Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka to head UN Women

The spokesperson for Secretary General Ban Ki moon today announced the appointment of Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka of South Africa as the new Executive Director of UN Women.

Ms. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the new Executive Director of UN Women
Ms. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the new Executive Director of UN Women

Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka’s appointment came as  a surprise to the race’s observers as her name had not been raised as a potential or even formal candidate for the post. A spokesperson for UN Women noted that they had received no other information about her candidacy apart from this morning’s announcement by Martin Nesirky, the Secretary General’s spokesperson. The announcement noted that the appointment was made “after consultations with member states…” but did not go into detail. 

Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka served as deputy president of South Africa under Thabo Mbeki between 2005 and 2008, after serving as a member of the South African parliament, as a deputy trade minister, and as energy minister. She was appointed deputy president following Jacob Zuma’s ouster by Mbeki. She was the first woman to hold the post and, at the time, the highest ranking woman in South African history, according to her Wikipedia entry

She is expected to step into the role next month.

A press release from UN Women noted her earlier work on women’s rights as the Young Women’s Coordinator for the World YWCA. She was also the first president of Natal Organisation of Women, an affiliate of the United Democratic Front, which worked to increase women’s empowerment in South Africa. Following her term as deputy president, she founded the Umlambo Foundation to support the mentoring and coaching of teachers working in the poorer areas of South Africa and school improvement in Malawi. 

Nesirky noted Mlambo-Ngcuka’s experience “in advocating for women’s issues, with a combination of strategic leadership, consensus building and hands-on management experience.”

Update: The Association for Women in Development, which was the only major women’s group engaged on the contest this year, issued the following comment (emphasis mine): 

“AWID congratulates Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka on her appointment as the new Executive Director of UN Women and looks forward to her engagement with women’s rights advocates, organizations and movements who played such a crucial role in the creation of UN Women. As AWID we stand ready to work with Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and wish her success in the work ahead.  

However, we are disappointed with the UN, and particularly with the Secretary General, due to the lack of transparency in the selection process for such an important position to advance women’s rights around the world. The lack of publicly available information about the candidates who were seriously being considered by the Secretary General for the position severely hindered the capacity of civil society organizations, particularly feminist and women’s rights organizations, to provide meaningful inputs to this process.”

I could not agree more.

While selecting a qualified and impressive candidate, the Secretary General missed a valuable opportunity to inspire and encourage young women putting themselves forward as vocal leaders. Selection of any of the four nominees which participated in the AWID interviews, in combination with the recent Malala Day at the United Nations, would have sent such a loud and clear show of support to such future leaders.  


Photos courtesy of the World Economic Forum;


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About the Author

Tony Fleming

Tony is a communications and advocacy professional with over 20 years of experience in multilateral reform advocacy and online communications.

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