For too many years, the word 'feminist' has been confused with the term 'man-hating'. Images of women burning their bras and refusing to shave have been used to stereotype - and more importantly - deter people from declaring themselves a feminist. As Ellen Page (Canadian actress) points out: "I don't know why people are so reluctant to say they're feminists. Could it be any more obvious that we still live in a patriarchal world when feminism is a bad word?"
Recently, there have been many efforts to break down the social stigma of calling yourself a feminist. Many male and female identified actors have declared themselves feminists and there has been a big push to remind everyone that the true definition of feminism is "the theory of the social, political and economic equality of the sexes". Or, in the terms of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigerian novelist): "a man or a woman who says, 'Yes, there's a problem with gender as it is today, and we must fix it, we must do better.'".
There is not a more powerful movement to support this idea than the He For She campaign founded by the United Nations and represented by Emma Watson (UK actress). Since September 2014, He For She has raised awareness about how feminism affects all genders by stating :
"Gender equality is not only a women's issue, it is a human rights issue that affects all of us - women and girls, men and boys. We all benefit socially, politically and economically from gender equality in our everyday lives. When women are empowered, the whole of humanity benefits."
In the past, feminism has been regarded as women fighting for women. Yes, we absolutely need this to continue, but we also need men fighting for women's rights. Right now there are debates going on about violence against women, particularly in India after the documentary India's Daughters was banned. Many discussions state that we require men to have an active role in eradicating violence against women. Women can learn to protect themselves and seek legal help, but if the physical, emotional and sexual violence is perpetuated by men, then these men also need to be educated to change their views on the acceptability of being violence against women.
I am not saying that all men are violent towards women, and I've already stated that many men identify as being feminists. There are organizations like "Men Can Stop Rape", based in Washington, DC, that redefines masculinity and male strength as part of preventing men's violence against women. As well, in February, Turkish men took to social media wearing mini skirts to honor Ozgegan Aslan who was murdered after fighting off sexual assault. She died wearing a mini-skirt and unfortunately the focus turned the attention to what the victim was wearing, as opposed to the crime that was committed.
These men want the world to know that clothing is never an excuse for rape. We need more men and organizations like these involved in the fight to stop violence against women. We need every man and woman to be striving for equality.
In 1995, there was a world conference discussing women's empowerment called the Beijing Platform for Action. At this conference, the UN flagged 12 key areas that needed urgent attention to ensure greater equality and opportunities for women and men. Violence against women was just one of these. The 11 others include poverty, education, health and lack of decision-making power. While striving for equality and women's rights in all areas, we need both men and women advocating for positive changes.
Bringing us back to the idea of He For She, Emma Watson furthered the discussion on International Women's Day by saying that change can be made not only in grand actions, but in small ones too :
"It's everyday, it's individual, it's on a case by case basis. Whether it's speaking up or trying to change the way someone else thinks about an issue."
It is important that we recognize the men who are already helping empower women. Be it founders of NGOs, journalists who raise awareness, companies that promote based on qualifications, policemen who believe harassment reports, families that pay for daughters to go to school, among many other examples.
There are many men who have already joined the fight, but we need to make sure the movement keeps growing.
Like Hilary Clinton's said: "women's rights are human rights and human rights are women's rights", so let's make sure we recruit more people to strive for equality and appreciate those who already are. In this world where inequality is so prevalent, we should aim to all be feminists together.
About the author: Rebecca Chant's year-long trip around the world led her to take action against gender inequality. She is currently volunteering in Jodhpur at Sambhali Trust, a women's empowerment NGO. Rebecca also runs the feminist advocacy site www.femvocates.com.
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