Gender inequality is undoubtedly one of the most pressing issues of our time. Granted, we must also reduce socioeconomic inequalities in the West, eliminate hunger and poverty in the developing world, and reform economic, social and political systems worldwide. But gender inequality is an issue that transcends geographical area — indeed, it is one that haunts us not as individual nations, economies, or societies, but as a species.
Gender equality is, first and foremost, a matter of common human decency. For one half of our world’s population to be limited, from birth, is simply unacceptable; it is unacceptable that women face — every day of their lives — oppression, harassment, abuse, and obstacles that permeate our entire social, cultural and political structures.
But the elimination of gender inequality is also a matter of growth. How can we be expected to develop, to bridge new gaps, if we stifle women’s ideas, talent and ambition? How can we be expected to resolve the world’s issues if we half of us are silenced? We cannot.
Interestingly, this logic works both ways. For too long, resolving gender inequalities has been a one-sided effort. By its very nature, however, it is two-sided: men live largely without limits because women live with them. And — how can we expect to solve this problem if only half of us are striving to do so? It is unacceptable that women are oppressed; but it is unacceptable, too, that even the men who are not consciously perpetuating the problem do little to address it. It is no longer excusable for men to condone, rationalise or ignore the challenges that women unfairly face, and we must make it impossible for them to do so.
Too many a time, men have felt embarrassed to speak out on these issues; they have felt that it is not their place. This must be overcome. We must all feel free to discuss issues that are important, and we must all work toward resolving them, together. Many have commented that stating the necessity of men’s involvement is stating women’s inability to surpass the challenge themselves — this is not so. Gender inequality is a two-sided issue, and it requires a two-sided response.
We know what we must do to resolve this long-standing inequality, and it is not difficult: we must merely change our mindset, our approach to the world. Instead of living as passive observers and powerless lamenters, we must simply act. I say simply because, indeed, it is not difficult. All we need to do is look at the world with different eyes: instead of a static world, we must see a world that needs changing, a world that we can change, and a world that we are not afraid to change.
I say simply, too, because we already possess the tools to do so — we are the tools. Change has never begun in boardroom meetings or government offices; change begins with us. The sooner we change the way we collectively think about gender issues, the sooner it will be impossible not to resolve them. But, how can we possibly change the way society thinks so easily? Surely it is too difficult and too ambitious a task to change the hard-set minds of billions of people. Again — this is not so. All we need is to start a conversation, a two-sided conversation that will impede silence.
And this is exactly why we need efforts like HeForShe’s on university campuses. Now is when we form and re-form our worldview; more than any other period in our lives, our time at university is when we are most exposed to new ideas and perspectives — this must be taken advantage of. As students, we are given the unique opportunity to discuss our ideas in a public forum of largely like-minded people. This forum we can put to good use: we can make it impossible for people to ignore gender inequality, and we can fix this issue in the minds of our generation. This is all we need: for the issue of gender inequality to pervade the minds of future politicians, policy-makers, private-sector employees, non-profit volunteers; for the issue of gender inequality to be ignored no longer.
Laurent Bélanger is the incoming Liaison Officer at HeForShe St Andrews.