Mlambo-Ngcuka, a veteran South African politician, is unconcerned about irritating people as she continues her mission to stop violence against women, secure education for all girls worldwide, and address the gender pay gap in all nations.
She hopes this week’s conference, Women Deliver, the first major women’s meeting since the 193 UN member states agreed upon a new set of 17 global goals to fight inequality and extreme poverty, will drive change.
Men, young people, religious leaders and the media are all targets for Mlambo-Ngcuka, who says it is essential to get support to address and end prejudices against women in order to achieve the UN’s goal of gender equality by 2030.
“You can’t win a struggle without irritating those who you are trying to convert,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview from South Africa.
“We need to get across the message that feminism is not about hating men, hating those who don’t buy into our agenda, but it is about extending and advancing women’s rights . . . and ending the deep prejudices against women that still exist.”
She said it was important to get men on board – a key factor in UN Women’s launch of the #HeForShe campaign in 2014 – as gender equality affects all people socially, economically and politically, and is not just a struggle for women by women.
Religious leaders are also key to change, she said, citing the need for clerics from all religions to be part of the campaign to end violence against women in Pakistan.
Mlambo-Ngcuka also acknowledged the need to involve the next generation. She is aware that many younger women are rejecting the traditional women’s movement, seeing it as having already succeeded. She stresses that the fight is not over and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals provide an opportunity for both rich and poor countries to invest in women.
Although women and girls make up more than half the world’s population, data shows that they are often more deeply impacted than men and boys by poverty, climate change, food insecurity, a lack of healthcare, and economic crises.
And this inequality is not only an issue for developing countries.
In the United States, studies show that women earn on average 79 cents for every dollar earned by men, and hold two-thirds of the jobs in the lowest-paying professions, employed as domestic workers, cleaners, and caregivers for children and the elderly.
Mlambo-Ngcuka, who became the second executive director at UN Women three years ago, says her aim is not to sideline anyone from the campaign but to convert and widen the support base.
“Even if a young woman says she is not a feminist and there is no oppression of women, I will still fight for her if she gets raped or attacked by a mob,” she said.
She hopes Women Deliver, to be held in Copenhagen from 16-19 May, will be an opportunity for world leaders, policy makers, the private sector, civil society and celebrities to join forces for change.
It is billed as the biggest women’s conference in a decade, and among the 5 000 expected attendees will be World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, Melinda Gates of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, singer and UNAIDS campaigner Annie Lennox and actress Jessica Biel.
The focus of the fourth Women Deliver conference will be how to implement the UN’s global goals relating to women, with a key focus on health, education and financial strength.
The summit will begin with the launch of a new 12-point global campaign called Deliver for Good to boost investment in girls’ health, education and empowerment.
Mlambo-Ngcuka acknowledges that achieving gender equality by 2030 is an ambitious target. “But if we work together in as many countries as possible, we can by 2030 have substantive equality and changes that are irreversible,” she said.
“If we can do this, the next generation will not look back.”