Anne Githuku-Shongwe, representative at the United Nations Women South Africa Multi-Country Office. Picture: Supplied
Anne Githuku-Shongwe, representative at the United Nations Women South Africa Multi-Country Office. Picture: Supplied

Women the world over are standing firm in their push for gender equality – and they want men to walk and work with them. They want to change perceptions of how women are viewed and to implement changes right where they are. This is at the very core of the UN HeForShe campaign - www.heforshe.org – an invitation for all to stand with women and be part of a united force that creates solutions for a gender-equal world.

The strides governments are making are laudable, says Anne Githuku-Shongwe, representative at the UN Women SA Multi-Country Office.  The real work of gender equality, however, has to happen continually, in our communities, our thinking, our advertising and our perceptions of women. “That’s what the HeForShe campaign is all about,” she says. “Taking personal responsibility … that will cascade into [changes in thought and in the community].” 

She says: “With the advertising industry we’ve created the Unstereotype Alliance, and we’re challenging private companies that spend billions on advertising to make sure that every advert that goes out does not stereotype women or reinforce images of them as weak or as sexual objects, but rather promotes the image of the future we really want, which is one where gender equality thrives,” she explains.

The Unstereotype Alliance is a thought-and-action platform that uses advertising as a force for good to drive positive change. It seeks to eradicate harmful gender-based stereotypes in all media and advertising content. Convened by UN Women, the Unstereotype Alliance contributes to empowering women in all their diversity (including race, class, age, ability, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, language and education) and addressing harmful masculinities to help create a gender-equal world.

The Loeries, the globally recognised awards for the advertising and communications industry across Africa and the Middle East, are allied to the Unstereotype Alliance, which plans to engage with communications students through a dedicated Unstereotype Alliance and HeForShe Facebook challenge. “We really want students to engage on the issue of stereotyping,” says Githuku-Shongwe. “If we can begin to have an impact on students moving into this creative industry, which shapes how we believe men and women should be in society, if we can start changing every billboard that comes up and every ad consumers see and hear, imagine what that would do. Strong women and strong men, positive families – these are the images we want portrayed. And just one powerful ad can make such a difference.”

Such conversations are what she hopes will take place at Loeries Creative Week, with men who are not ashamed to promote feminism and who can stand up for women and be counted as feminists. “We’ve got to have an effect everywhere there are influencers. Creatives are influencers, so if we can influence the influencers to influence the world, then we’re really influencing,” she says.

the big take-out

The Unstereotype Alliance challenges companies to ensure their advertising does not stereotype women or reinforce images of them as inferior.

Gender equality, she says, has to translate into having a real impact on women’s lives. Governments spend billions on procurements every year. “Barely 1% of that goes towards women-owned businesses. Barely! And that’s a global average,” says Githuku-Shongwe. 

“Just imagine if 50% of government procurement went to women-owned businesses. That would transform the world, because we know that women-owned businesses employ more people and affect more people. The economic upliftment of women is not something to do just because it’s cute; it makes transformational economic sense. It’s good business. And it starts with changing the way women are viewed and treated.”

Anne Githuku-Shongwe will be speaking at the Unstereotype Alliance masterclass as part of Loeries Creative Week, August 22-25. More info can be found at Loeries.com.