Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Gender Equality Campaigns in 2014

Have you heard of the It's On Us or HeForShe campaigns?  This year, White House and the United Nations both launched publicity campaigns aimed at encouraging men and women to support gender equality and end sexual assault.  These campaigns are being discussed on college campuses but not in the working or professional world where issues of concern often arise.  Why is this? How does one measure effectiveness of such efforts?  Are there lessons for CSWA and others?

The first reason for the lack of conversation about these campaigns may be lack of awareness.  The White House It's On Us campaign to stop sexual assault hasn't been mentioned in this blog.  The UN Women HeForShe campaign did get a brief mention in the September 26 AASWomen Newsletter along with a link to the launch address by actress Emma Watson, shown above.  But I suspect that, like me, most readers and most professionals, unless they are in an organization whose leadership has been informed and decided to participate, would have little reason to pay attention. 

The second reason may be a lack of relevance.  This seems unlikely, given the focus of these campaigns on ending sexual violence, sexual harassment, pay inequity, and discrimination in many forms.  Some may feel the campaigns are only relevant for college campuses, and indeed It's On us is directed to colleges, however partner organizations include AAUW and many companies in addition to many universities.  HeForShe deals directly with the issues of relevance to CSWA.  Both campaigns have excellent educational materials, brief and to the point.

The third reason may be discomfort with the marketing.  "It's On Us to end sexual assault" may seem off-putting to some.  HeForShe may seem divisive or patronizing to some.  I'm very interested in reader views of these issues, as many of us are trying to reach those who are not already listening, or who may feel unwelcome to participate in efforts to promote social justice and equality in matters of gender, race, and privilege.

One more reason there may be so little discussion of these campaigns is a possible lack of effectiveness.  What does effectiveness mean and how is it measured?  Both campaigns aim to increase awareness of problems, so measuring engagement aligns with their goals.  For example, the UN Women campaign measures are based on enrollment numbers (those who take the pledge) and numbers of events held or new stories produced by sponsoring organizations.  However, awareness of a problem is not the same as owning up to and solving the problem.  So the campaigns may be effective by the wrong measures.

Many of us want to increase awareness of social justice and equity problems, to do relevant work to solve the problems, to engage others with effective communication, and to know that our efforts are making a difference.  Successful change movements often start from the grass roots level, not top-down like the two campaigns discussed here.  Yet I believe it's crucial that leadership in all areas - governments, companies, universities - be committed to, and learn to be effective at, promoting equality and justice throughout their organizations.  Do large-scale campaigns help?  What about medium-scale efforts like this blog and the efforts by CSWA and similar organizations?

Reader feedback would be greatly appreciated.