emma Watson
Emma Watson and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the HeForShe campaign launch Getty

It seems more than a little counter-intuitive that for a major global conference dedicated to addressing gender equality, misogyny and sexual violence against women, the majority of invitations have gone out to men.

This week, New York will host the United Nations Barbershop Conference. In collaboration with the UN's HeForShe campaign launched by Emma Watson last September, the debate will focus on galvanising male support for the women's movement.

But while a few invites have been extended to women, the majority are barred from the men-only sessions – a seemingly terrible idea in the fight for equality. It smacks of women being escorted out of the room to "leave it to the men" to sort out the world's problems.

Men join the fight

"It is important that the push for gender equality is supported and encouraged by men and boys," Jan Grasty OBE, president of UN Women UK, told IBTimes UK. "The HeForShe campaign has caught the imagination and continues to have an impact mobilising global support and engagement by men and it is only with this support that true gender equality will be achieved."

It is important that the push for gender equality is supported and encouraged by men and boys
- Jan Grasty, UN Women UK president

It is true that male involvement in women's issues is absolutely crucial, but what are the pros of leaving women out of the debate? Perhaps it will be a step forward to encourage men to join the fight.

Twenty years after the 1995 Beijing declaration, when Hillary Clinton made her now-famous "women's rights and human rights" speech, the perception of the women's movement is still as a struggle led by women, for women – a misunderstanding that continues to hinder progress to this day.

The conference also seeks to take a stand against the oppressive boundaries of gender stereotypes. While in many ways men benefit from a world that values them over women, men are still adversely affected by the connotations of "masculine" and "feminine". If talking about emotions was not deemed female domain, perhaps the high rate of male suicide would be reduced.

Yet removing either gender from attending a conference on gender equality seems misguided at best. The whole point in equality is to have equal involvement from all sides; equal voices and equal representation. Is a conference on gender with a predominantly male voice the best way to understand and address the problem of women facing discrimination, violence and subjugation?

Women's voices unheard

The reason why there is a lack of women in positions of leadership globally is because their voices are considered secondary. A male-dominated conference which seeks to address the problem of female representation in business or politics seems devoid of sense, and simply reinforces the long-established view that men, not women, are leaders. Such prejudices now have a bigger platform from which to continue.

If you want to change something, you have to have the guys in the room
- Iceland Foreign Minister Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson

While the meeting will also have a special focus on violence against women, it seems difficult to have any progressive discussion on sexual or domestic violence without female perspective. One in 10 girls around the world, approximately 120 million, are raped every year.

To reduce these staggering numbers, we need to hear the voices of the women affected, not just the voices of men in positions of leadership.

"We have a lot of meeting and seminars on gender equality where the house is full of women, but just a few men," Icelandic Foreign Minister Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson said on the conference. "If you want to change something, you have to have the guys in the room."

Male involvement is essential, but it is difficult to escape the fact that the men have always been in the room. Women have not.