The primary audience for the United Nations campaign for women’s empowerment and gender equality won’t be women. The main objective is to first engage the other half of the population.
“Silence of the good men is part of the crisis,” said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngucka, executive director of UN Women, in an interview in New York ahead of International Women’s Day on March 8. “I don’t believe that the majority of men would like to see one out of three women being beaten up.”
Most countries’ economic problems can be solved by addressing violence against women, improving reproductive health and widening access to education for girls, Mlambo-Ngucka said. Because men still hold the majority of business, religious, cultural and political leadership positions it’s imperative to mobilize them, she said.
Female garment workers took to the streets for change as early as 1908 in New York demanding better wages and voter rights, and women today are still making the same calls, including for protection from violence, Mlambo-Ngucka said.
One in every three women worldwide is likely to experience sexual violence, she said, expressing what she called “shudder” at the example of Indian girls as young 8 forced into marriages and sexual relationships with men in their 40s.
“We have not mobilized men as much as we could have,” said Mlambo-Ngucka, who was deputy president of South Africa from 2005 to 2008 under then-President Thabo Mbeki. “There is a consensus within UN Women and the UN that we actually need to win that constituency over and call them to action.”
Mlambo-Ngucka, 58, had her first government post as deputy minister of trade and industry in 1996, when Nelson Mandela was president. She took over leadership of UN Women from Michele Bachelet, who left the post after her election to a second term as president of Chile.
There are male leaders who recognize the importance of improving the status of women for the betterment of society, Mlambo-Ngucka said, citing the heads of Rwanda and Senegal and in particular Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Still, she said the world needs to be vigilant about increasing representation of women in cabinet and parliamentary positions.
As part of that effort, UN Women will today start its “HeForShe” Campaign, an online platform featuring male role models and celebrities talking about why they support women’s cause. The three-year-old agency will spend the next two years working with UN member states to shape a post-2015 development agenda that is more inclusive of women’s issues.
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