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Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

Former Executive Director of UN Women
South Africa

Former Under-Secretary-General

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is the former United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, who completed her term in August 2021after being sworn into office on 19 August 2013. 

    Dr. Mlambo-Ngcuka was born in 1955 in Clermont,KwaZulu-Natal. After matriculating from Ohlange High School, she was awarded her bachelor’s degree in the Arts and Education at the National University of Lesotho (awarded in 1980). She further obtained a qualification in Gender Policy and Planning from the University College London (in 1988), a master's degree in Philosophy from the University of Cape Town (awarded in 2003), and a doctorate in Technology and Educationfrom Warwick University (awarded in 2013).

    She has authored several scholarly and other opinion pieces, including in the Harvard International Review. She was awarded Honorary Doctorates from the following institutions: Witwatersrand Technikon (2003)one of the precursor institutions ofthe University of Johannesburg (UJ), the University of the Western Cape (2007), NelsonMandela University (2014), the University of Fort Hare (2016), Wits University (2019)and Rhodes University (2020). 

    She was inducted as a Hauser Leader at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for public Leadership and awarded the Vanguard award by Howard University for Leadership and Activisminpromotinghumanrights, equality and justice for women and girls across the globe.

    Throughout her illustrious career, she directed her energy towards issues of human rights,equality and social justice, with a specific emphasis on gender and youth development. She was a lecturer at the Mpumalanga Teachers Training College (1980-1981) and thereafter became a teacher at the Ohlange High School (1981-1983). She then moved to geneva to take up the position as the coordinator at the World YWCA, where she established a global programme for young women (1984 -1989). In 1989, she returned to Cape Town where she spearheaded TEAM, an ecumenical organisation that focused on upskilling women. She continued along this path of community service when she opened the World University Service in South Africa, where she promoted literacy and rural development. She also led her own consulting agency called Phumelela Services, where she focused on race and gender issues.

    Dr. Mlambo-Ngcuka worked tirelessly on programmes and policies to reduce inequality throughout her political career. Her political journey began as a member of the first democratically elected South African Parliament (1994 -1996), then as Deputy Minister in the Department of Trade and industry (1996 -1999), as Minister of Minerals and Energy (1999 -2005), and finally as deputy President of South Africa (2005 -2008). An example of her commitments during her political career are the Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative for South Africa (ASGISA), which afforded young unemployed graduates international working experience. Having dedicated her life to bringing an end to Apartheid, she became the first woman to hold the position of Deputy President, the highest-ranking female political leader in the history of South Africa.

    As the head of the United Nations entity that is dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women, she is a global advocate for women and girls. She leads the organisation’s innovative work on transforming social inequalities and discriminatory norms, with initiatives such as therefore movement (driving men and boys’ engagement in gender equality), then stereotype Alliance initiative(influencing advertising norms for positive change and equal representation) and helped countries to change hundreds of laws that discriminate against women and girls.

    She has also successfully mobilised a historic 40 billion USD in financial commitments from member States, the private sector, philanthropies, and civil society as well as young people, which have formed Generational Equality to drive transformative change for women and girls around the world.

    Dr. Mlambo-Ngcuka continues to be engaged and affiliated with organisations committed to education, women empowerment, and gender equality. Such affiliations include the UmlamboFoundation (Founder), the Global Partnership and Fund to End Violence Against Children (BoardMember), African Leadership Academy (Member of the Advisory Board), and the Mandela Rhodes Foundation (Board of Trustees).

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