By Natalie Leach
The first global forum for In Our Shoes, the winner of the Millennium Equality Prize awarded at the United Nations at this past year’s 7th annual Millennium Campus Conference, was held on Friday, with participants from places all over the United States as well as countries like Pakistan and South Africa and including both males and females. In Our Shoes is a campaign founded by students and MCC15 Delegates Laura-Jane Watkins and Chiara Claassens with the aim of eradicating gender inequality on a global scale. Laura-Jane and Chiara came up with the idea for their campaign because of the experiences with gender inequality that they have witnessed taking place on their campus and in their own community in South Africa, such as wanting to address the issue of human trafficking and domestic violence toward women. However, they emphasized throughout the forum how different perspectives on gender inequality from all over the world are essential if communities are to come any closer to combatting it, saying that the first critical step in achieving this is to realize that women’s rights are ultimately human rights; stressing the importance of inclusiveness of both genders in every aspect, participants in the forum agreed that societies need to take a fully human approach to the issue of gender inequality.
One of the main issues discussed throughout the forum was the role of women in leadership positions, and how societies can work to “break the glass ceiling” – a metaphor for challenges women often face when it comes to their careers. Sunita Rao, an intern for the UN Foundation initiative Girl Up, spoke about the ways in which being a chapter leader of Girl Up on her campus at the University of Texas at Austin has helped shape her perspective on empowering women through leadership. Sunita spoke about the complex dynamics of being a woman as well as a leader, saying she does not believe that the presence of women in these positions is a normal occurrence and that it is crucial to fight for equality in the workplace. However, through her personal experience being an intern with Girl Up, she feels that she has been able to make a difference in the lives of girls on her campus chapter as well as around the world – this past summer she went on a trip to Malawi to help distribute bikes to girls to be used for school transportation! The conversation then took on the idea that there are definitely different definitions of and perspectives on the “glass ceiling” depending on where one lives, and that it is crucial to not only redefine how others perceive the role of women and their abilities, but also to encourage youth from a young age to achieve gender equity by forging new paths as role models in leadership, like Sunita has done through her work with Girl Up.
Participants talked about a variety of ideas on how to achieve this, all emphasizing a collective, community-based effort: promote a safe environment in which to discuss gender-based issues, reach out across social media and other platforms to raise awareness and educate others, encouraging men’s participation in combatting these issues, and opening up conversations that encourage global perspectives while at the same time challenging the existing gender stereotypes and norms in societies that perpetuate gender inequality. From these approaches, participants said, can then come concrete, action-based plans.
As for some of the action-based plans In Our Shoes hopes to implement before the end of the year, Chiara and Laura-Jane talked about two specific events. In October, they plan to give a presentation about what has happened since the Millennium Campus Conference so that others on their campus are aware about their campaign, its initiatives, and the United Nations’ newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In November, 16 days of activism will take place, with participants advocating each of the 16 days for an issue regarding gender inequality. Moving forward, they hope that the eradication of gender inequality will, as was discussed, be the result of changing communities on a global scale, with everyone doing their part.
To join the movement, sign up here!