When Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka was a young girl in South Africa, she saw firsthand what fearless women could do. “The women in my community were leading in the times of apartheid, in very risky situations,” she recalls. “They were the ones that went out when the police were repressing people, and the men were running to hide.”
The South African politician, activist, and executive director of UN Women, Mlambo-Ngcuka has devoted her career to issues of human rights, equality, and social justice, both in the public and private sectors. She has declared 2020 “a year for women” with her “Generation Equality” initiative. The intent is to focus on the benefits of gender equality, not only for women and girls, “but for everyone whose lives will be changed by a fairer world,” she says.
If governments, humanitarian organizations, and global activists could wave a magic wand and drastically change the fates of millions of women all over the world, they would have to wish for one thing: an education for each of them. It’s the biggest game-changer for women in the developing world, beyond access to basics such as safe housing, clean water, and healthcare.
“When you create opportunity for women, you actually unleash a force for good,” Mlambo-Ngcuka says. “Working with women introduces additional power that makes the world a better place.”