Elizabeth Nyamayaro

My Story: Elizabeth Nyamayaro

The brains behind the UN's ​#HeForShe campaign on growing up in poverty, why men are essential for feminism and whatsapping with Emma Watson

Sometimes when I'm standing in the UN General Assembly Hall, I feel like I have to pinch myself.

It's been a long road to get to where I am now, but I knew I wanted to work for the United Nations from my first encounter with them in the Eighties.

There was a drought in the village in Zimbabwe where I grew up and my family suddenly went from being humble to being very poor. 

Unicef came to feed the kids. 

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I didn't know what that meant, but a girl in a blue uniform would come and I could eat. 

The poverty that ensued split up my family. 

My grandmother raised me while my parents, along with my brother and two sisters, went to the capital Harare to look for work. 

When I was 10 years old, an aunt who worked as a doctor in Harare had enough money for one of us to go and live with her. 

It was me – I just got lucky –and she sent me to a private school where I was in a class with British kids.

It was one of the most defining moments of my life. Up until then I had been so unaware of inequality. 

At school I was way behind everyone else; I couldn't read or write English. 

But during the holidays I would go back to my village and I no longer fitted in there. 

I felt guilty because I realised how privileged I was. 

I wanted to do something about it. 

My need for things to be fair – race, class and gender – was triggered then and is the point of everything I do now in my role as Senior Advisor for UN Women.

One of my biggest role models is my boss, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, who was a freedom fighter in South Africa. 

You can't talk about equal pay without engaging male CEOs 

When she was hired to be the head of UN Women, she took her background in the anti-apartheid movement and decided that we needed a solidarity movement for gender equality. 

You can't talk about equal pay without engaging male CEOs. 

You can't talk about violence against women without men. That's where HeForShe came in.

When I first met our Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson over lunch in London in 2014, it was an immediate meeting of minds. 

Her first question was, "What are my deliverables?" 

I laughed a little, but was impressed by her dedication and I'm proud to call her my co-creator and partner. 

She's more than a celebrity face.

In fact, we never engage with her as a celebrity but as a thought leader. 

What most people don't know is that she has been working full-time on the project since day one. 

We message on WhatsApp twice a day, and there are weekly meetings.

She even reads and rewrites all the copy on the website. 

Emma Watson's first question was, "What are my deliverables?" I laughed a little, but was impressed by her dedication

HeForShe isn't just about men raising their hands, it's about making change through concrete and measurable ways. 

Our latest campaign is called IMPACT 10x10x10, where 10 heads of state, 10 CEOs and 10 university presidents have all committed to showing parity at the management level in the next five years.

So that means equal representation of women on the board, new hires, and in senior roles. 

Those are major steps forward.

I left Zimbabwe when I was 21 and went to a small college in Notting Hill Gate, London, after which I moved to Geneva to work for the UN in 2003. 

I've lived in New York for three years now; I'm currently based downtown and

I love the energy of the area. I travel all the time, and have a crazy schedule, but I try to achieve some balance.

One lesson I've learned is that being kind is important. 

When you're kind, people are kind to you, and you can't do everything on your own. If you undertake something bigger than yourself, you need the emotional intelligence to understand that you don't know everything; that you need other people.

I want to go back home eventually. Africa has given me so much and made me who I am. I want to be part of the solution. 

I owe it to my continent but, more importantly, I owe it to myself.

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