Benson Cheung Charlotte Provost Editors' Forum Isabel Zucchero Magdalena Surma Mégane Visette Sha Lalapet

Ensuring Women’s safety, what happened to the HeforShe campaign?

For this #16days special edition of the Editor’s Forum, we asked our editors the following:

Ensuring women’s safety, what happened to the HeforShe campaign?


Mégane Visette – Program editor of Women in Security

If you remember, HeforShe (ongoing) became very popular with Ambassador Emma Watson, pushing for more engagement of men and boys in an ongoing effort to end gender inequality and violence. Recently we’ve seen narratives focusing greatly on women and girls, rather than narratives highlighting the need for community efforts for inclusion. Canada has announced that its new international developmental aid budget was going to prioritize women and girls exclusively. Women empowerment by women is great, but it should be paired with many initiatives including the wide array of individuals on this planet, meaning men, boys and transgendered too.

I came across a report from UN Women Asia Pacific talking about how women are helping each other go home safe at night in Seoul, by organizing community patrols and group travelling of some sort. What bothered me was that, we put the responsibility on the woman to be safe, rather than looking at the core of the problem of gender relations, sexual education, and mental illnesses. Furthermore, this summer, the Korean government announced reactive measures following a recent gender-based hate-murder, which happened earlier this year in a public bathroom of trendy Gangnam (Seoul). Harsher sentences for those convicted of hate crimes against women were proposed, which is great, but gender-neutral bathrooms were framed as one of the main causes of risks to be eradicated, as many gathered in the capital to demonstrate against gender-neutral/mixed bathrooms. Considering the great effort that has been pushed here in Toronto to create more gender neutral bathrooms, isn’t that going backwards? The fact that men and women – regardless of their sexual orientation – can be in the same public bathroom shouldn’t be understood as the causality of hate-crimes, it’s the relations of respect and anti-violence that should be focused on and prioritized to ensure such crimes do not happen again.

If women are still attacked in well-developed urban settings, it is because the community does not address the issue enough in a proactive manner. Policy-makers and educators have to make sure that people are made aware of the problem at a very young age. The fact that women have to alter the way they behave and commute because it could be understood as “inviting” assault by men, is unacceptable. The fact that a person thinks assaulting someone is okay, is the problem.

Gender-based violence is a community problem, not a women’s problem. And educational initiatives to make the street safer should be preconditions. As the UN Women Asia-Pacific report highlights, the “protectionist approach” to street safety such as patrols, should be seen as the first step to gain time for a long term approach of gender training, creating a “human network of safety” through practice. Training should be happening at the same time as pre-emptive measures to gender-based violence. Changing gender norms and education is the main goal of such initiatives, in an effort to find solutions to ensure women’s safety and mobility in public spaces.

The idea of the #HeforShe campaign pushed for that holistic approach to gender violence, but its popularity and outreach seems to fall short. The problem with the HeforShe campaign is that it relies too much on celebrities and public engagement. It is a great PR initiative, and the use of social media and hashtags is important to spread the word, but it has the tendency to lean towards a twitterati-only activism, which usually does not result in implementation of practical measures.

Focusing on discussion is as important as focusing on action, but  HeforShe campaign’s popularity relies on a very trendy #initiative, which was bound to be lost in the twittosphere at some point. While highlighting the ephemeral component of social media campaigns, I do want to point out the great materials and advice made available through that campaign. Making sure that the #HeforShe discourse finds resonance in government, local branches and grassroots organization is the way to go to ensure the discussion is sustained in a bottom-up and top-down perspective, I think.

Benson Cheung – Research Analyst

A few weeks ago my sister and I were bantering over the perks and downsides of going to the University of Toronto. I have my obvious biases as a U of T alumni, but when defending the perks of going to the University of Toronto, my sister retorted by asking if I’ve ever been around downtown Toronto at night.

I said that I do and it’s fine, and she pointed out to the fact that she’s a short-statured female, and that it is not exactly safe at night for her. I didn’t know what else to say, except refer to self-defence classes. I rarely thought about my safety in such personal terms. Sure, I’ve always kept my eye out to protect myself from possible muggers or shady characters, but these are quite impersonal dangers.

