HeForShe: Why We Need Gender Equality

Emma WatsonOn September 20, a declaration was made to all male-identifying individuals worldwide: Feminism is for you, too. I am, of course, referring to the speech given by Emma Watson launching the HeForShe Campaign, a solidarity movement for gender equality backed by UN Women. When any celebrity endorses a social cause, they are putting themselves in the line of fire for critique, often coming from both sides of an issue. This issue is no different in that powerful messages for social justice frequently become overshadowed by critical rhetoric.

What we do today is what will help us achieve gender equality for the generations that follow.

As a feminist, I am grateful that Emma Watson has used her privilege to deliver this message, but like many, I also believe this is just the start of many conversations that must be had before this movement can see progress. Feminist ideals by and large have made considerable strides in the last several decades, but as Ms. Watson pointed out, we are absolutely not where we need to be. As a woman who was born in Arizona and has lived in the Valley her entire life, I can attest to the accuracy of that statement.

While it is easy to pick apart what Emma Watson didn’t say, and how she said what she did, I believe it is more important to reflect on her call to action, and how we all can embrace gender equality and what that looks like in our individual circles.

Below are just a few reasons why we need gender equality, with some examples being Arizona-specific. This is by no means a comprehensive list of the issues raised by gender inequality. My hope is that this list will help to start conversations about gender inequality in your circle, and how gender equality movements like the HeForShe Campaign can strengthen your community.

We need gender equality …

  1. Because SB 1062 passed both the Arizona House and Senate before being vetoed by the governor. This law would have allowed nongovernmental agencies, like businesses, to claim religious objections to providing services to potential customers. This would have meant that if a business or other nongovernmental entity found your family-planning choices to be contradictory to their personal religion, they would be legally authorized to refuse service to you.
  2. Because the International Labour Organization estimates that there are 20.9 million victims of human trafficking worldwide, and the Department of Justice has identified Phoenix as one of the top human trafficking jurisdictions in the country. A huge proportion of sex trafficking occurs during and within the vicinity of the Superbowl, which Arizona is hosting in 2015.
  3. Because victim-blaming in the case of sexual assault runs rampant throughout our culture, regardless of the fact that 71 percent of sexual assaults are planned in advance and the notion that someone would enjoy being physically attacked is ludicrous. According to a report by the Arizona Department of Public Safety, 1,833 incidences of rape were reported to law enforcement in 2013. What makes that figure even more worrisome is that according to the Department of Justice, approximately 81 percent of rape cases go unreported.
  4. Because Ms. Watson has been the victim of sexual threats since giving her speech. Equally unsettling, prior to her speech, many other female celebrities had their privacy violated when a hacker leaked photos of their naked bodies online. In her article for The Guardian, Roxane Gay said it best: “The further away you are from living as a white, heterosexual, middle-class man, the less privacy you enjoy — the more likely your illusions of privacy will be shattered when you least expect it.”
  5. Because in Arizona, women are paid on average 78 cents for every dollar that is paid to a man.
  6. Because women are more likely to be out of the workforce compared to their male counterparts. Fifty-nine percent of individuals not in the workforce in Arizona are women.
  7. Because according to the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence, 1 in 4 women has been the victim of severe physical domestic violence. It must also be noted that this issue isn’t unique to women, as 1 in 7 men has also been the victim of this type of domestic violence.

It goes without saying that gender inequality is an issue of the present in Arizona, and what we do today is what will help us achieve gender equality for the generations that follow. It is our actions now that will ensure that our daughters and granddaughters will be paid the same wage for equal work, and won’t fear discrimination for making the most appropriate family-planning choices for their families. Gender equality is what will prevent gender-based discriminatory legislation from passing through our House and Senate, and it is what will free men of the masculine stereotypes that limit self-expression.

I encourage all of you to forward this link to the men in your lives, and ask them to pledge their support for gender equality. Only if we work together can we achieve gender equality, and joining the solidarity movement that is the HeForShe Campaign is just the beginning.