In short, the answer is everything. However one word will not make for a very compelling article, so let’s explore the idea.
In September 2014, Emma Watson (or Hermione, as most of us know her) launched the United Nations’ HeForShe campaign with a compelling speech in New York.
In it she detailed how she came to be a feminist and what the word means to her. She then went on to extend a formal invitation to men to participate in the journey to global gender equality.
Sadly a number of feminists took issue with this. Their qualm was the belief that men benefit from the power given to them by gender stereotypes. In a blog on Black Girl Dangerous, Mia McKenzie states that Watson “seems to suggest that the reason men aren’t involved in the fight for gender equality is that women simply haven’t invited them.”
She intimates that women have been trying to get men to care about the oppression of women, however they have never been overwhelmingly interested.
While it is important to respect all opinions, it is more realistic to assume that most men perhaps don’t understand (rather than don’t care about) the issues associated with gender inequality.
International Women’s Day (IWD) is an opportunity for both women and men to reflect on progress made in the fight for gender equality, to continue to call for change and to celebrate the acts of women who have campaigned for equal rights.
In fact, the theme for IWD 2015 is “Equality for women is progress for all”, a notion that highlights the shared benefits of gender equality.
The fact is if you’re born a girl, the odds are stacked against you. While in most developed countries women are encouraged to get an education, have the right to vote, have access to healthcare services and are entitled to work; in countries such as Sierra Leone being a girl means you are more likely to be sexually assaulted than to attend school.
In addressing the original question, men and boys can be advocates for change when they fully understand the issue we face. Feminism need not be an uncomfortable word. It inherently implies that together we believe that all people are entitled to the same civil rights and liberties regardless of gender. It proposes a shared commitment in the fight against the persisting inequalities faced by women and girls.
As Watson states gender should be viewed on a spectrum, not as two opposing ideals. So this International Women’s Day, on 8 March, start a conversation. Ask yourself how you, your family, your community and our world can benefit from gender equality, and what you can do, no matter how small, to promote equal rights.
- Watch Emma Watson’s speech
- Learn more about the United Nations’ HeForShe campaign
- Stand up for women’s rights by joining Plan Australia’s Trek for Girls or UN Women’s Ride for Rights