In March 2021, the UN hosted the 65th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) focusing on “women’s full and effective participation and decision-making in public life, as well as the elimination of violence, for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls,” topics close to many within the Girl Up Community. Girl Up Club Leader and HeForShe Advocate Selin, from Turkey, shared her experience traveling across Turkey with HeForShe trying to bring her peers, including boys, into the feminist movement as well as her work to break the taboos and stereotypes around the meaning behind gender equality.
Can you share what you are working on and what motivates you to include men and boys in your activities?
Gender inequality is rampant everywhere.
As an 18-year-old gender activist from Istanbul, my journey started three years ago when my 6-year-old brother once told me that I was lucky because I just simply could get married and I didn’t have to work after.
That was probably the moment when I apprehended, I was going to be, I had to be, the voice of change. That was the moment when I realized the risk of this mindset created by society. Such a stereotype that even could, and would, affect a little child’s thought structure.
I remember promising myself to take action in the morning because, if not me, then who? If not now, then when? I sent an email to UN Women to become involved in the HeForShe movement later that night. That is how I became the youngest representative of UN Women’s HeForShe movement!
As a HeForShe Advocate, I have been visiting high schools all around Turkey, introducing them to the movement, breaking the taboos and stereotypes around the meaning behind gender equality and also encouraging mentor my peers to start their own HeForShe Clubs at their schools to create meaningful change in their communities.
For those of you who may not be familiar with the movement, HeForShe is United Nations Global Solidarity Movement for gender equality.
The world is at a turning point. People everywhere understand and support the idea of gender equality. They know it’s not just a women’s issue, it’s a human rights issue. HeForShe is an invitation for men and people of all genders to stand in solidarity with women to create a bold, visible and united force for gender equality.
I think the very unique and critical side of this movement is that the men of HeForShe aren’t on the sidelines. They’re working with women and with each other to build businesses, raise families, and give back to their communities. We believe that everyone is born free and equal. We commit to take action against; Gender Bias, Discrimination, and Violence to bring the benefits of equality to us all.
Every day, HeForShe supporters are taking action to create meaningful change in their communities.
From students from the University of Engineering and Technology (UET) engaging more than 5,000 men and boys in Pakistan to commit to HeForShe to a senior village chief from Malawi annulling 455 customary marriages and sends 1312 girls and 143 boys back to school.
From a young activist in Jordan who redefines masculinity by leading workshops throughout the country. So far, he has mobilized more than 22,000 HeForShe commitments, to a male nurse in Iceland who works toward deconstructing gender stereotypes in a country where only 2% of nurses are men.
Taking action in your community is simple. Just believe in the cause you are fighting for and ask yourself, if not me, then who? İf not now, then when?
Can you give an example of a challenge you face in engaging men and boys?
Unfortunately, there are so many societal stereotypes about what a feminist looks like which is a huge obstacle that we are facing, especially working with teenage boys.
Speaking from my observations and experiences throughout the years, I have realized how open the word ‘’feminism’’ is to misunderstandings. Especially about feminine over masculine because it has the ‘’feminine’’ in the word in it. But it is just superficial.
We have to make it like, air quote, ‘public knowledge’ that feminism is not about one gender being better than other genders. It is about equality. It is about giving everyone a fair chance.
For example, I have met dozens of boys in high schools who were claiming that there was no way on earth that they were feminists followed by the sentence, ‘because they were against the idea of women being superior.’ They were supporting the idea of equality for all.
Pretty ironic, isn’t it, considering that their response is literally the definition of feminism.
And I feel like one of the reasons why men think they cannot be feminists is because there is a wrong belief like by calling yourself a feminist you are giving up on your masculine side and looking fragile.
I think that because of the word feminism treated as ‘’taboo,’’ at least in Turkey, there is a blame attached to it, so it makes things even harder for, especially for teenage boys to openly call themselves feminists and you know no one likes to be judged.
Our only option, this is going to sound very cliche, but it is true.
Our best option is to educate people.
I believe, first of all, activists, the governments, the NGOs, the ACS, we need to find an innovative and inclusive way to address feminism and gender equality.
Again, gender inequality is rampant everywhere. We still think that only women can be feminists. Men are still being criticized for being too emotional. Victim-blaming in violence against women and femicides is still a massive problem. Millions of girls’ education cannot attend school because of their gender. Men are still thought to be the breadwinners in the family. Many still say a woman ‘must be on her period’ if she expresses her emotions too much.
Let’s make people uncomfortable: let’s put them in a position where they have to start talking about these issues that need solutions.
Today, there is an emerging opportunity for our generation to step up, to speak up, to share their opinions, and share their perspectives on safe platforms like these. So, we will not wait for another 25 years to make gender equality a reality.
Roll up your sleeves, we have work to do!