By Laura Onita
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - British actress Emma Watson's plea for men to join the fight for equal rights for women has sparked a flood of pledges across the world, including from fellow celebrities and politicians.
Watson, 24, who rose to fame as Hermione in the Harry Potter movies, gave her first major speech as a United Nations Women's Goodwill Ambassador in New York on Saturday, launching the "HeForShe" campaign to unite men and women for gender equality.
The initiative urges men to join the fight against violence and discrimination of women and by 1600 GMT (12:00 p.m EDT) on Tuesday, more than 70,000 men and boys had signed online pledges, according to the HeForShe online active map on the campaign's website.
The target is to mobilize one billion men and boys over 12 months with an online map showing exactly where men sign up.
"I hope we can all finally change laws and mentalities in order to establish what is nothing more than common sense," Watson posted on her Twitter account on Tuesday.
As the campaign gained momentum, men from all walks of life pledged to "take action against all forms of violence and discrimination faced by women and girls".
British actor Simon Pegg, known recently for playing Scotty in the Star Trek movies, tweeted: "Husband to a wife, father to a daughter, son to a mother. You bet I'm on board."
Organizers credited Watson's powerful speech for having such an impact and driving up numbers signing to the campaign.
"We are all very humbled by the numbers. I have to point out that Emma has been a very instrumental part ... her speech was so powerful," Elizabeth Nyamayaro, senior advisor to U.N. Women's executive director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Watson, who was appointed to the U.N. role in July, received a standing ovation as she called on men and women to reclaim feminism for the benefit of all.
She disclosed how she became a feminist after being told she was too "bossy" for wanting to direct a play aged eight.
"But my recent research has shown me that feminism has become an unpopular word," said Watson, who studied at Britain's Oxford University and Brown University in the United States.
"I was appointed six months ago and the more I have spoken about feminism the more I have realized that fighting for women's rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating. If there is one thing I know for certain, it is that this has to stop."
So far Watson has dedicated her humanitarian efforts as a Goodwill Ambassador to promote the empowerment of young women.
She has visited Bangladesh and Zambia to promote girls' education, and has recently returned from Uruguay.
Mlambo-Ngcuka said the engagement of young people was critical to advance gender equality in the 21st century.
"I am convinced that Emma's intellect and passion will enable UN Women's messages to reach the hearts and minds of young people globally," she said in a statement.
(Editing by Belinda Goldsmith)