#Planet5050: 5 QUESTIONS FOR Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka


Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director, UN Women

In honor of Women’s Month and International Women’s Day on March 8th, throughout the month of March we’ll be publishing a series of Q&A’s with interesting and influential women working within the Zero Hunger Challenge community.

Ms. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka served as Deputy President of South Africa from 2005 to 2008. As United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women since August 2013, she is actively engaged in fighting for gender equality and women’s empowerment across all sectors, with a strong focus on broadening partnerships with Member States, civil society and the private sector.

  1. As a woman who is leading on work for women’s empowerment and sustainable development, what does “gender equality” mean to you?

At UN Women, our vision for gender equality is a ‘Planet 50-50 by 2030’. Women and girls are half of the population and they need equal access to all the same opportunities as men and boys. Girls must not miss school, work, leadership or leisure activities because they are married as children, or expected to work at home caring for family members and the household, and they must be able to live free from gender-based violence and harmful practices like female genital mutilation.

Gender equality also means that women have the same rights as men when it comes to land, inheritance, opening a bank account and applying for credit. It means they get equal pay for work of equal value. It means that girls and young women can freely and safely access health and reproductive care services. It also means challenging the deeply ingrained discriminatory attitudes and social norms still holding back real transformation. These changes must take place in every country, city and household, and they must be irreversible. This vision is set out in the new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). To meet these goals, we need everyone to be involved; women and men, young and old, rich and poor. We need to address pressing issues like climate change, and to make our societies, economies and environments more resilient.

  1. Why is women’s empowerment and gender equality necessary for the world to achieve zero hunger (how can activities in this area also be a pathway to food security, improved nutrition and sustainable food systems)?

First, we cannot achieve “zero hunger” if women and girls do not have access to the economic means to generate adequate food and nutrition. Women produce a significant proportion of food in the developing world, mainly through smallholder farming, but even where women have food they remain the least fed and nourished due to discriminatory cultural and social norms that give preference to men and boys. Zero hunger means food for those who most often do not get it. We must feed women and enable women to feed themselves.

Because women farmers have less access to productive resources, and less education and training, we know that their productivity tends to be lower than their male counterparts. This has economic implications but also affects food security. We can boost the productivity of women farmers through equal access to agricultural inputs, (like better seeds) and to markets. We know that women are disproportionally affected by our rapidly changing climate, so access to climate-resilient farming technologies and climate information are also key to eliminating hunger.

  1. How does UN Women’s work specifically contribute to zero hunger?

As part of our vision for a Planet 50-50 by 2030, UN Women is pushing for women’s and girls’ equal access to food and nutrition at the global, regional and country levels. We work with the whole diverse range of women involved in agriculture, land and natural resource management – including rural women, indigenous women, smallholder farmers, and market traders – to produce adequate, quality food for themselves and their families, while at the same time preventing food loss and waste. And we help them get higher returns on their harvests through the sustainable use of land and natural resources. We also work on overturning discriminatory food production practices and securing women’s access to land.

Together with IFAD, WFP and FAO, UN Women is implementing a global joint programme called “Accelerating Progress towards the Economic Empowerment of Rural Women.” We hope to demonstrate that rural women – a quarter of the global population – can be empowered to participate in the economy through better access to food and nutrition. In all our initiatives, UN Women works with partners on the collection and dissemination of sex-disaggregated data on land. This can improve gender-responsive approaches to land governance.

  1. What would you say is the most important action that those working to achieve zero hunger can take to support gender equality?

Those working toward ending hunger must first support women’s economic empowerment. We know that none of the SDGs can be achieved without the full and effective participation of women. For example, Goal 5 on gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls is essential for the achievement of Goal 2 on ending hunger. The crucial success of the SDGs lies in realizing these links and building partnerships for action that carry out that understanding. We must pursue environmental, social, and economic sustainability at the same time – with the full integration of gender equality across all goals.

  1. What one thought or piece of advice would you share with young women and girls seeking to work in this field or get involved to make a difference for zero hunger?

Get involved! There are some 1.8 billion young people in the world today – they are a powerful part of the solution to eliminate hunger for future generations. When young women and girls are able to fully realize their rights, they can make great contributions.

First, girls must stay at school and finish their education. We must ensure that girls avoid early marriage and that we are looking out for the best interests of their health and well-being. We also need to see more women and girls active in the STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – so that they have the knowledge and tools to undertake innovative work in agriculture and create gender-responsive actions for a “zero hunger” world.

Young women and girls, together with men and boys, must work with governments and civil society organizations, get active in their communities, and help overcome hunger for all. When we achieve our gender equality goals, we improve food security, we reduce poverty, and we support women’s economic empowerment. This benefits all of us and gets us closer to “zero hunger”.