HeForShe: pioneering gender equality on campus

Through an initiative known as HeForShe by the United Nations Women, an agency of the U.N. promoting women’s empowerment and gender equality, students across the U.S. have started adopting chapters on their campuses to fight gender inequality. At Suffolk, freshmen Sofia Lesko and Heidi Dumesich reached out to U.N. Women upon hearing about the opportunity to establish a chapter on campus, making Suffolk the second campus in the U.S. to work with HeForShe, according to Lesko.

“The United Nations probably thinks I’m the most annoying person,” Lesko, a creative writing and entrepreneurship major and president of HeForShe at Suffolk, said jokingly.  “I emailed U.N. Women, and hit the send button once every three days for like two weeks.”

HeForSheis a feminist movement aiming to be inclusive of men in the struggle to end all gender inequality, a movement that has historically been led and guided by women, as described on its website. It runs on the principle that feminism is “not only a woman’s issue, it is a human rights issue,” and that equality is beneficial to men as it is to women facing discrimination and violence.

Both President Sofia Lesko (left) and Heidi Dumesich (right)
hope to bring representatives from U.N. Women to Suffolk to speak about the core values of HeForShe.
Courtesy of Heidi Dumesich

Emma Watson, a graduate of Brown University and the U.N. Women Global Goodwill Ambassador, made a speech in September about HeForShe at the U.N. headquarters in New York. The speech was widely shared on social media and boosted the launch of the initiative.

“HeForShe is about equality, and they’re trying to specifically target men,” Dumesich,  international business major and vice president of HeForShe on campus, said.  “Emma Watson, in her speech, spoke about how feminism is a word that has become not very popular, so I think HeForShe is not trying to be a ‘feminist’ movement, but a gender equality movement. Men are just as affected by this are women are.”

On campus, Lesko and Dumesich are making efforts to recruit male students for HeForShe. Many male students from the theatre department have already joined, the two said.

But starting a social movement on campus, as fresh as HeForShe is, does not come with its share of backlash from the community. Lesko and Dumesich are finding that they already have to address negative reactions at Suffolk from other students.

“Most people have been very supportive,” said Lesko, “but then I know people that make constant jokes about it. I remember at my orientation there was a presentation by upperclassmen that said to be careful of the gender and race jokes that you say that could offend somebody without realizing it, but a lot of people still do.”

On campus, Lesko said she frequently hears discriminatory remarks from other students. She hopes to work in solidarity with existing organizations on campus, such as those that work with LGBTQissues, to address this problem.

HeForShe official logo

Lesko and Dumesich are working with U.N. Women to bring a speaker to Suffolk this semester as the first event for HeForShe on campus. The event will mark the official launch of the initiative at Suffolk.

“They’re going to have two or three representatives from U.N. Women to give a speech to give the core values of HeForShe, and how the university can make a difference in the global movement. Depending on the turnout, [U.N. Women] might bring a HeForShe celebrity in. Many male celebrities have joined since the Emma Watson speech,” Lesko said.

Lesko has been in contact with President Norman Smith in hopes he can join their kick-off event as a speaker.