It shouldn’t be always women who tries to break the glass ceiling, we need those men who are holding the ceiling to remove it.

Date: Saturday, December 29, 2018

Author: Zhang Hui*

UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Photo: UN Women
UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Photo: UN Women

According to United Nations statistics, in 2017, 87,000 women were killed worldwide, equivalent to 10 women dying every hour. “We have not been able to know the real violence situation that women are facing. Being worried about retaliated, fearing not being trusted, fearing being humiliated have been letting millions of victims cover up the truth and living in fear."

As the UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, pointed in her latest interview with Portrait, the recent goal of UN Women is defined as “Supporting those who fail to speak”. She constantly repeats to female compatriots around the world “Hiding your anger serves no good to change the reality, a claim needs to be spoken out loud.”

One of the keys of achieving gender equality is education for men. ED said. "I believe that the glass ceiling will be broken one day. We have been mobilizing men to actively participate in gender equality activities because we do not want women always being the ones who try to smash and break the glass sailing. It may also hurt women themselves. The glass ceiling should be removed by men, who hold the ceiling.”

"Cool Grandma" Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka entered the room, the orange-colored South African national costume on her was beautiful, a bit gauzy to resist the cold in Beijing winter though.

This is the 63-year-old Mlambo-Ngcuka in her second term as the UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women. She has been speaking out for the equal rights of women for five years.

The dilemma faced by women across the globe is highly identical. “The pain they suffer at home is the same. The family's neglect and acquiescence to domestic violence is the same. The danger they face is the same." Mlambo-Ngcuka said, "When the perpetrator attacks you, whether you are a celebrity or a woman living in the countryside, you are subject to the same violation and humiliation. A Queen and a woman in the shantytown are equal in front of the perpetrators."

According to the United Nations statistics, in 2017, 87,000 women were killed worldwide, meaning that 10 women are dying every hour, and two-thirds of them were killed by their partners or relatives. "We are still unable to know the violence women are facing. Terrified for being retaliated, for being distrusted and for being humiliated, is making millions of victims to cover up the truth and continue to live in fear."

Mlambo-Ngcuka defined UN Women’s recent goal as “supporting those who fail to speak". She is constantly reiterating to her compatriots around the world: hiding your anger serves no good to change the reality, a claim needs to be spoken out loud.

Until today, no country in the world has already achieved real gender equality. Iceland has made the furthest in gender equality, however challenges such as domestic violence, unequal pay for men and women, and under-representation of women at the decision-making levels still persist.

Gender inequality directly leads to the majority of the world’s poor population being women. “We even have a saying that ‘poverty has the face of woman’. This is the case in China, and in other parts of the world,” said Mlambo-Ngcuka.

One of the keys to achieving gender equality is to educating men. Mlambo-Ngcuka said, "if men stand up for elimination of violence against women and pledge not to attack women, women can live her life safely and free of violence; if men say that I will not marry an underage girl, we have accomplished our mission. If men say, "I won't accept the pay slip, unless I see the female colleagues are getting the same amount of remuneration. Then we do not need to spend plenty of time on persuasion. " "Our goal is that a new generation of men, regardless of race, class and country, will not act as perpetrators.”

One of Mlambo-Ngcuka’s favorite examples is about a German boy born after Merkel came into power. While being asked whether he would like to be the prime minister after he grows up, the boy replied, "No, in Germany, only girls can be prime ministers."

"I believe that the glass ceiling will be broken one day. We have been mobilizing men to actively participate in gender equality activities because we do not want women always being the ones who try to smash and break the glass sailing. It may also hurt women themselves. The glass ceiling should be removed by men, who hold the ceiling.”

Mlambo-Ngcuka spoke these words with incisive eyes and indisputable voice.

The dialogue between "Portrait" and Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is as follows.

UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Photo: The Portrait magazine, China
Photo: The Portrait magazine

"Portrait": In the era of Internet, women are given more voice, thanks to the online social networks. However, at the same time, anti-feminist comments are also spreading faster and reaching more audiences.

What’s your opinion on the fight for women’s equal rights in the digital age?

Mlambo-Ngcuka: First of all, the Internet is a practical public platform that facilitates the dissemination of information, it is beneficial for women, especially those in remote areas who can thus receive education anytime, anywhere, at their affordable cost. The Internet is also crucial for health and service delivery. But like everything else, the dark side exists, for instance, cyber-violence is a severe violation of privacy. It requires women to be more intelligent, and it therefore emphasizes the needs of cyberspace education and self-protection, which is especially important for young girls. They need to be more cautious before putting personal information online for everyone to search. Everyone has the responsibility to properly handle and respond to the network.

"Portrait": In addition to physical violence, verbal violence can also cause great harm to women. How do you think about verbal violence?

Mlambo-Ngcuka: For both men and women, verbal violence and negative emotions on the Internet can be maddening, even more unbearable than the attacks in the real life. The Internet is so convenient, the perpetrators can commit harassment 24 hours a day, and the passive recipients have nowhere to hide. The Internet needs to be regulated and managed. All society needs to pay attention and intervene to ensure that the perpetrators bear the same consequences of insulting and attacking others in real life. The perpetrators of verbal violence in cyberspace should also be brought to justice.

