In a speech made in 1995, Hilary Rodham Clinton stated that “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights. Every woman deserves the chance to realize her own potential. But we must recognize that women will never gain full dignity until their human rights are respected and protected”.
The link between human rights and gender equality was again emphasised by Emma Watson’s opening speech for the HeForShe Campaign (UN Women 2014). To summarise her message:
Fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating. Feminism is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. However, feminism has become an unpopular word and, as a result, women are choosing not to identify as feminist. Why has the word become such an unattractive one? It’s partly to do with how we ‘language’ feminism – when expressions are used that are seen as too strong, too aggressive, isolating, anti-men; feminist women are even seen as being unattractive. It’s not the word ‘feminism’ that is important; it is the idea and ambition behind it. Gender equality is a human right.
Watson points out that men don’t have the benefits of equality either. Men too are imprisoned by gender stereotypes. This last point was reinforced in a presentation I attended earlier this week by Kevin Rutter of Fathers, a non-profit research and education organisation whose mission is to champion the role of responsible fatherhood by inspiring and equipping men to be more engaged in the lives of children. He introduced the audience to the ‘man box’, a model which provides an explanation about masculine socialisation and which (eloquently explained by the Women and Gender Advocacy Center) differentiates between the socially valued roles and expectations that constitute conventional masculinity, versus those roles which confine boys and men into a narrowly constructed definition of manhood and which frequently lead to their being ‘punished’ by other boys and men if they don’t conform to the socially acceptable norm. As I understand, the message from the HeForShe campaign is not about excluding men from the debate, as they too are victims of gender stereotypes. Rather, it is to invite them to be actively involved/involved activists in the gender equality journey. Watson implies that when men are free of their stereotypes then things will change for women as a natural consequence.
Watson asks how we can effect change in the world when only half of it is invited or feels welcome to participate in the conversation. Gender equality is a men’s issue too. A description by Watson resonates with me: gender should not be two sets of opposing ideals but should be seen as being on a spectrum.
How can you as a manager, leader, teacher, mentor, parent, partner/spouse, sibling or friend be an ‘inadvertent’ feminist or gender equality ambassador, regardless of your gender?
Sources: Colorado State University: Women and Gender Advocacy Center; Fathers.co.za; Hilary Rodham Clinton speech; UN Women HeforShe campaign (Emma Waton)