This is what the woman behind the HeForShe campaign has to say

Elizabeth Nyamayaro wants you to know that HeForShe is more than a “social media campaign”.

The senior adviser to Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the director of UN Women, is one of the key figures behind the iniative, which aims to get men involved in feminism.

As well as having a website where men can sign up to pledge their support, HeForShe is working to achieve gender equality offline too. Nyamayaro points out that the prime minister of Sweden, Stefan Löfven, recently pledged his support to the campaign in a speech Davos saying equality was "core government business". Their big commitment over the next few months is to get similar commitments from government figures and businesses. spoke to Nyamayaro about why men are key to feminism, trolls, Emma Watson and why the struggle against sexism is like the struggle against racism.

What’s in the way of gender equality?

The way I see it is that there’s two levels of equality that needs to happen. The first commitment is at the individual level, and that’s what HeForShe is all about, creating a social movement and with that being able to shift social norms.

The other big thing, from a UN standpoint, is to look at what governments are doing, what the private sector is doing, what people with authority are doing to make sure that legislation is in place and it’s fully implemented. In some cases we have got a commitment but when it comes to implementation there’s a gap. People agree in principle and what happens is taking a little bit longer to get done.

What’s getting in the way of the execution?

It’s a level of responsibility and accountability that needs to come with it. For example if you are a head of state and if you agree certain legislation has to be implemented we then expect you to make sure there is actual resources located to make sure that’s done. There’s a gap I think in commitment and then the execution.

...There’s almost a false comfort that comes with the progress that has happened and keeps us thinking ‘its all done now.’

Would it be done quicker if there were more female world leaders?

Absolutely. We are advocating for parity.

HeForShe is about getting men involved. But are male leaders part of the problem and blocking progress?

There’s always been the argument that men are the problem and we acknowledge that but we also strongly believe that men can be the solution in that men can really mobilise to be equal partners in this movement. So HeForShe is looking at how we can target men to bring them to the table, because this has been a movement run by women for women. We’ve made progress but we simply can’t get where we need to [without men].

Do you feel depressed or hopeful about the amount of work that needs to be done before the world has gender equality?

For the first time there is not just one set of society addressing this. It is about men and women coming together. I know for a fact that when we rally together [change happens], my boss is the former deputy president of South Africa. She was part of the anti-apartheid movement which really rallied together all of society and were able to tackle that...

We have tackled in most countries now the issue of gay rights. It wasn’t won by gay people working alone it was won by gay people allying themselves with straight people.

We’re coming to the 21st century, the time has come for [gender] equality to be addressed in a similar way. I’m very optimistic and I’m working with Emma Watson who is just brilliant and in five months we’ve made brilliant progres and created this social movement that could be the tipping point for gender equality.

But do you worry that it’s too celebrity focused or needs a celebrity to make it relevant?

It’s quite interesting. I don’t see Emma Watson as a celebrity, I think she is a celebrity but I think when you look at how she has tackled this head on, her commitment, she is a highly educated women... The campaign is bigger than Emma, we have the prime minister of Sweden, who has signed himself to the campaign and gone on to declare his government a feminist government. All his members of parliament that are male have signed up to HeForShe.

So it is bigger than her and it doesn’t need her to get profile but she’s helpful?

Yes, exactly.

How easy have you found it to get men on board?

When we first announced we were going to do this campaign… some feminists that were saying ‘this is going to be an utter embarrassment because men don’t actually care. Nobody’s going to sign up.’

Within the first week one man in every single country in the world had signed up. It was so unexpected and all of a sudden we started getting an influx of emails from men around the world saying ‘thank you for this movement. I’ve always wanted to support gender equality. I’ve never felt welcome. This is something so welcome for us, what more can we do? We don’t want to be click activists.’ Men do care, they want to be part of the solution.

Do you get abuse?

Yes we do but then one has to wonder if you really didn’t care do you think you would have spent five minutes of your time reading all the forms just to fill in that you don’t care...

We want to get to a point like with racism. At some point it was fine to say whatever you wanted to say. Now it’s unacceptable. You almost don’t need anyone to tell you it’s not right. You know it’s not right. So we hope we can get there with gender inequality.

Note: this interview has been edited for length.

To find out more about HeForShe click here.

More: Don’t think you’re a feminist? Emma Watson has this message for you

Please log in or register to upvote this article
The Conversation (0)