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Making a pledge for equality

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SheCanHeCan is a Monaco-based non-profit organisation that was established in 2011. The organisation works to promote women and girls’ leadership and to encourage men, women, boys and girls to challenge stereotypes and realise their full potential regardless of their gender. The organisation conducts workshops in schools and with companies, hosts parent/child book clubs and marks the International Day of the Girl every year on October 11 in Monaco. Later this year, on September 18, 2019, SheCanHeCan will launch its latest interactive project: The Equality Pledge. Via this project, the organisation will work to engage with the local community and to encourage individuals, families, as well as companies and organisations to take action in their daily lives to make gender equality a reality in Monaco.

Introduction
The Equality Pledge is composed of 10 pledges, to which individuals can choose one or several to commit to, in order to implement change in their daily lives. The Equality Pledge will give individuals the necessary tools and knowledge to become agents for change. The underlying message is that individuals can create change through simple yet concrete measurable targets. The Equality Pledge also has the potential of being used as a tool to prevent and combat domestic violence, sexual harassment and other forms of socio-cultural discrimination. The Guardian invited Vibeke Brask Thomsen (Director, SheCanHeCan) for an interview to learn more.

Vibeke, what motivated you to create SheCanHeCan, and what are your tasks? 
In 2011, I created the non-profit GenderHopes, which worked mainly to address gender-based violence in Monaco. We were successful in raising awareness and building partnerships with relevant stakeholders. We also created the first brochure and informative website in the country. The government has now taken over the primary aspect of the movement – assisting victims of gender-based violence – and is doing a fantastic job. At the same time, I often felt frustrated and disappointed because the fact of the matter is, gender-based violence is often the result of countless other forms of discrimination which start much earlier on. Therefore, I wanted to go deeper and address the root causes, and in order to better reflect our new mission and objectives, I relaunched the organisation under the new name SheCanHeCan in 2017. 

Do you feel you are making an impact?
Most certainly, we are. Even though we work mainly on a local level in Monaco, it is the environment and community we know best and where we can have more impact. To some, our actions might seem limited in reach – but by establishing concrete, measurable targets and objectives, we are able to carry out better work and impact our community. 

 Please can you share your reasons for creating The Equality Pledge? 
Through our work, we often get asked for example “How can I contribute towards achieving equality?” or “is my attitude sometimes sexist or discriminatory?” From these questions, we have realised that many people want to change, but often lack the knowledge and tools to improve issues affecting society today. With The Equality Pledge, we aim to engage the general public, individuals, families, educators as well as companies to further equality in their communities. By choosing only one pledge, we believe that collectively people can make a difference by making small changes in their day-to-day actions.
 
Can you provide an example of a pledge?
There is one pledge in particular which I love which is: “I pledge to discourage sexist, discriminatory, homophobic or harmful comments when they are made in my presence.” In the planning stages, we discussed the wording of each pledge in detail and for this one, chose to use the word “discourage”. It was important for us because we recognise that in certain contexts, people cannot always stand up or speak up against certain comments. While we encourage acts of change, we hope that participants remember that discriminatory jokes are a form of violence and that when met with opposition, can also be responded to with physical violence. If the person feels safe, we hope they will comment, but even no reaction such as not laughing or not supporting the speaker, can work to discourage such comments being made again in the future. 
 
Another pledge focuses on working with men and boys. At SheCanHeCan, we believe in the importance of engaging men and boys in the conversation and in the workplace to promote gender equality. We do not see gender equality as a “battle” against men, but rather as something we should work towards together as it is something that all members of society benefit from – the challenge is getting more men to understand this! 

What does The Equality Pledge aim to achieve? 
It aims to make equality a reality by showing some of the ways in which we can all contribute to resolving global issues. We often hear that gender equality is progressing, however, there is still a lot of work to be done. Globally, the World Economic Forum estimates that it will take approximately 108 years for the gender pay gap to close and it is expected to take over 200 years for all economic gender disparities to disappear. Globally, domestic and intimate partner violence by men is still a real threat to many women. The UN has reported that 35% of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence (by a partner or non-partner).  For girls, these sad realities start early. UN research shows that 90% of the 600 million adolescent girls who enter the workforce each year, mainly in developing countries, face the threat of low pay, abuse and exploitation. Even in developed countries such as the UK, studies show that 1 in 5 girls are bullied about their period and that 66% of girls reported missing school because of their periods. 
 
