Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka has been tapped to serve as Executive Director of UN Women. Mlambo-Ngcuka replaces Michelle Bachelet, who served in the role from the inception of UN Women. Bachelet was also President of Chile from 2006-2010. She stepped down from UN Women to focus on her goal of reclaiming that office. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed Mlambo-Ngcuka in July 2013. Mlambo-Ngcuka’s official title is head of the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, also known as UN Women.
Established in July 2010, UN Women has several primary goals. These include monitoring UN progress toward gender equality as well as setting global policies and standards that support gender equality.
Born in 1955, Mlambo-Ngcuka studied Gender Policy and Planning Development at University College of London. She holds a Master's of Philosophy degree in Educational Planning and Policy as well. A political figure for many years, Mlambo-Ngcuka can be considered a trailblazer. She is the first woman to hold the position of Deputy President of South Africa. Mlambo-Ngcuka was appointed to that position, after the removal of Jacob Zuma, by then President Thabo Mbeki in 2005. Mlambo-Ngcuka is also the first woman to serve as President of the Natal Organization of Women (NOW) an affiliate of the United Democratic Front, an anti-apartheid coalition.
In her new role Mlambo-Ngcuka hopes to engender broader concern for and action against the primary challenges women face; violence and poverty. These are not small challenges. According to the Global Poverty Project women comprise 70% of the world’s poor although we make up only 50% of the population. In their report titled Global and Regional estimates of violence against women: prevalence and health effects of intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence, the World Health Organization (WHO) cites a number of sobering statistics. For example, WHO findings indicate that 35% of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence. Moreover, nearly 40% of women murdered were not harmed by strangers but by intimate partners.
Mlambo-Ngcuka and others are right to address these problems as human rights issues that should be of concern to all humans. That so many are hungry, inadequately housed and physically unsafe is unconscionable. Let’s stop lamenting the problem and join Mlambo-Ngcuka in doing everything we can to make a difference.