born 1955

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka actually considered saying no when South African President Nelson Mandela first asked her to join his cabinet in 1996. Even as an elected official of her country's newly democratic government, the former teacher + development worker knew she lacked experience and feared being just a token woman.

Fortunately, she signed on anyway ~ becoming known for gutsy post-apartheid reforms that helped blacks + women. By the time she left government in 2008, she had risen to deputy president, the country's 2nd highest office. Today, Phumzile continues to push for change as executive director at UN Women where her gender solidarity #HeForShe campaign has been a major success. "If you have the power," she says, "use it."

bio bits

her quotes

all quotes by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka (24)

"How many people can add to their CV that they've been booed at rallies? You don't get that if you're irrelevant."

Equality is Key: 16 Days of Activism to Stop Gender Based Violence and HIV/AIDS | december 2005

"My mantra is this: if it works for women, it will work for everybody."

Life and Soul: Portraits of Women Who Move South Africa | 2006

"As a mother, you have to walk a thin line, not to be too heavy with your own opinions."

Newsmaker: Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, a Woman of the World | july 2013

"Education for me is a cross-cutting priority. It is the equaliser, not only for girl-children but for all the women who need second chances."

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: We have to become smarter on women's issues | july 2013

"Empowerment of women is not a 'cute' thing as people sometimes make it out. It is fundamental for the survival of normal society."

The Impact of Women's Politcial Leadership on Democracy and Development | december 2013

"I cannot imagine a government without women."

The Impact of Women's Political Leadership on Democracy and Development | december 2013

"Women's rights are human rights."

Global Leaders Council | 2014

"Empowering women and girls and supporting their full participation can help solve the greatest challenges of the 21st century."

Equality for Women is Progress for All | march 2014

"By advancing equal opportunity and removing structural barriers to women's economic empowerment, we will reduce inequality and spur inclusive economic growth."

Equality for Women is Progress for All | march 2014

"Let us all cross the line and stand on the right side of history . . . Equality for women is progress for all."

Equality for Women is Progress for All | march 2014

"International Women's Day is a day to recommit ourselves to working harder for gender equality, together as women, men, youth and leaders."

Equality for Women is Progress for All | march 2014

"My mother always told me that inaction is not an option. And neither is going it alone."

My Mother Always Told Me Inaction Is Not an Option | march 2014

"Having lived in South Africa under apartheid has helped me to believe in the possibilities of overcoming huge obstacles. I come from the generation that was engaged in the struggle when our goal of freedom looked so far away—even as it came closer."

Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka: It's Time to Orange Your Hood | november 2014

"To achieve gender equality, we need to mobilize not just parliaments but populations, not only civil society but all of society."

Why We Need New Allies for Gender Equality | january 2015

"If I could just get a billion good men to stand up."

Ending Poverty through Parity | january 2015

"Culture is not invincible. Culture can be mediated. You need to create the tone for culture to be challenged."

Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka: UN Bosslady, Seriously Cool "Gogo" with Doctorate in Mobile Tech | january 2015

"Today, on International Women's Day, we want to call upon our countries to 'step it up' for gender equality. We call for commitment to reach Planet 50/50 before 2030."

International Women's Day 2015: A Message by UN Women's Executive Director | march 2015

"We are the first generation with the possibility to end poverty, and the first generation with the possibility for fundamentally changing the power relations between men and women. These are two sides of the same coin—they propel each other."

International Women's Day 2015: A Message by UN Women's Executive Director | march 2015

"I do not underestimate the challenges . . . but we have to be bold, because it has never been so possible to make the changes that we want to make."

Gender equality demands a concerted push | march 2015

"Men must be the ones who are actually taking the lead in changing the status quo that affects them, and that benefits them. We, however, must continue to be the torch-bearers."

Gender equality demands a concerted push | march 2015

"Through engaging in sport and living its values, women and girls can develop leadership skills, overcome bias, improve their health and become empowered."

Looking into the future: The place of sport for women’s empowerment post-2015 | march 2015

"It is time to put a stop to the domination of peace processes by those who fight the wars while disqualifying those who stand for peace."

Huffington Post UK | october 2015

"Women are not victims; women are solution-makers."

International Conference Celebrating the Centenary of Women´s Suffrage in Iceland | october 2015

"To arrive at the future we want, we cannot leave anyone behind."

Message on International Women's Day | march 2016
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curated with care by Kathleen Murray {march 2015}