"Portrait": Sometimes discrimination and violence come not only from men but also from women themselves. How do you view women as accomplices to men in opposition to achieving gender equality?

Mlambo-Ngcuka: This is terrible. It completely crosses the bottom line and is completely intolerable and unacceptable.

"Portrait": Under your leadership, UN Women has been promoting the HeForShe campaign. What were your motivation to promote this campaign, and how is the campaign going?

Mlambo-Ngcuka: In the history it has been women who are bearing the burden of fighting for gender equality, as if its women themselves who caused the current oppressed situation, a situation that let half of the active social members unable to enjoy equal rights status.

This gives an unfavorable impression that men do not need to participate or take any responsibility in promoting gender equality. It is very important for us to acknowledge this. The 20 years after the World Conference on Women in Beijing, there is a common trend in both developed and developing countries that public awareness of gender equality has been growing stronger and stronger. Men in many countries realize that they need to do more. We are involving more men and boys in the advancement of women's rights. However, they also have their own problems. It is important to give them extra room and time to deal with their own problems. Therefore, what we are promoting is the education on gender equality and the active participation of boys and men in advocating for gender equality. Sometimes men need to solve problems in their own way, so we actively support male organizations. Within the male organizations, men are more open to discuss the issues amongst themselves.

HeForShe is an example of how we support male organizations. The whole process is promoted by men themselves.

"Portrait": How effective has this campaign been? How is the promotion in China?

Mlambo-Ngcuka: The HeForShe campaign is well known, and many people in China are aware of it. We must continue to work towards our goals and to engage elderly, young people and leaders. Today, I participated in an event in Beijing Royal School where young boys and girls were discussing their rights and promoting gender equality in their schools. They stood up to make their voices heard, they work hard to contribute to a better world. The boys are undertaking the responsibilities.

You know, if the men stand for elimination of violence against women and pledge not to attack women, women can live her life safely and free of violence; if the men say that I will not marry an underage girl, we have accomplished our mission. If the men say that if my salary is higher than that of my female colleague, I will not accept it, then we do not need to spend plenty of time on promotion and persuasion. If they say, "I won't accept the pay slip, unless I see the female colleagues are getting the same amount of remuneration." How great would that be.

There have been politicians who have stood up to show support to promote gender equality, but that’s not enough. We need more men to advocate their position, to celebrate for equal pay, and to make corresponding decisions as policy makers.

"Portrait": You had been paying attention to and participating in social issues related to women since 1984, why did you choose this field back then?

Mlambo-Ngcuka: I was interested in women's issues thanks to an organization called YWC. During my engagement with this organization, I realized that there were so many women living in a prejudiced environment. Racism, gender inequality and social class inequality affect women at the same time. I quickly realized that if we offer support to women, everyone can be benefited. This is the advantage of women. If you want to make a change but don't know where to begin, then start by helping women, because men will naturally benefit from it. Conversely, if you are helping men, it does not naturally benefit women. This is the law of the operation of our society.

"Portrait": What was the primary challenge women were encountering at that time?

Mlambo-Ngcuka: The main problem at the time was violence against women, in which case the policy makers should take responsibility. In addition, girls had to undertake far more extra work in the family compared with their brothers, whether it is housework or caring work. Women had lost many opportunities because of that.

"Portrait": You are the first female Vice President of South Africa. How did your colleagues perform when you first started working together? How was your own feeling?

Mlambo-Ngcuka: I think within the cabinet, people already have the idea of gender equality. Therefore, they had no reason to show any disrespect, as the gender equality movement within the South African government had been powerful for a long time. When you are in the position as a minister, you are already sensitive enough.

I was not discriminated within the government. But once I left this safe environment, I experienced discrimination. For example, when I led a delegation or led a discussion, the people would only pay attention to the men attending the meeting, only to the male representatives in the delegation, or only listen to their thoughts. However, my male colleagues were well trained and in those situations they would remain quiet, so people will realize that there are some other people calling the shot.

When I was in the position of the Vice President, I didn’t have much energy to pay attention to my own feelings. I had too much work to do, I wanted to get the job done as much as possible and make sure I was acting along with the goal. For politicians, both men and women must always remember your goals. And as a woman, you can only get praised if you do better than a man. So you must be the best, overwork yourself, be omniscient, and act on every detail, the result is that in the end you have little time and energy for your family.

"Portrait": Do you think by becoming the vice president, you are helping to break the glass ceiling in the political field?

Mlambo-Ngcuka: I don't think the glass ceiling has already been broken. It begins to crack. There are still too many women who are deprived of a channel to achieve success. Even in 2018, being the first person to taste crabs is still not a pleasant experience. We should not emphasize when "the first woman completing this" or "the first woman completing that". There are thousands of outstanding women in the world, but we are still celebrating for individual success achieved by individual woman.

I believe that the ceiling will eventually be broken one day. We have been mobilizing men to actively participate in activities that promote gender equality because we don't want women to be the sole force striking and attempting to smash the ceiling, because it may also hurt women themselves. The glass ceiling should be removed by men who are holding the ceiling and not letting go.

(*) Zhang Hui from The Portrait magazine conducted the interview during her visit to China. This article was originally published in Chinese on The Portrait magazine (Dated: 29 December 2018 | Printed version/Archived). English translation by Xiang Rong