By HANEEN SHAHEEN RAFI
KARACHI: HeforShe, UN Women’s solidarity campaign for gender equality, has reached Pakistan and the goal is simple — “to bring together one half of humanity in support of the other half of humanity, for the benefit of all”.
Inviting all segments of society to fight for equality among the sexes, a community meeting was held at the MAD School on Sunday and in attendance was an eclectic group of forward thinking individuals with the aim to make a difference.
With feminism being mistakenly painted as a means of inciting hatred against men, women around the globe are seen to be disassociating themselves from supporting this movement. As a result, UN Women decided to start the HeforShe campaign in which men play as important a role as women in the fight for gender equality.
The movement for gender equality has floundered and lost its momentum primarily because it has always being sidelined as a struggle for women, by women. However, the premise of HeforShe differs as it believes that social, economic and political equality is the right of all, and the campaign actively seeks to involve men and boys in attaining this goal.
HeforShe-Pakistan is a collaboration led by young Pakistani voices working in different professional fields who, despite their differences, have come together to further this campaign. These civil society activists, in collaboration with UN Women in Pakistan, have begun volunteering to share and spread the message of gender equality as widely as possible. The Pakistan-led campaign is headed by Noman Quadri, Awais Khalid, Marina Marri, Shiza Shaheen, Hassan Wasif Qavi, Yahya Iqbal and Ebad Ahmed.
An important emphasis of the campaign is that it strives for the creation of attitudes in society that believe in, encourage, and strive for equality rather than promoting one gender as being superior to the other.
A need assessment was carried out at the community meeting to identify the problems faced by both men and women out on the streets. Organisers shared statistics of incidents of sexual harassment, street harassment and the verbal diatribe that is frequented at public places such as dhabas, parks and markets which is intended to intimidate and evoke fear and insecurity. The statistics highlighted a disturbing trend: men too face harassment similar to women, even if their percentage is much lower.
Sexist slurs used against men and women was also a topic of discussion, and organisers spoke about a need to streamline a more overt struggle against the use of such words in our daily diction, friendly exchanges, songs and movies.
There is also a need for the media in Pakistan to empower women by portraying their rights, believes HeforShe-Pakistan. The debate is about freedom to be who we are and do as we please, for both genders. As men also suffer from the stereotypes society forces them to adhere to, the campaign aims to eliminate this form of discrimination too.
To make a difference, HeforShe-Pakistan believes change must come from the grass roots. This means educating the youth and propelling them to take the message forward. A network, according to the team, needs to be created to eliminate gender inequality. This brand of activism requires sustainable efforts to change the attitudes of people in society. Everybody needs to come onboard and fight harassment of all sorts, be it harassment faced by women, or men.
Hailing gender equality as not a “women’s issue, but a human issue,” HeforShe-Pakistan has set up innovation labs that target schools, colleges and universities to speak up about the problem and generate discourse, rather than stifle or ignore it.
Questions were also raised at the meeting about the lack of implementation of sexual harassment laws within work spaces, and the rural-urban divide which aggravates gender disparity in certain areas of the country.
Gender inequality is a problem that, according to HeforShe-Pakistan, needs to be addressed at home, at public places, in education systems, at workplaces, in the media, as well as in society in general.
HeforShe is a global campaign, and actress Emma Watson, also the UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, officially launched the campaign at the UN headquarters in Sept 2014. Championing the cause of equality, she spoke about the disparity between what men and women are paid at their workplaces, and how women should also be involved in the formation of policies and decision-makings of their country.
“No country in the world can yet say they have achieved gender equality,” she said in her speech.