The head of the UN agency promoting equality for women is lamenting that a girl born today will be an 81-year-old grandmother before she has the same chance as a man to be CEO of a company—and she will have to wait until she's 50 years old to have an equal chance to lead a country. Twenty years after 189 countries adopted a blueprint to achieve equality for women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka says that not a single country has reached gender parity and equality. The executive director of UN Women spoke ahead of International Women's Day and next week's meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women, where the commission will review the 150-page platform for action to achieve equality that was adopted at the groundbreaking UN women's conference in Beijing in 1995.
Although there has been progress since Beijing, especially in women's health and girls' education, Mlambo-Ngcuka says, there are fewer than 20 female heads of state and government, and the number of women lawmakers has increased from 11% to just 22% in the last two decades. "We just don't have critical mass to say that post-Beijing women have reached a tipping point in their representation," she says. The Beijing platform called for governments to end discrimination against women and close the gender gap in 12 critical areas, including health, education, employment, political participation, and human rights. UN Women is looking for 10 world leaders, 10 CEOs, and 10 universities to "break the mode" and become champions of the agency's "HeForShe" campaign. If that happens, she says, "we've got something to work with, taking the campaign forward." (Read more women's rights stories.)