Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, discusses why gender equality is so critical to the new Sustainable Development Goals.


Title: Head of UN Women on Gender Equality and the Sustainable Development Goals

Description: Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, discusses why gender equality is so critical to the new Sustainable Development Goals.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka
Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director
United Nations Women

Q: The new Sustainable Development Goals include achieving a gender neutral world by 2030. What are the three policy priorities that need to be mainstreamed globally if this vision has a chance of becoming reality?
A: One is the representation of women, the exclusion of women in decision making bodies in politics and economy decision making model in particular just in transition perpetuates lost that work against women. And we can have quota system, we can force governments to even pass legislation for instance for representation of women in private sector that way we got some people inside those institution who can best represent the interest of women.

Secondly, violence against women because it is a pandemic. It is a public health crisis and it affects so many women. At least around a billion women live with violence of one sort and the other sorts, that’s a key priority for us.

Broadening the base activists in the gender equality beyond the usual civil society  and women’s organization because the issues are so complex. It is actually not fair to leave these issues with women alone. We need leaders to have the issues of girls and women on top of their agenda. We need men and boys to take responsibility and to become active. So, like in the context of a country like South Africa with apartheid, it took a broad front of people from all walks of life and not just those people who were affected to turn things around. So, building that broad front for gender equality is one of my priorities.

Q: What structural and cultural issues are you concerned about that continue to have significant detrimental impacts on women and girls?
A: We need leaders because even though the easy view that we cannot force cultural change, culture belongs to the people. Culture is dynamic. Once a country is a member of the United Nations, it is upholding the human rights charter and owes its allegiance. You cannot have death on one hand and then still do not have the drive to address cultural practices that are harmful and sabotage the charters that we are handing on the other. So, leadership there is important because as a leader you don’t always make the popular things and as a leader you have to be ahead of your people and there to challenge people to make the change. So leadership is actually quite important.

Secondly, to the extent that a lot of the practices that impact on girls in one way or the other have to do with men and stereotypes and so on. We have to engage men and boys of all ages and try to get them to transform. It's not an overnight thing but it’s a critical thing. We also have to engage women because some of the stereotypes that impact negatively on women are also associated with women who accepts the status quo. There’s a lot of public education, public engagement that is necessary to bring about some of these transformation. But when you have the laws that draw the line between what is acceptable and not acceptable, you need the legislation to help and support the progress and transformation by just law taking its cause and having zero tolerance for people who do not obey the laws, once the laws have been passed.

Q: How should global climate policy take into account the fact that climate change affect women more adversely than men?
A: At the very least, it is about economic empowerment because people who are able to survive the negative impact of climate change, it is because they are resilient and they get their resilience from a certain degree by being economically empowered, being educated, and therefore being able to take themselves away from harm’s way when it happens. Being able to recover quickly and get on with their lives, when there has been a disaster. When there has been a disaster, usually what follows is relief doesn’t always become gender differentiated. What we are also calling for is for governments to make sure that when there has been a disaster they will actually make sure that the restoration of homes of single mothers does not fall between the cracks because sometimes they will deal in traditional setting for instance, they might just deal with homes that have got men. Also, just to recognize the fact that whenever there’s a crisis women are the first and the last line of defense. They will draw themselves into a situation to save their child. It doesn’t matter if they die. They will save people in the community, they will save old people. And that has to be seen by relief agencies as a form of a resource that we have to invest in. We have to train women in first aid so that they can save themselves but also that could be useful to the community. There are a number of things that you could do but economic empowerment is probably the most significant one.