Meet the woman behind Emma Watson’s viral feminism campaign

December 18, 2014, 12:00 PM UTC
Courtesy of Elizabeth Nyamayaro

Before actress Emma Watson turned a discussion on gender equality at the United Nations into a viral YouTube video, Elizabeth Nyamayaro, the Senior Advisor to the Executive Director of UN Women, was hard at work.

Nyamayaro is the lesser-known head of the HeForShe campaign, a movement aimed at getting men, not just women, to champion gender equality. In September, Watson, a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador and the spokeswoman for HeForShe, got the campaign an impressive amount of attention — over 6 million hits on YouTube — with an impassioned speech announcing her involvement.

Three months later, now that the excitement surrounding Watson’s speech has died down, I checked in with

Nyamayaro to get a sense for what’s next for the campaign and how she plans to continue to build off its initial momentum.

What inspired you to launch HeForShe?
I joined UN Women about 11 months ago, and during my orientation, it became really clear that if we were going to advance the conversation about young women, we needed something that was going to change how we look at gender equality in a positive way. We need to make it a global issue. If it remains a women’s issue, then progress will remain slow. Men still hold power so you can’t really speak about imbalance against women without finding a way to engage men as meaningful partners.

How did you convince Emma Watson to become a spokeswoman?
There was no convincing. Which was a wonderful thing and that speaks to her passion and commitment. I approached her a few months and we started having a dialogue about her coming on as a Goodwill Ambassador. Emma struck me as someone who was fresh, passionate and intelligent.

Did you think her speech would have as big of an impact as it did?
No, it exceeded what we expected. We just didn’t know. In three days we saw the whole world light up as more than 100,000 men signed up for the HeForShe Commitment for gender equality. I would have never thought that would happen.

What have you been doing since September?
The campaign took us by surprise. Initially we were asking the question, ‘Do men care about gender equality?’ and we found out that they do care. Then we started to get a lot of emails from men who signed up, who now want to do more. Men in Nigeria wrote us about what they could do to help find the missing girls. A man in Norway emailed us wanting to know what he could do about the woman who was raped in an Uber in India. Now we are working with McKinsey for a strategy about the other areas of the campaign. We have HeForShe as an awareness platform, but now we are moving to make it an advocacy platform to change public policy and the law.

What are you doing to engage business leaders on this issue?
In the latest gender equality report from the UN, we identified that corporations have a lot more work to do, so we are targeting companies to participate as well. We want concrete actions and concrete commitments within these companies to support gender equality. We have set up an advisory council within the private sector that includes business leaders such as Coca-Cola (KO) CEO Muhtar Kent, Unilever (UL) CEO Paul Polman, Chanel CEO Maureen Chiquet and Goldman Sachs (GS) CEO Lloyd Blankfein.

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