Last Thursday 8th October, I had the pleasure to welcome the HeForShe #GetFree UK Tour to Imperial!
HeForShe is a huge gender equality campaign run by UN Women. As stated on their website HeForShe is a “Solidarity Movement for Gender Equality bringing together one half of humanity in support of the other half of humanity, for the benefit of all”. Its goal is to engage men and boys as agents of change for the achievement of gender equality and women’s rights, by encouraging them to take action against inequalities faced by women and girls in the world today.
The campaign was kickstarted in September last year at the Headquarters of the United Nations in New York, hosted by UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson. If you missed Emma’s fantastic, game-changing speech last year, you can watch it below:
The #GetFree Tour was the first of its kind, visiting six Universities in the UK and France to bring the global conversation of gender equality to young people across the world. At Imperial, we were delighted to be one of the selected Universities to host the final leg of the tour!
The first part of the day was a grassroots engagement on campus with the HeForShe bus. This took place over lunchtime with student volunteers working alongside the UN team, speaking to students, discussing gender equality and signing them up to the HeForShe movement (if you’re male and would also like to do so, click here).
I would like to give an extra special thank you to the fabulous student volunteers for their commitment to the campaign: Jess Wade, Women in Physics chair and member of the WISE Young Women’s Board, Jonathan Masters, Gender Equality Officer, Jodie Denmark, FemSoc Chair, Jonathan Sutton, FemSoc Secretary and Jennie Watson, Deputy President Welfare at Imperial College Union.
The second part of the day consisted of a formal panel discussion, of which I had the honour to sit on and be Master of Ceremonies for. The rest of the panel consisted of Elizabeth Nyamayaro, Head of the HeForShe Initiative at UN Women, Professor James Stirling, Provost of Imperial College (panel moderator), Martin Lupton, Head of the Undergraduate School of Medicine and Jack Bertram, Partner at McKinsey & Company (HeForShe Corporate IMPACT 10x10x10 Champion).
The event was opened by myself, followed by an empowering speech by Laura Haynes. Laura is the Board Director of UN Women UK National Committee and spoke about her first feminist ‘win’ at school when she became the first girl who was ever allowed to take woodworking in the state of New York. Her passionate words resonated with everyone in the room.
Professor Stirling introduced the main discussion saying: “Positive change can only be effected with an innovative and inclusive approach involving everyone, and that is why HeForShe is such a powerful message and why Imperial is pleased to be part of it.”
In the first part of the discussion each of us spoke about why we are passionate about this initiative and why we think gender equality is important, with Elizabeth Nyamayaro specifically talking about the origin of the HeForShe campaign. It was interesting to hear everyones viewpoints with Martin Lupton talking about challenges women face in the medical field, notably male dominated areas such as surgery. Jack Bertram spoke about how he realised the importance of gender equality when his daughter was born and I spoke about my campaign to become President of the Union and the adversities I faced in doing so:
The discussion broadly focussed around women in leadership, women in STEM but also the inequality men face as well, especially in situations where they can’t be shown to lose face or “not be a man”.
We also explored the challenges women face in the professional world and within particular academic disciplines, university programs, and student initiatives and discussing how we can all actively participate in the drive towards gender equality.
A stand out point was when Jack Bertram shared a shocking financial fact: “There is $28 trillion missing from the global economy because we don’t have gender equality, that is the equivalent to the GDP of China and the U.S. put together.”
The second half of the discussion was a Q&A between the audience and panel. Many students had extremely interesting questions or even just statements, speaking about misogynistic behaviour on campus, traditions which are inherently sexist, as well as the fact men find it hard to stand up for women if the rest of the group bully them for it. It was an extremely thought-provoking session with many take-home messages.
When asked at the end what one thing in the discussion stood out to us, I expressed my interest in an idea I had never thought of before, put to the panel by a friend of mine, Shankho. He said that he supports gender equality because he understands the importance of it through his love and respect for his sister. He went on to say most men would support the movement if you make it personal – such as, how would they feel if their sister/mother/cousin/friend were facing a situation of gender inequality? This would make them act.
It was such a pleasure to host HeForShe at Imperial and to bring the gender equality discussion to the students, especially at a very male dominated University. It was heartening to see not just lots of students, but lots of male students engage and take part in making a difference and being that extra voice that will continue to make the message louder and stronger. It was a true honour to be a part of such a huge global initiative and I look forward to hopefully having some part to play in the campaign in the future.