Head of U.N. Women says irking opponents comes with the battle for equality

Sun May 15, 2016 9:06am EDT
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By Belinda Goldsmith

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - As the head of U.N. Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is used to people rolling their eyes when she starts to talk about women's empowerment and the need for equality for girls globally.

But Mlambo-Ngcuka, a veteran South African politician, holds no fear about irritating people in her mission to stop violence against women, secure education for all girls worldwide, and address the gender pay gap in all nations.

She is hoping a key platform to help drive change will be a conference this week, Women Deliver, the first major women's meeting since the 193 U.N. member states last year agreed a new set of 17 global goals to fight inequality and extreme poverty.

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 U.N.'s goal of achieving gender equality by 2030.

"You can't win a struggle without irritating those who you are trying to convert," Mlambo-Ngcuka, the executive director of UN Women, 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 were also key to change, she said, citing the example of needing clerics from all religions to be part of any campaign to end violence against women in Pakistan.   Continued...

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Undersecretary-General and Executive Director, United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN WOMEN), addresses the session 'Ending Poverty through Parity' in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos January 24, 2015. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich