UN Women Executive Director: We’re here together tonight to mobilize a vast, far-reaching solidarity movement of men and boys


Speech by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at a special event for the HeForShe campaign, United Nations Headquarters, New York, 20 September 2014

[Check against delivery.]

Mr. Secretary-General, 
Mr. President,
Emma, Wolf,
Honoured guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Colleagues and friends.

In 1958 Eleanor Roosevelt talked about the universality of human rights:  she said that “every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination.” 

She said: “Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home—so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighbourhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works.” [1]

What Eleanor Roosevelt said in 1958 is still true today. HeForShe is for every man, every individual, wherever they are. 

We’re here together tonight to mobilize a vast, far-reaching solidarity movement of men and boys, and to support them to become advocates for gender equality.

These men shall be known as HeForShes.

We want to end the battle of the sexes.

And rather introduce the partnership of equals.

It has been suggested that the single greatest threat to a woman’s health is men. 

Fact: Many women experience violence and even death from their intimate partners.

  • 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence. In some national violence studies that figure goes as high as 70 per cent.
  • of all women killed in 2012, almost half were killed by intimate partners or family members.

Fact: WHO calls it a “global public health problem of epidemic proportions, requiring urgent action.”

Fact: Rape has been a rampant tactic as a weapon of war. Women are abducted and sold as sex slaves and taken as spoils of war.

It is no surprise that after 159 days, we still have not been able to “bring back our girls.”

In fact, if we go on like this, by 2020, 142 million girls will be child brides in developing countries.

The world cannot continue like this.

This level of impunity calls for everyone, and good men in particular, to find their voice. 

There is a terrible tolerance for this behaviour. 

Violence against women by men is the crime that is most condoned.

There is a growing sense that we are experiencing not simply an increase in violence and insecurity, but a shift in the nature of conflict itself.  

Whether it is in Nigeria, Iraq, Syria, or Ukraine, this violence—which rages as we speak—has a particular impact on women and girls. 

But boys and girls don’t start off as prejudiced infants—this is learnt behaviour. 

It is not a physical difference.

It can be un-learnt.

And this is what we are calling for in HeForShe—Re-socialization of both men and women. 

The education system has a responsibility and a principal role in this journey. 

So does the home, all our religions, our governments, our private sector and our sporting fraternities.

Sportsmen are powerful positive role models—and their fans look up to them. It is important for them to hold themselves to higher standards. Yet they are too often implicated in violent incidents off pitch.

Recent study: Women and girls are more than half of the world’s population. Onscreen, they drop to become fewer than a third of all characters, and play roles of diminished influence.

Women make up some 40 per cent of the world’s work force. In the fictional world fewer than 25 per cent of employed characters are female.
The internet has pervasive influence and unlimited scope for new types of violence, such as bullying, cyber-stalking and harassment.

What do these institutions have in common? 

They are all led by men. 

In all of these we have choices. If the leaders in these influential arenas engage in HeForShe, they can literally make a world of difference.

Why have we invited the Secretary-General, President of the General Assembly, President Obama, Desmond Tutu, Bill Gates and Babatunde Osotimehin to join us?
Because they are leaders, we want them to speak to men and boys; to heads of corporations, heads of churches, cultural and academic institutions, about the importance of standing up and being counted. 

We want them to use their positions to create irreversible change in society.

To reinvent the values of institutions they represent and never to look the other way.

Even more, we want to make sure that leaders like them and their workforce will never be part of those deadly statistics of violence.

Why have we asked Emma to be our champion for HeForShe?

Because this young lady believes in equality between men and women and wants to talk about it. 

This young lady has a following of 14 and a half million people. 

She crashed our web site.

These are the young people that we can’t always reach in our conventional approaches and who we want to talk to.

Through her we can hear from the many women whose voices are not being heard. 

Emma’s following is both men and women. They believe in her. 

It is important that through her men understand that it is not cool to beat up women. 

And through her women understand how cool it is to be strong.

Emma, thank you for going to Uruguay. 

Thank you for engaging men and women, young and old, in the way that you do.

Why did we invite Forest Whitaker, Kiefer Sutherland and Wolf Blitzer? 

For the same reason as we invited Emma. 

We want the people who follow your lead, to know what you stand for, and to stand for that too.

What do we want the media, as HeForShe partners to do? 

To commit to rethinking how they portray and employ women. 

We want the media to be at the forefront for rights—to go beyond the news worthy to the truly worthy.

We need the media to continue to call for the return of the Nigerian girls. 

And to continue to show the gender dimension in areas of violence and of Ebola. 

To capture the nature of unpaid care work. 

Why have we asked the CEO of Coca Cola? 

Because through him we want to speak to the other CEOs of companies and encourage them to make a commitment to be leaders of change in their own world, in their private lives and in the global economy. 

Why are we speaking to ordinary men like the twins that you saw in the film?

HeForShe is a personal commitment. 

The abusers of women are in rich and poor countries, they are people in high positions to low, young and old.

We want a father to make a decision to be devoted to the education of his girls—like one ordinary man, who is a HeForShe, has already told us. 

We want those in the community to take action when the next door neighbour gets beaten up every day, as a man in Nigeria has already told us.

What do we want HeForShe on university campuses to do?

When a girl reports rape or attack at a university, it must not just be the woman student who takes up the case.

It must be men and women who stand together and make sure that perpetrators are brought to book.

Universities must take this seriously. 

More than anything, we want these abuses to be prevented.

Why did we invite UNICEF and UNFPA?

Not only because they believe in this—they are working on this every day—but because we can institutionalize this work. 

Through our work together we will begin to provide the possibilities for people to start their own chapters.

We will provide toolkits. Next week toolkits for the private sector and for universities will be on our website.

This builds on the Secretary-General’s original commitment to UNiTE to End Violence against Women, and his unflagging support for gender equality and women’s empowerment. 

For our start-up, we want to reach 100,000 men.

With their help and through the campaign we will mobilize millions more.

Our dream is that when we start the sustainable development goals in 2015, we will already have made gains in this struggle; we will have made gains in institutionalizing the programme; and we will have got ownership at the grassroots level. 

Here tonight you are at the start of the movement. 

We thank you for being here. 

Today we are inviting men and boys to be part of the global solidarity. 

We want to remember what Eleanor Roosevelt said, “every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination”.

We are creating a global organization that can change our world. 

[1] Eleanor Roosevelt, “In Our Hands” (1958 speech delivered on the tenth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)