The United Nations body focused on gender equality and women’s empowerment has announced that it has appointed its first male Goodwill Ambassador ever - Bollywood star, Farhan Akhtar - who will focus his efforts on South Asia. “We are pleased and honoured to have Farhan as our Goodwill Ambassador for South Asia, for we believe his work and values represent the core values of UN Women,” UN Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, announced  during her visit to Mumbai, according to a UN press release issued at UN Headquarters.  “Farhan started his own campaign, MARD - Men Against Rape and Discrimination – that aims to sensitize men and create awareness about the safety of women. That kind of engagement is essential,” Ms Mlambo-Ngcuka said on Thursday. “We need creative and committed men like Farhan to push the gender equality and women’s empowerment agenda.” Akhtar, renowned for his work as an actor, filmmaker and singer, will devote his efforts to promoting the empowerment of women and girls across South Asia, the press release said. He will also serve as an advocate for UN Women’s newly launched HeForShe campaign.

 and dialogue to end persistent inequalities faced by women and girls around the world.

India and other countries in the South Asia region have witnessed a recent spate of high-profile instances of violence against women, including a series of brutal and fatal gang rapes, it said. Celebrating his new role, Mr. Akhtar said he would call on all men and boys to be “a catalyst for change” and help create “a value system to end gender disparity.”

“I am honoured to serve UN Women as the Goodwill Ambassador for South Asia,”  Akhtar said. “This gives me and our MARD initiative an added impetus to work together towards a more gender equal India and world. I am a supporter of UN Women’s HeForShe campaign and the role men and boys can play in stopping crime against women and girls, and working towards gender equality.” In recent years, UN Women has appointed numerous celebrities to boost visibility and support for its gender parity initiatives. British actress Emma Watson was appointed to the UN Women  role in July and launched the HeforShe campaign in New York in September with a well-received speech at the United Nations.

Other celebrity ambassadors include Academy Award winner Nicole Kidman and HRH Princess Bajrakitiyabha Mahidol of Thailand. Earlier this year, the United Nations programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) named British fashion designer and former Spice Girl Victoria Beckham as its international goodwill ambassador.