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Photo by Mariah Wilson

UN Women’s HeForShe university tour stops at U of C

By Kristy Koehler, September 20 2019—

The University of Calgary was a stop on the UN Women HeForShe #GetFree university tour last night, hosting Be The Change in the MacHall Ballroom. The event, designed to promote gender equity, featured a keynote address by Paul Brandt, and a panel discussion on male allyship. Just under 300 students, staff, faculty and community members registered to attend the event.

HeForShe, launched by UN Women in 2014, asks men and people of all genders to commit to being allies and stand in solidarity with women to promote gender equality. 

The #GetFree university tour hopes to engage young people with the message of HeForShe, and U of C was a perfect fit. 

“We’re looking at institutions that can not only form a strong partnership with us but also have great existing work that they’re doing toward gender equality,” said Dinal Limbachia, HeForShe IMPACT program manager.Calgary fit those requirements and I think it’s a great opportunity to partner with a school and be a part of the community, even for a short while.”

A component of the HeForShe movement involves engaging Thematic Champions who have committed to making gender equality an institutional priority and investing in community projects to advance women’s economic empowerment. 

“Justin Trudeau is a HeforShe Thematic Champion for youth and he has made a commitment to engage the youth of Canada for gender equality and so this mechanism, the #GetFree tour, is a way in which we’ve brought the two things together to get out there onto college campuses,” said Limbachia.

Dru Marshall, photo by Mariah Wilson.

Dru Marshall, provost and vice-president academic, said the event was a great fit for the university. 

“I think it really fits well within our academic plan — it prioritizes people and within that, we have a real equity, diversity and inclusion lens,” she said. “When I think of HeForShe I think of TimesUp and global movements that have happened that still indicate there’s discrimination and  harassment against women in the world.”

Marshall provided an opening address, prior to Brandt taking the stage.

Brandt, founder of #NotInMyCity, recently took home the 2019 Slaight Music Humanitarian Award at the Canadian Country Music Association Awards for his work toward ending human trafficking. Brandt said his message tied in well with HeForShe’s theme of male allyship.

“Our focus is childhood sexual exploitation and sex trafficking,” he said before the event. “There’s a connection in that sex trafficking and exploitation happens when there’s demand. One of the messages that we’re constantly talking about is without that demand, we see this issue go away. That requires strong, vocal men to stand up and say ‘This is not okay.’ There’s a strong connection in that it requires men to look towards females with respect and with uplifting their dignity.”

Brandt said it’s important to him to be able to make good use of his platform — he’s the most awarded Canadian male country artist in history.

Paul Brandt, photo by Mariah Wilson

“I found, after 25 years of being in the music business, that music is incredibly powerful,” said Brandt. “It’s a healing force. It can help people to escape, but it also can be used to educate and to enlighten. I love being on stage and singing — I could sing “Alberta Bound” every night, no problem. But, there’s something that becomes routine about any job unless you attach a greater purpose to it.

“It’s exciting for me — it really is the primary thing that gives me purpose in the work that I do, knowing that I get to get up and get out there and not only point the spotlight at what I’m doing, I get to shine it on other important causes.”

Carla Bertsch, the university’s sexual violence support advocate, stressed the importance of allyship from male-identifying persons, and the importance of having these conversations on campus.

“In terms of engaging male-identifying folks and how they can be allies, first and foremost it’s a matter of listening, being able to hold space for someone else to have a voice, and to hear and think about what you’re hearing,” she said. “I think it’s important for men to recognize their privilege in the world — we live in a patriarchal society which often gives men some more power and influence. Being able to make space for someone who’s marginalized — they have that ability, and I would say responsibility.

“Most men are really good men that want to be engaged, want to help and realize that gender equity for everybody produces healthy relationships and produces sustainable communities.”

The Canadian #GetFree tour is sponsored by De Beers, the world’s leading diamond company and a provider of scholarships to female students in STEM fields at U of C.

To pledge support for HeForShe or learn more about the campaign, visit the movement’s website.

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