THE BLOG
04/12/2016 04:18 pm ET Updated Apr 13, 2017

HeForShe Comes to Campus

A remarkable global collaboration is underway in support of gender equality, and universities are playing a key role in it. The initiative is UN Women's HeForShe campaign, and its 30 Founding IMPACT Champions are 10 universities, 10 corporations, and 10 heads of state.

The challenge of gender inequality is a global one. According to the United Nations, among many statistics of gender inequality, women with full-time jobs in most countries earn between 70 and 90 per cent of what men earn. One in three women worldwide has experienced physical or sexual violence. And in most societies, women hold a minority of decision-making positions in public and private institutions.

The HeForShe campaign was launched in 2014 with an impassioned speech by actress and UN Women's Global Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson, in which she asked men to stand up and support gender equality - not only for the women in their lives, but for themselves. The speech has been viewed more than 8.5 million times, and the HeForShe website has collected more than 600,000 pledges by men to support gender equality.

I've been directly involved, as President of Stony Brook University, which is one of the founding university champions, on behalf of the State University of New York. In January I attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where the corporate champions of the campaign took the unprecedented step of releasing their workforce gender diversity figures which revealed the enormous gap that remains between the representation of women in the workforce at large and in leadership positions. The transparency and commitment that the corporate leaders displayed was inspiring and mirrors our efforts at Stony Brook University, where gender equality is a top priority.

Universities are a key venue for discussing, instilling, and ensuring gender equality. The founding university champions - Georgetown University, The University of Hong Kong, University of Leicester, Nagoya University, Oxford University, Sciences Po, University of Sao Paulo, University of Waterloo, University of the Witwatersrand, and Stony Brook University - have been collaborating for months, and last fall top administrators from eight of them met for the first time in person at Stony Brook. Most had never met before, and now we are united in this vital mission, developing models that will be shared more broadly.

Our goals at Stony Brook include redressing gender imbalances from matriculation to graduation; using the University's Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities to build global understanding of the role for men in achieving gender equality; and, integrating gender equality into the academic and social experience. We've made inroads - as of last fall, 3,000 Stony Brook first-year and transfer students completed formal coursework in gender equality and the HeForShe campaign. And through the groundbreaking work of the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities (CSMM) we will continue to look for ways to help us address the role of men in the gender movement by answering these burning questions: How can men become involved in the prevention of violence against women? How do we combat sexual assault? How do we promote healthy behaviors? What is the role of men? The willingness to address these questions and improve in the process will effect change. The answers are fundamental to how we treat one another and how we endeavor to achieve true equality. Stony Brook's CSMM founder and executive director, Michael Kimmel, has been in the forefront of this issue for years and has made tremendous inroads. Most recently, he established the first Master's Degree in Masculinity Studies.

As Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, said at the launch of HeForShe, "...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... The education system has a responsibility and a principal role in this journey."

What now is next? Each of the participating universities will decide that for themselves and then share their initiatives in September 2016, when the presidents from all 10 institutions will meet in New York City. Just as the Davos meeting was inspiring, I expect the same from our meeting in New York City. There's a momentum that builds when people gather around a shared commitment and vision, which is what happened in Davos - in addition to revealing their historic Corporate Parity Report, founding IMPACT Corporate Champions shared their commitments to the cause. For instance, Barclays has set a goal of reaching 2.5 million women around the world with tailored financial inclusion programming that will teach basic financial literacy and remove barriers to business ownership. Twitter will work in partnership with HeForShe to amplify the movement, reaching individuals around the world and working towards HeForShe's goal of mobilizing one billion men and boys as advocates for gender equality.

Here at home, SUNY has committed to engage its half million students across 64 campuses in HeForShe, and Stony Brook's Vice Provost Charles Robbins has been designated by SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher to orchestrate the campaign's roll-out. Representatives from across the SUNY system convened at Stony Brook in March to review and share their plans to expand gender equality on their campuses and beyond.

As HeForShe implies by its name, women and girls will not be fully empowered without engaging men and boys. But more than men pledging to support equality, we need to make that support both public and private. We need to "walk our talk" - to commit ourselves to gender equality in our families, communities, and campuses. But we also must "talk our walk" - proclaiming loudly that gender equality is a win for everyone.

The truth is that no matter how committed we as IMPACT Champions are, there is still much work to be done to bring the world to a place where gender equality is universal. The gender equality issues faced on every campus on a daily basis could not be more important or timely. With half of the world's population now under the age of 30, where better to address this challenge than at institutions of higher education around the world?