United Nations under­secretary and executive director of the HeForShe initiative Phumzile Miambo­-Ngcuka stopped by campus June 8 to commemorate UW’s first year participating in the campaign.</p>
At the event, Miambo-Ngcuka spoke to an audience of over 100 students, professors and alumni. She discussed the benefits of undertaking the HeForShe campaign while highlighting her own history with gender disparity.
“It is sad that we have to prove why women deserve equality and the same rights as men in order for people to understand,” Miambo-Ngcuka said. “But it’s something that we’re dedicated to achieving regardless.”
Miambo-Ngcuka is no stranger to activism. She was heavily involved in the struggle to end apartheid in her home country of South Africa, and from 2005 to 2008, she oversaw programs that aimed to end poverty there as the deputy president. Through this time, Miambo-Ngcuka has also been actively involved in addressing gender inequalities in all areas.
“I find the current generation is very interesting,” said Miambo-Ngcuka. “You are living in a period of time with numerous possibilities, but in a more complex world.”
In participating in the HeforShe campaign, UW has set for itself a variety of goals designed to improve gender disparity throughout the campus community. According to the UW HeForShe website, the university has committed to three main initiatives: increasing the presence of girls in STEM programs by 33 per cent by 2020, increasing the number of female faculty on campus by 30 per cent by 2020, and increasing the number of women in senior leadership positions. Come September 2016, UW will publish a report highlighting the results of this effort.
President of the university Feridun Hamdullahpur commenced the event by announcing that just the day before he had received the news that the university had reached a significant milestone in its journey to increase the number of female STEM applicants.
“I am proud to announce that our female enrollment for the 2016/2017 year is to be our highest on record, with nearly one-third of our incoming students,” said Hamdullahpur.
Miambo-Ngcuka also congratulated the university for introducing gender neutral bathrooms on campus.
“The University of Waterloo should be proud of the great strides it has taken to improve its level of gender inclusivity,” she said. This includes not only the introduction of its gender neutral bathrooms, but also the allowance of incoming students to select the gender they identify as, rather than just male or female.
“The HeforShe IMPACT 10x10x10 Initiative is the most comprehensive and biggest law reform the United Nations has ever helmed since World War II,” Miambo-Ngcuka said. “It’s about each country helping each other to achieve a common goal.”
Miambo-Ngcuka concluded her speech by opening the floor for questions.
One audience member asked her how parents should raise their sons in order to make them grow up with the belief that feminism also benefits them and is not in any way against them. To this Miambo-Ngcuka stated that when it comes to raising young boys, it is their fathers who will prove to be their biggest influences.
“HeforShe is not about shortchanging men,” she said. The organization also aims to address not only female stereotypes, but male ones as well, and, “Just like how they try to improve female enrolment in STEM courses, they are also concerned about high levels at which men drop out of university.”