Watson, Whitaker kick off HeForShe Arts Week

NEW YORK (AP) — Emma Watson said Tuesday she wants people to understand the importance of gender equality not only on a rational level but also on a visceral one, and books, movies and other art forms are important vehicles for accomplishing that.

“It’s also about making them feel it in their bones,” said Watson, who played Hermione Granger in the “Harry Potter” film series.

Watson, the UN Women Global Goodwill Ambassador, and Forest Whitaker, a UNESCO Special Envoy for Peace, joined UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka on International Women’s Day at The Public Theater in Manhattan. They were there to announce a week of arts events aimed at initiating a dialogue about gender equality.

Arts venues around New York City, including ballets, Broadway theaters, museums and galleries, are taking part in the first HeForShe Arts Week to spotlight the work of UN Women, especially the idea that men and boys can become agents of change in reaching gender equality goals.

The 45-nation U.N. Commission on the Status of Women adopted a political declaration calling for accelerated implementation of 12 areas affecting women, ranging from impoverishment to economic and political participation and the difficulties facing girls.

The declaration commits the commission “to strive for the full realization of gender equality and the empowerment of women by 2030.” Watson, 25, said she wants to build momentum to reach that goal.

UN Women chief Mlambo-Ngcuka, who is South African, said the arts can bring about social change and recalled the influence of the 1984 protest song “Free Nelson Mandela” on the movement to release Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned at the time.

“Through art we can challenge norms peacefully,” she said.

Whitaker, who has starred in such films as “Bird,” ”Platoon” and “The Butler,” said there has been some progress among men becoming more open-minded about acceptable gender roles. He recalled his days as a college football player when he was mocked and badgered by teammates for being feminine because he danced in a musical theater production. “I think a lot of that has changed now,” he said.

Chirlane McCray, whose husband is Mayor Bill de Blasio, noted that UN Women is headquartered in New York, where International Women’s Day was first celebrated decades ago. “New York is still a pioneer for women’s rights,” she said.

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