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Global issue 20

Global Insight Women conditions and they were calling for peace. We are calling for the same things today, in different ways. We are rededicating ourselves to the struggles of today. Today, for instance, we are calling for decent work because women continue to be at the bottom of the pyramid of economic activity, and the work and the jobs that they do continue to be informal and to be low paid. We’ve made progress, but it is very uneven,” she says, when asked about the current state of progress towards women’s equality. “For instance, today we have got more female representation in parliaments. We’ve moved in less than ten years from one out of ten parliamentarians being a woman to one out of five. That still is less than what it should be, but it is progress nevertheless. At the same time, we have exceptional progress in countries like Rwanda, where more than 50 per cent of parliamentarians are women. Obviously that is a unique case. You also have got more girl children in school, but the number of both boys and girls that are still out of school is, at the same time, exceptionally high. In workplaces you’ve got more women in senior positions, but again, the numbers are not where they should be. So it’s a mixed record.” In October 2014 at the 69th General Assembly of the United Nations, Mlambo-Ngcuka came forward to say that while progress has been made since the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals in 2000, much still needs to be done, as during this time “no single country achieved the goal of women’s empowerment” and gender parity has yet to be achieved – even within the UN. With the post- 2015 agenda, Mlambo-Ngcuka says, it is important to strengthen www.global global f i rst quar ter 2015 -br ief ing.org l 15 © Russell Watkins / UK Department for International Development CC BY 2.0 Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka with Justine Greening, UK Secretary of State for International Development, at Girl Summit 2014 government and jobs in the armed forces, our girls now have role models and achievable goals to which they can aspire. When our girls see a woman deputy governor of Bangladesh Bank, a female Speaker in parliament or a female university vice chancellor, they are given the confidence to know that they too can aim high. I was very active in politics during my student life, and I was elected vice president of our college union. Boys and girls worked together during student politics and during that time I never felt at a disadvantage being a woman. In 1975, 18 members of my family were brutally killed in a coup d’état. I was abroad at the time with my husband, my children and my sister – and this was an unimaginably difficult period in our lives. During this time, I was elected party leader in absentia and so began my return to politics. When I returned to Bangladesh in the early 80s, I faced many obstacles. I was young and many of our party leaders were older men – many of them thought, what does she – a young woman – understand? They doubted whether I was fit to take on the role, they thought me too inexperienced, too naïve. I was fortunate that the rest of the party, and the people of the country, accepted me as party leader, and that being a woman did not hinder my ability to gain respect amongst the party members and voters. As a woman, there are of course added challenges to being a public servant. When I first became party leader, I faced a lot of resistance from conservative forces and older generations who doubted whether a woman could ever lead and be head of government. I had to face this and, frankly speaking, when we gained a female leader to our opposition party, it helped to stifle these doubts. Here were two women running two major political parties in a traditional, majority Muslim society. Balancing family life and a career is an obstacle that women in all professions face. When I took up politics to work for my people, this was something I had to consider carefully. When I spoke up against military rulers, I was arrested and put in jail – of course, my children suffered. I was lucky to have support from my family, especially my sister, and my children were always understanding, but I admit that I found it difficult and it played on my mind. Was I being the best mother I could be? Was I unfairly putting my children through too much? These were some very hard personal obstacles which I had to overcome. I have also faced many political obstacles. I have fought against military dictators who want to stop democratic process and I have fought – and continue to fight – against extremist forces that use fear and violence to hinder progress in Bangladesh. There have been many smear campaigns in the media to try to dishearten me, and there have been numerous attempts on my life, but I refuse to stop fighting. I believe in democracy, and I want to create a Bangladesh that is peaceful and prosperous – no obstacle is daunting enough to stop me achieving this goal. See page 66 for main section on Bangladesh © Russell Watkins / UK DfID CC BY 2.0


Global issue 20
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