For women, these dangers are different, and the stakes are much higher. And while I think learning self-defence is practical for any situation, I think I resorted to mentioning that solution out of sheer helplessness over not knowing what to do to do more to prevent this violence. Society places a disproportionate burden on women to protect themselves from gender-based violence against them, while perpetrators are more or less excused as an immutable force of nature. That’s unfair, and it makes me quite angry that it’s unfair.

That’s why initiatives like the HeforShe are so important. Its core value is that men should not be bystanders to violence but actively call out other perpetrators of violence; it places the onus on men to also help stop gender and sexual violence. And it reminds us, men, that we enjoy certain privileges about how freely we can live our lives while women are severely constrained in terms of mobility and extra layers of security measures.

That is not to say that we shouldn’t be street smart and be prepared for the worst at all times. Contingencies like learning self-defence or organizing safety networks are prudent defensive measures, since tragically gender and sexual violence will not be disappearing overnight. But it’s up to the whole community to ensure that we make progress in equalizing all genders. Everyone should be asking themselves and each other, “how can I help?”, because if women are victimized and oppressed, we are all affected by it. I hope the UN and other intergovernmental groups continue to push for campaigns like HeforShe in civil society and in policy, so that one day women around the world can enjoy the nightscape just as safely as men can.


Charlotte Provost – Program editor of International business and Economics

“Why couldn’t you just keep your knees together”? Said the judge, to the rape victim. “You can’t get paid as much as Kent, he is a hard-working man” said the manager, to the employee. Let’s just say there are no shortage of examples of men voicing their opinion on women’s lives, in some way or the other.

Many men will quickly criticize that introduction stating something along the lines of “well, not all men are misogynist, discriminatory, or unfair – I’m a good man, and there are many good men out there’. And they are entirely right.

But why, I ask, are men so reluctant to join the feminist plight against gender oppression? Why are there so few men at the forefront of women’s rights, so few male legislators pushing for egalitarian laws, so few male educators spearheading educational reforms to stop teaching young girls how to dress ‘decent’, and teach boys how to act ‘decent’. Where are all the male picketers, where are all the men who proudly proclaim to be feminists?

Because there’s a shared belief, that it’s ‘our’ problem, us, the women. A problem that seemingly only affects our lifestyles, our hopes, our futures. That to me, is the greatest lie that permeates the perception of the feminist movement. Yes, it is ‘our’ problem, all of us – male, female, and everyone in between. And even though feminists have come a long way in aquiring gender rights and equality, there is no way we will achieve to equality until all parties agree that it’s time to make a change. #HeforShe.


Sha Lalapet – Program editor of NATO’s Arc of Crisis

Women’s empowerment is incomplete without all men being equally willing to make it non-negotiable. So, the fading of the HeforShe campaign is upsetting.  We live in a world that is so confused when it comes to women’s rights. In some parts of the world, empowering women is seen as a joke, in others, women have fought and continue to defeat ideological and actual threats against them. Increased political representation, voting rights, equal pay and employment serve as progressive examples.

But for those who’ve not made such advancements, we need to specifically target men as being equally responsible for women’s empowerment, all over the world. They ought to know from a young age that women aren’t an inferior class of citizens subjected to seek protection for themselves or, property of men traded in marriage.

As a woman myself, I believe we deserve to live life as an equal with the same unbounded prospects in life as men do and deal with issues that are common to all genders. We shouldn’t need to be “vulnerable” because we are born this way. For instance, when a woman is assaulted, how often does the perpetrator take responsibility and how often is the woman blamed?

It is common sense to stop blaming the victim, and stop marginalizing her as “damaged goods” after the fact as it happens in some societies. Objectification of this sort is what trickles down multiple generations and distracts from what really needs to be addressed – the causes behind what makes a man believe that he cannot only hurt women but also get away with it. As one of the most advanced species on earth, we, humans are neck and neck with a minority of animals like chimpanzees that assault females.

To still have sexual violence against women today is embarrassing to say the least and often begs the question of how many of us have actually evolved. If there’s a time to change this normal, it is here and the actions required, start with questioning what is being said, written and shared about women all over the world by both men and women. Just because men have been historically violent against women, doesn’t mean we are weaker – we are here in spite of that.


