Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka


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"In curating this exhibition, I focused on the stories of women who are speaking out, making change and showing us that progress is possible."

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Phumzile's Selections

Ring the Bell

It’s outrageous that one in three women around the world will experience violence in their lifetime. Ring the Bell demonstrates how simple actions by ordinary people can end these human rights violations. I especially like this campaign because it shows how men can and must take a stand. Go to the selection >>

In Our Own Words

Our homes should be safe places, yet too many women live in silent fear of domestic violence. In Our Own Words breaks the silence to tell real womens’ stories of abuse, survival and freedom. Breaking the silence is the first step in overcoming fear and taking action to end violence against women. Go to the selection >>

Activist Grandmothers

My mother was the first activist I knew, and her example still inspires me and my children. The older women featured in Activist Grandmothers are creating remarkable change around the world – proof that life begins at 50! There is no age limit to progress. Go to the selection >>

Learning Empowerment

Education has the power to transform lives, families, and societies. In Afghanistan, women and girls continue to struggle for their human rights, including the right to education. Dr. Yacoobi’s work is a shining example of the benefits of education in a country where women want to build a better future. Go to the selection >>

Giving Women Credit

Women entrepreneurs are everywhere, but they often don’t have access to vital resources that they need: skills, support services, and finance. Giving Women Credit shows just how much women can achieve when they have an equal chance. Go to the selection >>

Change (From the Humanity Album)

A big part of my job as the head of UN Women is to listen to women and girls and amplify their voices. When Kafayat Quadri says “I am the change you thought could never be,” I am reminded of all the women claiming their rights around the world, changing the future one life at a time. Go to the selection >>

The Barefoot Approach

I really like this piece because the Barefoot College is a partner of UN Women. It is wonderful to see women learn solar technology and return to their villages with newfound knowledge, skills and confidence. Truly illuminating! Go to the selection>>

Freeing Finnish Women’s Voices

For more than a century women have been struggling for equality in Finland and around the world. I like the way this piece explores progress through dance as we carve out space for women’s leadership and full and equal participation in our societies. Go to the selection >>

Africa’s New Entrepreneurs

As Penelope said, when you educate a girl you educate a nation. This piece shows the power of education and technology, the theme of my recently completed PhD. Every girl and woman should have access to education, equal rights and opportunities. Go to the selection >>

Hero: Marie Claudine Mukamabano

What a hero! I met Marie Claudine at an event in New York on education. Women like her are changing the portrayal and perception of women—from victims to agents of change. This is an accurate reflection of reality and a real sign of progress. Go to the selection >>

Curator's Statement: Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka on Progress

When I wake up each morning, what motivates me to get out of bed is not coffee, or a hot shower. It is not the sun shining through my window, or worries of the work that lies ahead. No, each morning I wake up inspired by the achievements of the incredible women I work with and for as the Executive Director of UN Women. 

In curating this exhibition, I focused on the stories of women who are speaking out and creating change for themselves and future generations. Their stories show us the work involved in arriving where we are today, and that we can do even better. 

As we commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Women’s Conference in 2015, and I reflect on the progress we have made, I keep their stories in mind, remembering the work that has brought us here.

About Phumzile

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is the Executive Director of UN Women. She has devoted her career to issues of human rights, equality and social justice. Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka has worked in government and civil society and was actively involved in the struggle to end apartheid in her home country of South Africa. 

From 2005 to 2008, she served as Deputy President of South Africa, the highest ranking woman in the nation’s history. Prior to this, she served as Minister of Minerals and Energy from 1999 to 2005 and Deputy Minister in the Department of Trade and Industry from 1996 to 1999. She was a Member of Parliament from 1994 to 1996 as part of South Africa’s first democratic government. 

Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka began her career as a teacher and gained international experience as a coordinator at the World YWCA in Geneva, where she established a global programme for young women. She is the founder of the Umlambo Foundation, which supports leadership and education. A longtime champion of women’s rights, she is affiliated with several organizations devoted to education, women’s empowerment and gender equality, and has a PhD in education and technology.

Get to Know Phumzile

Learn more about Phumzile and why she's involved in IMOW's Curating Change.

  • IMOW matters to me because... it is a unique and vibrant space for women change-makers!
  • A mantra to live by...  Inaction is not an option.
  • I Exhibit Change by listening, learning and lifting up others.

Take Action

Learn which causes and organizations matter most to Phumzile and how you can connect with them.

World YWCA 

I worked at the YWCA back home in South Africa as a teenager and in Geneva leading education programmes for young women. I learned a lot about leadership from the World YWCA!

Umlambo Foundation

I founded this foundation to improve school leadership to win the fight against poverty in South Africa. I am immensely proud of all the progress we have made and the positive changes we have implemented in our communities.

UN Women

I have had the privilege to lead UN Women since August 2014. Our mission is to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment worldwide. This is the greatest cause of our century.


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