HeForShe in Toledo

. March 25, 2020.
Nina Corder, Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz and Women of Toledo President Michelle Ansara at a Women of Toledo event.
Nina Corder, Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz and Women of Toledo President Michelle Ansara at a Women of Toledo event.

UN campaign for equality works to find allies in Toledo

Gender inequality is more than just a “women’s issue,” rather it is a human rights issue, which affects and concerns everyone, regardless of gender.

That sentiment is the central idea behind HeForShe, an international UN campaign for solidarity that began in 2014. Women of Toledo (WOT), an area advocacy group which also launched that year, is also focused on encouraging women’s economic empowerment. Nina Corder, managing director and one of the founders of WOT, was selected as a UN Champion for Change in 2016. She began to bring UN Women empowerment programs to Toledo— including HeForShe.

“I was working with United Nations Women, with a focal point in New York City, to really create and do advocacy here locally for women’s economic empowerment. That is one of Women of Toledo’s flagship programs, that we still do today,” Corder said.

Needing everyone involved

What is HeForShe? Simply put, it’s about getting men and boys involved in the fight for equality. Initiated by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, the movement aims to educate men on the struggle to empower women in the workplace, in government and in all aspects of life. The program was launched with a speech by UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson in September of 2014.

“I am reaching out to you because I need your help,” Watson said in her speech. “We want to end gender inequality— and to do that we need everyone to be involved.”

“Men [are] half the population of the world, so we have to learn how to work together,” Corder said.

The goal of Women of Toledo is to get prominent men in the Toledo area to lend their name to the HeForShe campaign, not only creating a visible force for gender equality, but inspiring men to listen and understand the plight of women in society.

Corder introduced the area HeForShe campaign during a Women’s Economic Empowerment (WEE) Power Luncheon held in 2018. The first person that she signed-up was Toledo City Councilperson Nick Komives.

“It’s rallying men, trying to create an awareness that, ‘Hey, come and join this, come and join our ally-ship,’” Corder said. “And then, let’s figure out how to do better at this in Toledo.”

Stop and listen

The program got off to a slow start, Corder admits. Only two men signed up in 2018, and only about a dozen men attended the WEE Power Luncheons. It can be hard to galvanize people to attach their name to a cause, even if it’s one most claim to believe in.

“What the advocacy means is, we want men to be able to come to women’s stuff,” Corder said with a laugh. “What it means is that you come and join the conversation. You don’t get to talk, you need to listen to another woman, to hear our story, our challenges, on trying to break the glass.”

A prominent Toledo voice, Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz, has joined the movement, explaining that the mission of HeForShe is one that truly resonates with him. The majority senior staff positions at the Mayor’s office are held by women. “I just wanted to hire the best people. As it turned out, the best people were almost exclusively women. And it’s been a wonderful dynamic up here in the mayor’s office. We have literally 90% of the most senior and the most powerful positions in city government are headed by women,” Kapszukiewicz said.

Gaining traction

Corder said that Toledo’s HeForShe has gained traction in the past year, ending 2019 with roughly 50 Toledo men having joined up. She wants to see those numbers expand even further, of course, but most of all she’d like for more men to attend WEE Luncheons and learn stories they may not have stopped and listened to before. “We want men to come and listen to what women have to say. Listen to understand, not to reply,” Corder said.