By: Katie Roberts
Emma Watson made headlines when she called out for gender equality, and the recent launch of the UN Women HeForShe campaign in Singapore is shining a light on women’s rights both here and across the region; and calling on men to stand up and lead the change
Glancing at news pages it’s hard to not to shake your head and wonder if it really is 2015. As the lives of most people in developed countries become more comfortable than ever, some areas of the globe seem to have seen no progress at all. Consider the discrepancies in the way girls are treated, for example. In a world where we find a billionaire purchasing a rare, million-dollar diamond for a daughter, the misery of child brides rarely receives a mention, let alone a screaming headline. According to United National Population Fund, in developing countries between 2011 and 2020, 140 million girls will become child brides; that’s one in every three girls married before reaching age 18. Around 50 million of those (that’s one in nine) will be married under the age of 15.
On the sidelines of these shocking statistics, there are human faces – and there is hope. Many governmental, international, and grassroots organisations work to offer opportunities for those born with few or none. Among the passionate and the inspirational are the finalists in the UN Women Project Inspire 2015 Awards who visited Singapore recently for the Awards’ Grand Final Day; they seek to shine a light on injustice, and turn their skills and education to help others.
In Sri Lanka, hundreds of girls who are raped, some at the hands of their fathers, can find a safe place to live while they courageously testify and wait out court proceedings seeking justice, which can take many years. Emerge Lanka partners with these shelters and offers girls aged 10 to 18 empowerment and training to develop life and business skills, allowing them to create beautiful jewellery and learn self-sufficiency.
Dare Women’s Foundation in Tanzania aims to improve the quality of life for women and girls, and encourage entrepreneurship through the making and selling of reusable sanitary pads. Girls can miss 40 valuable days of school at year simply because they don’t have sufficient or adequate sanitary pads to allow them to comfortably leave their homes. Why should they be disadvantaged by a natural bodily function, out of their control?
Inspired by the artisan skills of silk weavers in Assam, India, three Australian women work day-jobs to support their passion to help women derive an income and provide for their families in a part of the world that for years has seen conflict. Under the label The Fabric Social they sell garments produced by Indian women, along the way developing their business literacy.
Men are involved too – Adam Miller, for instance, who leads the charge for Planet Indonesia, championing the cause of 1,500 indigenous women in West Borneo who rely on access to traditional plants to make the natural dyes used in their handicrafts and artwork. Their livelihoods and the preservation of their cultures and traditions are increasingly under pressure and marginalised by government regulations and a degraded environment.
These women and girls may be far removed from sophisticated global campaigns, but let’s hope they feel the benefits from the United Nations Women HeForShe campaign. Billed as “a global movement for gender equality which brings together one half of humanity in support of the other half, for the benefit of all”, it kicked off in 2014 with a speech by renowned actress Emma Watson that went viral
In November, HeForShe champion Anupam Kher headlined the campaign launch in Singapore. The celebrated Indian actor (with 5.5 million Twitter followers @AnupamPkher) is a passionate advocate, and spoke from the heart, inviting men to step forward and be the ‘he’ for ‘she’, and asking organisations to get involved, too.
Nominations are now open for the Singapore Committee for UN Women HeForShe Awards, to be presented on 29 February, to celebrate men stepping up for women here in the Little Red Dot.. So why not get involved? In the words of Emma Watson: ‘If not now, when; If not you, who?’
Sign the HeForShe pledge; Singapore Committee for UN Women is aiming to attract 10,000 signees.