. While discrimination exists in various forms for various people the aim of this campaign is to focus on the more serious problem of discrimination and violence towards women. According to global reports, 35 percent of women globally have experienced physical or sexual violence, and 70 percent have experienced physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner. In the US, 83 percent of girls grades 8 through 11 have experienced sexual harassment in public schools. Furthermore women in urban areas are twice as likely as men to experience violence, particularly in developing countries.

In a Huffington Post blog from earlier this year, the author argues that instead of standing up for women, as the HeForShe movement implies men should instead be standing with women. While this is true, there are places in the world where some women might need that support and have men stand up for them and fight for their rights. Furthermore, the author suggests, “…there is nothing feminist about a campaign that reinforces a gender binary that is harmful to people whose gender identities don’t fit into such tidy boxes.” Unfortunately, this campaign does not focus exclusively on countries where many people might have the option of different “gender identities.” For example, the well-known Pakistani activist for female education and the youngest Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai is from a part of the world where it is unacceptable to have different gender identities outside of society’s norms.

What these and other writers do not understand is that in many countries women need to have men stand up for them because they cannot always stand up themselves. By educating men to advocate for women and respect women it makes it possible for women and men to be able to stand together side by side. More than 1 in 3 girls worldwide are married before age 15 and around 120 million girls have experienced forced intercourse or sexual acts. Over 133 million females have experienced female genital mutilation (FGM), specifically in Africa and the Middle East and around 4 million females are forced into sexual exploitation through human trafficking around the world. If men do not stand up for these females when they stand up for themselves, who will?

Part of Emma Watson’s work with UN Women is to help clarify misconceptions of feminism and what it truly means. “I decided I was a feminist and this seemed uncomplicated to me. But my recent research has shown me that feminism has become an unpopular word. Apparently I am among the ranks of women whose expressions are seen as too strong, too aggressive, isolating, anti-men and, unattractive,” stated Watson. “Why is the word such an uncomfortable one? I am from Britain and think it is right that as a woman I am paid the same as my male counterparts. I think it is right that I should be able to make decisions about my own body. I think it is right that women be involved on my behalf in the policies and decision-making of my country. I think it is right that socially I am afforded the same respect as men. But sadly I can say that there is no one country in the world where all women can expect to receive these rights.”

According to UN Women discrimination and inequality are at the root of violence against women. If women and men have not been able to question gender roles and beliefs they may be unaware of their rights or are unable to claim them. As Malala Yousafzai told the world, “I said to myself, ‘Malala, you must be brave. You must not be afraid of anyone. You are only trying to get an education—you are not committing a crime.’ I would even tell [my attacker], ‘I want education for your son and daughter.'”

UN Women supports prevention activities, research, advocacy, education, community involvement and legal and policy reforms in order to create an international impact. By working specifically with men and boys, UN Women seeks to create perpetual advocacy for ending or at least decreasing violence against women worldwide.

Raising awareness to end violence against women also requires changing the hearts and minds of those in government and the public. Societies need to implement education and understand respecting all humans both male and female. Governments must also recognize the importance of educating both genders on equality at local levels and national levels. Men need to be a vital part of the equation in order for there to be equal rights between men and women. Without men advocating for women there are many who may never experience equality in their lifetime.

Instead of criticizing a solidarity movement meant to generate positive change in the lives of women globally we could applaud those involved with UN Women and commend Emma Watson for her work in spreading change. Gender equality is not uniquely a women’s issue; it is a human rights issue that affects everyone of every gender. If society continues to criticize campaigns created to invoke positive change for gender equality then we have not socially evolved as much as we thought we have in this twenty-first century.

Anjelica Violi is currently a second year law student at Valparaiso University Law School in Indiana. Her current e-mail address is

Suggested citation: Anjelica Violi, Educating Men and Boys on Female Advocacy and Equality, JURIST – Student Commentary, Jan. 18, 2015,

This article was prepared for publication by Elizabeth Dennis, an Assistant Editor for JURIST Commentary. Please direct any questions or comments to her at

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