Isabel Zucchero – Program editor of Canada’s NATO

General confusion and unfortunate misconceptions have made “feminism” the new F-word in some circles. I think much of this misunderstanding occurs when feminism is perceived as a movement which somehow advocates for women’s rights or “women’s issues” to be placed above those of men.

I have heard people who hold these beliefs go as far as to refer to women who identify as feminists as “feminazis”, and insist that the only feminists they know are men-hating social justice warriors who are interested primarily in oppressing men in order to elevate women. This could not be further from what feminism in its true form seeks to achieve.

To me, this misunderstanding is one that stems primarily from issues of language and definition. In order to bring more men into the conversation and foster meaningful and effective partnerships that tackle issues of gender inequality and gender-based violence, we need to do a better job of explaining that these are not, in fact “women’s issues” at all, but rather human issues that we all have a vested interest in. If this is true, then feminism becomes a movement not just “by women for women” (contrary to what its name might suggest), but rather by everyone, and about advocacy for social, economic, and political equality of the sexes. Furthermore, we must be willing to have these conversations as many times as it takes, with as many people as it takes, patiently, consistently, and openly.

This could be as simple as starting the conversation with our male friends, partners, brothers, fathers, co-workers etc. about what they believe feminism is, and how they arrived at that definition. By making first steps to extend the invitation to join the conversation, we may come to realize that changing perceptions is sometimes as simple as making these conversations accessible. I truly believe that the vast majority of men wish for their mothers, sisters, partners and female friends to be treated with dignity and respect, to be awarded equal pay for equal work, and to have the same access to opportunities as their male counterparts in the professional world. They shy away from “feminism” not because they don’t believe in the common-sense principles that feminism advocates for, but because somewhere along the way, feminism has been conflated with a set of concerns that can only be identified and acted upon by those who identify as women.

The first steps to better HeforShe advocacy is a non-judgmental willingness to include men in the conversation, clarify mis-definitions or mis-understandings as they arise, and highlight the ways that issues of gender equality affect everyone, not just women.


Magdalena Surma – Editor of Global Horizons & Canada’s NATO Podcast

Ensuring Women’s safety results in ensuring the safety of our daughters, sisters, mothers, colleagues, and women living in our society. The HeforShe campaign is about inclusion as exposed to exclusion. More emphasis should be placed on including the engagement of men and boys in dialogue geared towards ending inequality and violence.

Exclusion of boys and men in this discussion would result in further inequality. Everyone needs to have a voice in this discussion in order to make a difference in our community. As a young, successful, and highly educated woman, I strongly feel that we as a community need to stay united in our efforts to end gender inequality and violence.

This includes focusing on the empowerment of women by women and the empowerment of women by men in our society. We need more initiatives like the one that our Program Editor of Women in Security, Megane Visette is engaging in and managing.  By encouraging everyone to engage in our #16days campaign, everyone is involved in addressing the issue of inequality and violence against women. This serves a very significant and powerful purpose because this initiative encourages the empowerment of women while including everyone in our community.

Men, boys, transgendered, and women need to all have a voice in this discussion. Let’s all end gender inequality and violence together. We all have a responsibility to ensure the safety of our women. United we stand!


Photo: The youth of Feti Vogli’ high school in ‎Tirana, introduced the HeForShe campaign in sports, with the support of the National Olympic Committee of Albania (2015), by UN Women Europe and Central Asia via Flickr. Licensed under CC2.0.

Disclaimer: Any views or opinions expressed in articles are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the NATO Association of Canada.

Megane Visette
Mégane Visette –editor of the Women in Security program– is a recent MA graduate in Political-Science and Asia-Pacific Studies. She has a BSc. in International studies from Université de Montréal (UdeM) in Quebec. She speaks English, French, and is learning Korean and Japanese. Mégane’s current research focuses on the soft power of North Korean refugee narratives, human security, and historical memory in transpacific relations. Having previously lived in Europe and South Korea, Mégane wishes to use her many research interests in policy-driven environments and academia, to give her input to changing discourses in IR. She presented a paper at the SAIS Johns Hopkins Asia Conference in April 2016, and was on the organizing committee for the Munk School of Global Affairs Graduate Conference, focusing on the concept of borders in flux. She’s currently on the editors’ team of the UTJPS Journal at the University of Toronto. Mégane can be reached at