Accustomed to reaching millions of fans through her roles in Harry Potter and The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Emma Watson stood in front of the world at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2014. She asked for help in ending gender inequality around the globe.

With the backing of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Watson, a UN Women Global Goodwill Ambassador, launched the HeForShe campaign — a global solidarity movement that invites boys and men to act as equal partners in ending gender inequality.

Within three days of the launch, more than 100,000 men, representing every country in the world, had signed up online and social media buzzed with more than a billion conversations on gender equality. World leaders, from the Prime Minister of Bhutan to the President of the United States quickly followed suit. As awareness campaigns go, it was extremely successful.

“This is a human rights and societal issue, which means we need everyone engaged,” says Elizabeth Nyamayaro, Head of HeForShe and Senior Advisor to the Executive Director of UN Women. “What we hope to achieve with HeForShe is to get everyone involved, to provide a platform on which men can recognize their responsibilities in dismantling patriarchy and do something about it.”

Almost immediately, however, concerns were raised as to what the campaign would actually achieve. In a world where women continue to be paid less than their male counterparts, earning a paltry 71 percent of men’s wages, and bear a disproportionate responsibility for unpaid work such as childcare and household duties — what would the campaign achieve beyond greater awareness?

Affecting concrete and measurable change 

HeForShe’s answer was to launch IMPACT 10x10x10, an action-oriented initiative in which UN Women partnered with 30 powerful men from across the worlds of business, government, and education — challenging them to affect measurable change in their fields.

“The fact that there isn’t a single country or company that has achieved gender equality told us that we needed to focus on these areas,” says Nyamayaro. “And working with universities was almost a no-brainer when you consider their power to educate and create the leaders of tomorrow.”

Recognizing the need for global reach, HeForShe engaged leaders across a vast range of regions, industries, and sectors. These leaders, or IMPACT Champions in HeForShe parlance, possess enormous power between them and are in an excellent position to drive change in gender equality through a top-down approach.
Education eliminates inequality and grows economies

One strategic area being targeted is higher education. Beyond being a human right, education is also the most effective way to eliminate inequality and grow economies. An increase in female labour force participation results in faster economic growth.

IMPACT Champion Feridun Hamdullahpur, President and Vice Chancellor at University of Waterloo, the only Canadian university involved in the IMPACT 10x10x10 initiative, is using his involvement to affect positive change in both university leadership and in the workforce in general. The university has committed to engaging more women in traditionally male-dominated fields of science, technology, engineering, and math, known collectively as STEM. Hamdullahpur has also pledged to enhance female faculty representation and increase female-held leadership roles in the university from the current 24.5 percent to 29 percent within 5 years.

“We recognized that we needed to focus on a comprehensive, long-term approach to gender equity,” says Diana C. Parry, Associate Professor and Special Advisor to the President on Women’s and Gender Issues, University of Waterloo. “We understood that in order to have women available for positions in tenure-track stream or leadership positions in the university, we really need to catch girls at a very young age.”

One of Waterloo’s efforts to get more women into STEM is a new HeForShe IMPACT scholarship that will be awarded to 24 outstanding female students over the next four years. Each year, six female students who apply to science, technology, engineering, and math programs will receive $12,000 to assist them over the course of their studies.

The effort caught the eye of the UN’s celebrity ambassador, Watson. “I’m so inspired by the University of Waterloo’s efforts to achieve gender equality in our lifetime,” she said. “This scholarship program is a perfect example of how the HeForShe movement is generating tangible change around the world.”

“IMPACT Champions were chosen because they are innovators and advocates. Each one is on the journey to equality,” says Nyamayaro.