U.N. Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka quietly acknowledged that she and U.N. Women support Hillary Clinton’s candidacy for the presidency, although she stopped short of a full endorsement.
“Whenever there’s a woman candidate, our support is necessarily behind that candidate,” she said in an interview Monday. “Because she is a woman, she has got our support.” She said it would be “odd” if they were to support anyone else, since increasing women’s representation in government is a major priority for the organization.
The comments came on International Women’s Day, amid events in more than 40 countries to demand gender equality and in anticipation of the Commission on the Status of Women.
Mlambo-Ngcuka emphasized that her statements do not constitute an endorsement of Clinton, since the U.N. typically does not offer endorsements in elections in member states. But Clinton’s 1995 speech at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, in which she famously said “women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights,” is one of the major touchstones of U.N. Women’s platform, and Clinton has been heavily involved in many U.N. Women events on gender equality, often giving major speeches at U.N. Women events.
Supporting Clinton’s candidacy was just one of several calls to action leading up to International Women’s Day. The Executive Director also called on Latin American countries to change their laws to allow more abortions in the devastating wake of the Zika virus. “We would like women to have the option to have an abortion if they so desire, and we really think these laws should change,” she said, noting that Latin America also must invest more resources into family planning and address the massive unmet need for contraception.
Mlambo-Ngcuka says that U.N. Women has “always been pro-choice,” but that the response to the Zika virus requires the organization to be extra vocal in its support for abortion access. “Whenever we have an opportunity to articulate our position, we should take it,” Mlambo-Ngcuka said. “The issue of Zika makes it imperative to us as U.N. Women to be very clear on this subject.”
The support for Clinton and condemnation of Latin American abortion laws are just two threads of U.N. Women’s larger mission of global gender equality. Last year, U.N. Women helped draft the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals: 17 global targets, including everything from clean water to good education to reduced inequality, for the world to achieve by 2050. Gender equality is one of the goals (Goal 5,) but Mlambo-Ngcuka explained that the other 16 goals also represented major steps forward for gender equality, because the participation of girls and women is embedded in the implementation of every goal. “In order to achieve any of the goals, they have to achieve gender equality,” she said.
Amid discussion of the Sustainable Development Goals in anticipation of the Commission on the Status of Women, Mlambo-Ngcuka condemned the lack of protection for women migrants flooding into Europe (some estimates suggest that up to 10,000 women and children migrants are missing, stoking fears of human traffickers targeting refugees fleeing the Middle East) and admitted that everyone, including intergovernmental organizations, has to do better. “It is difficult to say we’re on top of it, because I don’t think we are,” she said. “Governments are overwhelmed by the size of this problem.”
She also called for more financial investment in women’s equality. “Money talks, and gender equality is expensive if you want to do it properly,” she said, noting that investing in women is “one area where you’re guaranteed to get a good return.”