Bollywood Star Farhan Akhtar On Being UN Women’s First Male Ambassador

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In November 2014 Bollywood actor Farhan Akhtar was announced as the first ever male ambassador for UN Women, specifically for the South Asian region. It was a partnership that completely made sense and fit in well with the He For She movement also launched under UN Women.

If you don’t know who Farhan is or are only familiar with his work onscreen, then you should know he is a badass champion for women’s rights in India. He is the founder of an organization called MARD – Men Against Rape & Discrimination which has worked on campaigns with Google India to mobilize women in rural areas to have access to technology in order to further their economic advancement.

He also made a music video called ‘Chulein Aasman’ which means reach for the sky, in a bid to encourage women everywhere in his homeland that they should not be held back by discrimination or fear, and that there ARE men who are championing their cause.

He is the first and hopefully not the last male who is choosing to speak on behalf of other men to urge them to act for the cause of gender equality. At the 59th Commission on the Status of Women conference in Manhattan recently he spoke during a panel on ending violence against women.

He spoke about the need for cultural change in the minds of especially patriarchal societies such as India.

“There is no wrong in the minds [of those] who have not been taught what is right,” he said.

“More often than not, the concept of manhood is a lot more aggressive. Aggressive values of being able to achieve, to go get things, to not take no as an answer,” he said. “[MARD] helps them find the balance [and says] that it’s OK to be sensitive, it’s OK to cry, it’s OK to take no for an answer.”

He also mentioned that all these powerful messages about gender equality are making a difference because the younger generation find it a concept that is worth fighting for. The under-25 population in India are more likely to want to adopt liberal views from other parts of the world and are contributed to the volume of discussion about gender equality like never before.

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Just the act of speaking up is a major step forward, coming from a country whose culture in the past was about keeping certain crimes hidden from the public as it was considered “shameful”.

“There was a time where you didn’t hear about what was going on in people’s homes. Women were afraid to talk about if they were the victims of rape. More often than not stigma of rape attached to the victim than to the perpetrator. I think those things have changed. A lot of women have a lot more courage to speak about what’s happening with them.”

The MARD effect is far-reaching, thanks in large part to his public platform as a Bollywood star. Once again, an actor using his celebrity as currency for good is evidence that it can change the world. Many other stars in India are seeing what he is doing, as well as his fans, and are being challenged by his message, something that isn’t necessarily heard from Indian men everyday.

“What we hope to do with the initiative is to make people think more positively about these things,” he said.

In light of the horrific rape and sexual violence stories that have been starting to get international attention after the gang rape of a Delhi girl on a bus in 2012, there has been a lot of anger at how not just the Indian society, but also the government and authorities have failed to act. And now in light of the BBC Documentary which featured an interview with one of those gang rapists who claimed it was the girl’s fault for getting raped and he feels no remorse, a tipping point has been reached where inaction is no longer excusable.

“There are men in India and in the rest of the world who, whether you want to call it traditional, whether you want to call it twisted, whether you want to call it outdated, have ideas of masculinity that need to be changed. By exposing this mindset we can start talking about it,” he said.

The voice of a male in the midst of a culture that needs change, and amongst a generation that is willing to make it, is extremely powerful. He For She is not just a catchy title that hopes men will understand what women are fighting for, it is a solidarity movement that says men appreciate the value of our collective voices speaking and our collective actions working together to change the status quo.

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