“Quotas force people to change, whilst educating people directly, changes their beliefs.”
Halcyon’s third edition of Inspiring Voices speaker series was again a huge success. A mixed audience of students, parents, staff and friends filled the hall.
Charlotte Hallqvist, HeForShe’s Global Communications Lead, engaged in a lively and exciting conversation with Ethan, currently in Grade 12 at Halcyon, about her work. Both shared their own experiences and Hallqvist offered insights into ways to approach gender equality for both women and men.
HeForShe is a solidarity campaign for the advancement of women initiated by UN Women. Its goal is to achieve equality by encouraging men and boys to be agents of change and take action against the negativity and inequalities faced by women and girls worldwide (Wikipedia).
Hallqvist’s inspiration to join the UN was rooted early in her youth in Sweden, where the UN is perceived as having an important role tackling challenges. They even celebrate UN day on 24 October each year. Her father also played an important role in inspiring her; being a UN Peacekeeper.
After studying economics and food science, Hallqvist has come to appreciate her knowledge from earning an International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma. She has learned to understand who she is and what drives her. In her role as Global Communications Lead, she learns to use skills that go beyond her job role, like graphic design. The campaign is funded by the UN and private donations, but it continues to be underfunded and undervalued and everyone’s skills are needed to keep it running.
In the course of the conversation, Hallqvist explores ways the HeForShe campaign aims to challenge existing misconceptions about equality and inequality as well as ways to achieve real gender equality. A major misconception in the gender equality debate is whether women gain and men lose. They both gain. HeForShe doesn’t say genders should not exist – they want everyone to do what allows them to be who they are and to reach their full potential. Something Hallqvist remembers from her IB.
It all starts with the need to engage jointly in the conversation about gender equality - men with women, not just women with women. For this to happen, stereotypes on both sides need to be challenged and broken. Issues on gender equality vary in the different countries and all countries should take part in the conversation.
When engaging in conversation and challenging different perspectives, however, it is important to know the facts, especially when looking into different cultural backgrounds. In her work with young Malawi women, Hallqvist experienced first hand how tricky it can be to have a conversation about gender equality whilst respecting traditions that are wished to be kept, for example, in some cultures women prefer to be married by their parents rather than choosing their husband. It is important to be well prepared and to listen. One source to learn about the topic is by listening to TED talks by Dr Michael Kimmel.
Hallqvist was surprised to find that the UK perceives itself as gender equality, however, the reality of gender equality is very different, this includes gender inequality for men. The suicide rate in the UK, but also worldwide, is higher for men than for women. Men are forced into stereotypes and lack alternative role models to show them different ways of being.
Ethan described how at the last GIN conference, the gender equality group consisted exclusively of women and how he resented it. It made him realize that segregated groups do not work together and men are often afraid to say the wrong thing and shy away from the gender equality conversation.
The HeForShe campaign is aiming to create safe spaces at conferences around the world, where people can engage freely. Saying the wrong things, is how we learn, states Hallqvist.
HeForShe encourages everyone to make a difference in their daily lives. Providing the same toys for boys and girls can be an example.
The conversation continued after the interview ended. A large queue formed to engage with Hallqvist. I managed to get her attention and during our brief exchange, we agreed that one way for our students to safely and anonymously start the conversation about gender equality could be using Harpers Helping Hands on the Halcyonite e-magazine.
Noah, Grade 12.