One thing that has been made crystal clear in the last 18 months: Women and girls deserve, and now demand, to be treated as equals. The fast-growing #MeToo and SheDecides movements are testament to an awakening in society that women and girls are treated differently and held back in every aspect of life — in school, by governments, by health systems, and in the workplace.

As the late global icon Nelson Mandela said, this is a major oversight: “As long as the nation refuses to acknowledge the equal role of more than half of itself, it is doomed to failure.”

But last night, the world took a step in the right direction with the launch of the #SheIsEqual campaign, which aims to secure key commitments from global leaders and rallying cries from artists and activists in support of gender equality.

As European governments gathered in Brussels for the European Development Days, Global Citizen co-hosted an event with Procter & Gamble, the Belgian and Luxembourg governments, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to mark the launch of this vital campaign that aligned with the 2018 European Development Days theme, “Women & Girls at the Forefront of Sustainable Development: Protect, Empower, Invest.” The event brought together a wide spectrum of key players needed to drive genuine change.

There were world leaders from the feminist donor governments — Luxembourg's Minister for Development, Cooperation, and Humanitarian Affairs, Romain Schneider; Norwegian State Secretary Jens Frølich Holte; the Deputy Director-General for International Cooperation and Development of the European Commission, Marjeta Jager; and the Deputy Prime Minister for Belgium, Alexander De Croo.

Global business leaders dedicated to driving female empowerment were also present, such as Ranya Shamoon, the VP of Femcare for Europe for Procter & Gamble, who explained, "It’s very simple. If you can’t afford sanitary protection, you stay home … We believe that no girl should miss school because of her period."

Anja Langenbucher, European Director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Photo credit: Geert Van de Velde for Global Citizen

Anja Langenbucher, European Director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said, “At the core of every problem we’re trying to solve, from poverty to disease, is the power of women and girls.” Langenbucher added, unequivocally, last night, “We can’t achieve our goals if half the world’s population continues to be left behind, and their talent and their potential continues to go untapped.”

Also Thoko Pooley, Executive Director of Uniting to Combat NTDs, and Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the Executive Director for UN Women and Under-Secretary-General for the UN, were there to declare #SheIsEqual. Mlambo-Ngcuka made a strong call for unity during a panel, saying, “It is a complex problem, it needs a complex response. The more fragmented we are, the less impactful.”

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the Executive Director for UN Women and Under-Secretary-General for the UN. Photo credit: Geert Van de Velde for Global Citizen

And these leaders were not simply there to issue a rallying cry to government and business heads to step up. They also made commitments of their own.

Shamoon, on behalf of Procter & Gamble, committed to provide 400,000 girls across India, Africa, and China with a long-term supply of pads and educational support from the Always Puberty & Confidence Education program. These pads will provide much-needed access to sanitation and hygiene, which is key to girls’ education, health, and dignity. The educational piece will help to overturn the major dip in confidence that more than half of girls experience during puberty — with their first period marking the lowest point.

Belgium Deputy Prime Minister De Croo also committed on behalf of his government to €3 million (more than $3.5 million USD) in funding towards the SheDecides movement — two-thirds of which will be contributed to the UNFPA/UNICEF Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage, which focuses on protecting girls at risk of child marriage.

The remaining €1 million will go to UNFPA Supplies to support  countries with the greatest needs — particularly those in emergencies — helping them to strengthen their supply chains so that women and adolescent girls can access a choice of contraceptives no matter where they live.

“I am pleased to join forces with Global Citizen to stand up and speak out for gender equality and women empowerment,” said De Croo. “Millions of girls and women don’t have access to contraceptives or family planning services, they lack equal educational opportunities or are discriminated by the law. They need our support. Belgium will never let them down.”

Romain Schneider, Luxembourg Minister for Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Affairs, announced a new partnership with Girls Not Brides, a global coalition of 900 civil society organizations committed to ending child marriage and enabling girls to fulfill their potential. Critically the government also announced that their 2017 2 million euros in financial support to UNFPA to support SheDecides was delivered upon and promised an additional pledge during the 2018 Global Citizen Festival in September in Central Park.

“So what can we do? What must we do? I believe that, first, we need to raise awareness and make people understand that unequal treatment of women and girls must be overcome.” Schneider called to the crowd, endorsing the new campaign, “This is why Luxembourg, together with our friends from Belgium, the Gates Foundation and Procter & Gamble, have chosen to support Global Citizen’s new ‘She Is Equal’ campaign that we are going to launch tonight.”

Romain Schneider, Luxembourg Minister for Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Affairs, Global Citizens’ Director of Global Policy and Government Affairs Madge Thomas and Belgium Deputy Prime Minister Alexander De Croo. Photo credit: Geert Van de Velde for Global Citizen

In true Global Citizen style, beyond the changemakers on the stage there were also inspirational performances to rally the crowd. Spoken word poet and Rwandan refugee Lisette Ma Neza roused the audience with her personal fight to achieve gender equality as a female refugee. Florence “DJ Cuppy” Otedola was announced as a Global Citizen Education Ambassador and pledged her commitment to fight for the 131 million girls around the world that are currently not in school. And local popstar Axelle Red opened the night with an appropriately powerful set. “These girls, these victims, they could be your sister,” the singer told the crowd during her heartfelt performance, “They are our sister.” We could not agree more.

Of course, this was just the beginning. Over the coming year, we are going to need your help to secure 20 new commitments and announcements totaling an incredible $500 million which will impact the lives of 20 million women and girls. The campaign will do this by supporting policies aimed at critical issues from ending preventable maternal, newborn, child, and adolescent deaths to promoting the sexual and reproductive health and rights of girls and women. Critically though we will do this because of you.

 “Progress depends on courageous political leaders, activists, and everyday citizens, “ Global Citizens’ Director of Global Policy and Government Affairs Madge Thomas addressed the crowd last night, “who stand up for the health and equal rights of women and girls.” The total of $500 million may sound like a lot, but with your collective voice we can make it possible. And we should, because #SheIsEqual.


Demand Equity

Global Citizen Launches New Campaign for Gender Equality Because #SheIsEqual

By Katie Dallas  and  Erica Sánchez