Open Menu Close Menu

Home Blog How are UK universities getting involved in HeForShe?

How are UK universities getting involved in HeForShe?

Published: 21/09/2015

Senior Policy Adviser Gemma Tracey finds out more about UN Women’s HeForShe campaign by speaking to two UK universities – Leicester and Oxford – that are involved as impact champions.

In 2014 UN Women launched HeForShe – their solidarity movement for gender equality – with the aim of “bring[ing] together one half of humanity in support of the other half of humanity, for the benefit of all.” The high profile launch by British actor Emma Watson encouraged men to pledge their commitment to HeForShe.

The HeForShe Commitment: I am one of billions of men who believe equality for women is a basic human right that benefits us all. And I commit to taking action against gender discrimination and violence in order to build a more just and equal world.

A key part of the campaign is the 10x10x10 impact strategy. Described by UN Women as a pilot initiative, this bring together 10 government, 10 corporations and 10 universities from around the world “to drive change from the top.” Leicester and Oxford Universities are the two UK universities involved in the pilot.

Leicester University

Chris Sharp, Equalities Adviser at Leicester explains how Leicester became one of the impact champions:

“Our Vice-Chancellor Paul Boyle was enthusiastic about becoming involved in the Impact 10x10x10 initiative as soon as the invitation came through. His commitment enabled us to respond promptly to UN Women with a clear picture of what we would do as an Impact Champion.”

Leicester’s commitments are to:

  • Close the gap between men and women in key academic and career areas, in both directions. Specifically Leicester has identified the 6 disciplines with the largest disparity between male and female enrolment and has committed to a percentage point change for these disciplines every year.
  • Create a cultural transformation around gender, particularly through mainstreaming equality and diversity into induction and careers guidance.
  • Make public the conversation around gender, provide transparency, and actively monitor progress on these issues.

Leicester sees their involvement in HeForShe as a real opportunity to harness the commitment and support of men for gender equality. As Chris Sharp explains:

“A lot of great work has happened at Leicester through our engagement with Athena SWAN, but a lot of the efforts have been driven forward by women. We want to use our status as a HeForShe Impact Champion to engage men as key stakeholders in our gender equality work.”

Oxford University

Over the past 3 years Oxford has had a real focus on combatting sexual harassment and assault on campus, with a wide range of activities happening across the institution – some led by staff, others by students and individual colleges. In particular, all undergraduate students enrolling at Oxford in 2015 will participate in a sexual consent workshop – delivered in each of the institution’s colleges by Student Union trained facilitators. As Trudy Coe, Head of Equality and Diversity at Oxford, explains:

“We saw UN Women’s campaign as a powerful opportunity to bring all this important activity under one umbrella and engage all students at Oxford, including men, in the value of this work.”

And that is why one of Oxford’s 3 HeForShe commitments is to: Engage the whole community—from app developers to sports teams—to holistically address campus violence and enforce zero tolerance.

Coe highlighted another reason why she thinks engaging with HeForShe will be valuable for the the university: Oxford has recently set an ambitious goal of achieving one-third representation of women across all academic and senior leadership roles by 2020. She sees the university’s involvement in UN Women’s campaign as an opportunity to engage men at Oxford in this commitment.

“I hope that our external commitment as an Impact Champion will galvanise energy and focus internally to meet our goal of improving the representation of women at senior levels at Oxford.”

And she also considers that Oxford is in a strong position to bring value to UN Women’s campaign thanks to its wide network of relationships within the higher education community. “Oxford has strong connections with research-intensive universities throughout the UK and Europe and we are looking forward to sharing with other universities what we learn, in particular through the Russell Group and LERU (League of European Research Universities).” Indeed, Oxford have made external engagement and knowledge a core part of their involvement with HeForShe by committing to: accelerate progress towards gender equality beyond Oxford.

What’s next?

There has been a lot of interest within the UK higher education community about HeForShe, perhaps thanks to the fact that it is a United Nations campaign that has garnered plenty of press coverage. At ECU we look forward to hearing the progress that both Leicester and Oxford Universities make towards meeting their commitments, and to sharing this with the rest of the sector as appropriate. Interesting questions about the inclusivity of the campaign, and the best ways to engage men substantively in gender equality, have emerged in our internal and external discussions about HeForShe. We’d also be interested to hear your thoughts and any work your institution does as part of the broader campaign, so do get in touch with Gemma Tracey