News / Asia

Q&A with Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: 'He for She'

FILE - Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.
FILE - Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.
Frances Alonzo
Under-Secretary General of the United Nations and Executive Director of United Nations Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is unveiling a new campaign, called the "He for She" campaign, to promote the involvement of men to take a stand for women's rights. The campaign flips the paradigm of "women’s rights" by bringing men's voices into the fold and encouraging them to speak out for change.
Mlambo-Ngcuka spoke to VOA's Frances Alonzo and explains how the campaign aims to raise awareness that fighting for women's rights is not for women to solve alone.

MLAMBO-NGCUKA:  This is about recruiting boys and men to be part of the struggle for gender equality and the empowerment of women. Ensuring that the changes that are needed for women do not only depend on women; that men also play a role.
ALONZO: Why this approach?
MLAMBO-NGCUKA:   This is because men also need to be able to play a role. They have a significant role; they are part and parcel of creating the challenges that women face, especially, in relation to violence against women. I have a way of framing this, it's called the "SHE" imperative.  What the "SHE" imperative does it summarizes the critical things that we want men and of course women to continue to do. S stands for safety, because women are abused, women experience violence, and therefore security is an issue. And the H stands for human rights because there is a high violation of women's rights in all countries in the world. And E is for empowerment, especially empowering women to be effective leaders and to participate in decisions that affect them.
ALONZO: How can we encourage men to speak out in the way where they can “save face,” so to speak?
MLAMBO-NGCUKA: This is why one is not accusing men; we are actually inviting them because we believe that the majority of men do not want to see women abused. We are just saying that by being silent, they actually conspire for the perpetration of violence against women to continue. But if they take action, if they come out and if they stand on the right side of history, then they will be able to make a change.
ALONZO: Is there any particular aspect of this that stands out regarding Asian men?
MLAMBO-NGCUKA: Asian men are not different from the men in Africa, in Latin America, in Middle East. To some extent, you actually need the men in powerful positions to buy into this. You need heads of state to speak out, you need religious leaders to speak up, you need captains of industry to speak up. And those are the people that were going to be using for the "He for She" campaign as these spokespersons for the campaign, people that men can identify with soccer players, rugby players, cricket players in the context of Asia that you are raising.
ALONZO: So this, in essence, gives permission or a forum to positively advocate for women in a way that's not offensive to other men in their environment?
MLAMBO-NGCUKA: To also make the man take responsibility; that’s the biggest thing that the man could take responsibility and also to demonstrate through the initiatives that they will be undertaking, that by empowering women you actually make a difference not just for the women, but you make a difference for society and humanity. And this is the message that needs to come from people who are leading. Because ordinary men may not necessarily look at it that way, especially those that may have negative attitudes towards women empowerment but leaders must be able to say that.
ALONZO: Do you have any particular statistics or information with regards to men in Asia and their attitudes toward women?
MLAMBO-NGCUKA: There was a study that was done not so long ago which involved young men in three Asian countries and this study was focusing on sexual violence against women. In that study, most of the young men - which was really disturbing - did not think that rape was a problem. They actually felt that when women were beaten up it was because they had done something wrong and they needed to be punished; also that to have sexual relations with women against their will is not something that is a violation; men are entitled to it. This has been very, very disturbing, because it means that there are social issues there that need to be dealt with.
ALONZO: What comes to mind, the recent events in India, they have been in the news unfortunately for more than a year now with high profile rape cases.
MLAMBO-NGCUKA: Yes, but you see that in India also there was a reaction by the government, there was a reaction by the public, which included men. In that context, we would like to see the kinds of men that that we are identifying to work with have a sustained campaign because you do have men’s organizations now in different parts of the world. I'm hoping that this campaign will encourage and liberate men who did not even understand that they had a role to play, to actually come up and join those organizations that are standing up and fighting violence against women.
ALONZO: Child brides seem to be quite problematic in several Asian countries.
MLAMBO-NGCUKA:  In those countries where there are child marriages, this is also one of the biggest violations against girls that we are facing. And that we need men also to stand up and to speak against it, we need fathers, brothers to actually take action to stop this practice. Children are also trafficked in Europe and in the US at a very young age. So again, we need people not to look the other way. We need parents, we need people in the neighborhood that identify these practices to come up. All that we are calling for is for people to stand up and to speak out against these practices. It is expected that about 15 million girls before the age of 19 will be forced into marriages in the next 10 years unless we take action now and reverse the trend.

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