These statistics are at times overwhelming, and represent the fact that major resolutions at national, regional or UN level are essential and necessary. Global view statistics are certainly important, but we must also consider that they do not always represent that work by local communities addressing these issues can also impact change. With more encouragement on the responsibility of each individual to work towards equality, we will no doubt see a significant positive change in these statistics. 

Who is participating in The Equality Pledge?  
The first stage of The Equality Pledge is centred around Monaco and its community. SheCanHeCan works at a local level to maximise our impact, hence the current participants reflect our local community. Yet this list also includes M. Stephane Valeri, President of Monaco’s Parliament, Ms. Anne Eastwood, High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Celine Cottalorda, Delegate for the Committee to Protect and Promote Women’s Rights, Ms. Marie-Pierre Gramaglia, Minister for Environment and Urbanism, and internationally renowned sports figures such as M. Nico Rosberg, M. David Coulthard MBE, Paula Radcliffe MBE, Chris Froome OBE, and Lucas de Grassi. Several key Monaco-based organisations/teams have joined, too, including Fight AIDS, Monaco’s male and female football clubs and Pink Ribbon Monaco, each of whom are active members of the community. 
 
That’s quite an impressive line-up of participants and supporters!
Yes it is, and it has been an honour and a privilege but also lots of fun to get to work with so many figures in Monaco. We hope the public will recognise many familiar faces, from all walks of life and that they are able to relate with who they see on screen. In asking political figures, sporting celebrities and heads of organisations to participate alongside members of the public, we feel that this represents the importance and power of community – the physical embodiment of The Equality Pledge itself. The Equality Pledge is a community project by Monaco, for Monaco. 

Can The Equality Pledge be used in other settings and countries? 
It can! The first step is the upcoming Monaco launch, which will take place on September 18. Our focus will then be to grow within Monaco and conduct an impact analysis following the launch. We already work with partners and hope to expand our list of partners to better promote this project within other communities and countries. We hope it will become a joint project which will spread further than Monaco. The benefits of living in a small country is that we have the potential to reach everyone in some way and hence to be an example to other countries facing similar or different societal issues. We hope others will use our model to approach solving things such as the gender pay gap, racial inequality, unequal representation, rape culture, access inequality, male suicide and depression, period poverty… the list goes on. 

What can the general public do to help? 
The underlying motivation or principle of The Equality Pledge is this: we can all play and we all have a responsibility in making the world a better place. We invite readers to visit our website and learn more about The Equality Pledge. If it speaks to them, we encourage readers to take a pledge, share the teaser and speak about their commitment to promote equality within their circles.

 What challenges do you envisage that you may encounter with this new initiative?
We know and expect some people will feel confused, challenged and perhaps resistant, but The Equality Pledge is not about knowing it all. Not one successful person is where they are today without hard work, self-reflection and commitment. Change takes time and the willingness to change is not only the first, but at times, the most important step. Our goal is to work with our community to guide them to find ways to work to help others, to be more compassionate and to make our society inclusive for all individuals.

We believe that one of the most positive aspects of the pledge is that there is a pledge for everyone. There are pledges that require more long-term commitments and learning, and some that simply require questioning oneself. The organisation’s pledge design decisions represent the fact that we do not all have the same amount of time and energy to commit to change, and SheCanHeCan wants everyone to feel involved, no matter how much or little contribution they can make. All amounts of time that are committed can effect change. The option to create one’s own pledge was a reiteration of this sentiment, as we want participants to feel involved and motivated about their own ability to affect change.
 
Conclusion
If you would like to learn more, please follow SheCanHeCan on social media: shecanhecanmc | @shecan_hecan | @SheCanHeCan or contact: vibeke@shecanhecan.org   Video teaser for the event: https://youtu.be/YUEl9IOp4pc 
Promotional video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oE-H6JRdojU&feature=youtu.be

 


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