UN Women Executive Director stresses importance of women in leadership positions

Statement of UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at the launch of Women Leading Africa Programme in Namibia on 24 October, 2013

Date: Thursday, October 24, 2013

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Good evening honoured guests, 

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

It is my distinct pleasure to join you today for the official launch of the Women Leading Africa Programme.

This is truly an exciting programme, a programme whose time has come. I am proud to be one woman of the Women Leading Africa Programme! 

I would like to thank my good friend, Sharmla Chetty, Regional Managing Director, Duke CE, for inviting me to participate today. I also thank Hilda Basson Namundjebo, Managing Director of Oxygen Communications and our Master of Ceremonies.

Together we can support more women to join the 50 per cent club!

I have been in New York since August as the leader of UN Women. And an important part of my job is being a strong advocate for women’s rights and empowerment. 

One right of every women, of every human being, is the right to participate equally and fully in public life.

Today I will speak about the importance of women’s leadership globally, and especially here in our great continent of Africa. 

My main message today is that we need more women leaders! 

When women lead side by side with men, it is good for equality and democracy. It is good for peace and stability. It is good for business and the bottom line. 

My friends, the bottom line is this: Women and men leading together is good for decision-making. 

I know this from experience. 

When women and men make decisions together, the decisions better reflect and respond to the diverse needs and rights of the entire population.

As you have heard from the distinguished speakers before me, women are leaders in South Africa, in Zambia and in Namibia. Of course, we all know that women’s leadership is not confined to any one geographic region or sphere.The truth is that women are leaders everywhere.

When something needs to be done, we women roll up our sleeves, and we do what needs to be done.

In every country, women are running households. Women are running farms and businesses. Women are running community associations and NGOs. Women are running for political office, and more and more of us are getting elected.

But when it comes to making it to the top, whether it is on corporate boards, in public office, or in peace talks, there is an imbalance between women and men. Women are under-represented. The scales of justice are not yet balanced. Things are changing, but the top jobs are still mostly held by men.

That’s why we need the 50 per cent club! 

We need more women leaders in every sector.

Just last week, I addressed the UN Security Council and members adopted a resolution on women, peace and security. The resolution’s central purpose is to increase women’s participation and leadership in peace talks and processes of recovery.  

Since the end of the Cold War, women have represented only: 

  • four per cent of signatories to peace agreements
  • less than three per cent of mediators of peace talks
  • less than 10 per cent of anyone sitting at the table to negotiate on behalf of a party to the conflict.

The new Security Council resolution aims to open the doors to women to play their full and equal role in matters of peace and security. This is important because women do bring matters of importance to the table, matters which otherwise may not have been heard. We need more women at peace tables, in political office and at corporate boards.

While the equal rights of women have progressed and we can all be proud of the significant progress we have seen to date, I think we can all agree there is still more work which lies ahead to achieve true gender equality for women in this country, our continent and our world. 

Here in Namibia, much work has been done to advance women’s status, since the 1997 National Gender Policy. The Namibia National Gender Policy for 2010 to 2020 seeks to create an enabling environment for sectors to mainstream gender in line with National Development Plans. It identifies who will be accountable for gender equality results. Compared to the first policy, the new policy has 12 critical areas of concern, with new areas of peace-building and conflict resolution, and natural disaster management; and gender equality in the family context. 

And the programmes being launched today support the national gender policy of Namibia. Empowering women to participate fully in economic life across all sectors is essential to build stronger economies. It is essential to improve the quality of life for women, men, families and communities.

The private sector is a key partner in efforts to advance gender equality and empower women. Current research demonstrates that gender diversity helps businesses perform better. And this signals that self-interest and common interest can come together. 

Yet, ensuring the inclusion of women’s talents, skills and energies—from executive offices to the factory floor and the supply chain—requires intentional actions and deliberate policies.

That is why I am excited to tell you about the Women’s Empowerment Principles. This is a joint initiative of UN Women and the UN Secretary-General’s private sector initiative, the Global Compact.

So far more than 600 CEOs have signed onto to these Women’s empowerment principles. The Principles are designed to support companies in reviewing existing policies and practices—or establishing new ones—to realize women’s empowerment.
The first and guiding principle is to establish high-level corporate leadership for gender equality. 

Other principles focus on:

  • non-discrimination, inclusion and equal opportunity
  • the education, training and professional development of women
  • health, safety and freedom from violence
  • women’s empowerment in enterprise development, supply chain and marketing practices; and
  • equality through community initiatives

Diverse companies from around the world have committed to the Women’s Empowerment Principles because it makes business sense. One example is Price Waterhouse Cooper—South Africa. The global banking provider has recently launched the A.W.A.R.E programme. It stands for Attract. Women. Advance. Retain. Empower. It is aimed at retaining the firm’s female talent through strengthened support into leadership positions for women.

Few people disagree these days with the need for more women at the top of business and banking. There are stacks of research that confirm that gender diversity on boards results in better corporate performance on every measure, including finance. And there's widespread agreement too that male-dominated cultures in the top echelons of banking and business created excessive risk taking. Those narrow cultures were at the heart of what went wrong in the global financial crisis.

We also know that one way to accelerate progress toward equality is through the use of temporary special measures such as quotas and gender parity laws. Quotas have gradually increased female representation on boards in Norway from nine per cent in 2003 to over 40 per cent today. Quotas are also widely used to increase women’s representation in Parliament. 

Today just one in five members of parliament is a women globally. Quotas bring women's voices into systems where they are otherwise excluded, short-cutting a process that can naturally take generations. They have been used successfully by countries ranging from Norway to India to South Africa to Rwanda. Rwanda has the highest percentage of women in parliament, the highest in the world at 64 per cent women in the lower house of parliament.

It is time to take urgent measures, including temporary special measures, to accelerate women's full and equal participation in governance at all levels and women's leadership in all decision-making. 

It is a matter of straightforward justice, and it is also a matter of improving the democratic quality of representation. Having more women in politics also has a positive effect in terms of creating positive role models for young women and girls and boys. It paves a path towards equality.

Africa is on the rise and it will rise faster and higher with women’s full and equal participation. Now is the time to invest in women and girls.

Women’s voices need to be heard to take the continent to new heights of stability and growth, so that Africa and its people can reach their full potential.

Women’s full and equal participation in the political and economic arena is fundamental to democracy and justice.

Equal rights underpin healthy economies and create long-term sustainability.

Programmes like Women Leading Africa are critical for the success of these initiatives and I applaud Duke CE for championing this cause.