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Special Focus: UN Women Executive Director


On 10 July 2013 UN Secretary-General BanKi-moon announced the appointment of Ms. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka from South Africa as the new Executive Director of UN Women.  

On 15 March 2013, following the 57th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), Michelle Bachelet, the first head of UN Women, stepped down as Executive Director (ED) of the United Nations entity mandated to promote gender equality, creating a vacancy for this high level position.  Feminists and women’s rights organizations and movements played a crucial role in the creation of UN Women, and have a strong interest in its future, so it is important that women’s rights advocates are informed about the vision and ideas of the different candidates to lead UN Women. 

AWID participated actively with many other feminists, women’s rights organizations and other CSOs in the Gender Equality Architecture Reform (GEAR) Campaign, launched in 2006, which led the advocacy efforts for the creation of UN Women. In 2010, when the process to appoint the first Executive Director of UN Women occurred, the GEAR Campaign put together a list of selection criteria for the position. We have included the criteria in a box below, as reference for the current recruitment process for the new head of UN Women.

It has been really difficult to establish who the nominees for the post are.  Initial reports indicated at least six or seven nominees, but the UN would not confirm the list of nominees. Women mentioned as possible candidates in the first recruitment process in 2010, such as current Acting Executive Director, of UN Women, Lakshmi Puri and former President of the Republic of Finland, Tarja Halonen, informed us that they did not present their nominations. We were unable to confirm whether Radhika Coomaraswamy, former UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, was actually nominated.  In the end, we were able to confirm five candidates: Kim Campbell (Canada), Patricia Francis (Jamaica), Rebecca Grynspan (Costa Rica), Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda (Zimbabwe) and Alcinda Abreu (Mozambique), but there might be more. AWID invited these five candidates to take part in an interview to share their experience, vision and hopes for UN Women.  Unfortunately, we were not able to make direct contact with Patricia Francis.

In general, AWID is concerned by the lack of transparency in this process and the significant difficulties in accessing accurate information about the candidates. We hope that by sharing the views of three of the candidates for this key position at the UN, we can contribute to making the process more transparent and to ensuring that feminist and women’s rights organizations and movements and other interested parties, are sufficiently informed to send letters of support for their preferred candidate to the UN Secretary General.

If there are other candidates for this important position, that we did not know about, who are interested in sharing their views on these questions, we would be happy to publish their views in the coming days. Please write to Susan Tolmay at

We thank Kim Campbell, Rebecca Grynspan, Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda and Alcinda Abreu for taking part in the interviews, which you can read in full below.

Selection Criteria for Candidates for the Position of Under-Secretary General to Lead the United Nations for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women

Above all, qualified candidates must have a vision for and demonstrated commitment to meeting gender equality goals and securing women's human rights, and meet the following criteria:

  1. Experience in and passion for working on gender equality and women's empowerment/ human rights, with a demonstrated interest in engaging with civil society, and particularly women's organizations;
  2. Thorough understanding of the needs and interests of women at the local grassroots, both in the Global South and North, with a successful track record of concrete impact in the field;
  3. Demonstrated and recognized leadership and integrity, including: 
Collaborative working style and ability to build positive relationships with a wide range of partners;
Visible record of public advocacy for gender equality and women's human rights and empowerment; and 
Readiness to be outspoken and independent in fulfilling the entity's mandates;
  4. Track record in fundraising and proven skills in the management of complex organizations and developing strategy accordingly in a creative and effective manner;
  5. Be politically astute and able to engage effectively with a wide range of key actors in international negotiations.

GEAR Campaign / October 21, 2009

NEW INTERVIEW Leading UN Women: Perspectives from Candidates for the Position of Executive Director


Alcinda António De Abreu
Minister for Environmental Affairs Coordination
Republic of Mozambique


Why do you want to be the Executive Director of UN Women?


I would like to pay tribute to all women and men who came together and united to ensure that the UN General Assembly could take an historic and wise decision to create UN Women, the new entity for gender equality and women´s empowerment.




What experience in working for women's rights and gender equality would you bring to the position of Executive Director of UN Women?


I have over 20 years experience in mainstreaming gender into policies, programs and projects in both development and humanitarian fields.




What is your vision for the future role that UN Womencan play in advancing women's rights and gender equality around the world?


The human rights of women are based on fundamental values that include equality and non-discrimination, peace and security, respect for fundamental principles and rights at work and for food, social and culture dignity, solidarity, tolerance, shared responsibility, freedom from fear and want.




As Executive Director of UN Women, how would you seek to work with diverse women's rights organizations and movements?


Leading UN Women means taking responsibility for people, focusing on women and girls, and this cannot be done by one organization alone without the involvement of women themselves.




Leading UN Women: Perspectives from Candidates for the Position of Executive Director


Rebeca Grynspan
Former Vice-President
UNDP Under Secretary General
Costa Rica


Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda
World YWCA General Secretary


Kim Campbell
Former Prime Minister

Why do you want to be the Executive Director of UN Women?


I feel passionate about UN Women’s mandate! It is one of the most important decisions the UN has taken in recent decades. 


My personal passion, commitment for and experience in women’s rights, empowerment and gender equality strongly aligns with the mandate of UN Women. 


I think that it would give me a chance to bring together all the threads of gender-related activity that have been part of my life and put them to good use.







What experience in working for women's rights and gender equality would you bring to the position of Executive Director of UN Women?


Besides the personal experiences that as a woman I have had through my life, in my professional trajectory, I understood and believed very early on in the centrality of the gender lens and perspective in the development agenda. 


I have the requisite lived experience, the practical, strategic and professional knowledge, skills and experiences based on over two decades of work in this area. 


There are two aspects of this answer – one, is the things I have done in breaking through barriers myself. 







What is your vision for the future role that UN Women can play in advancing women's rights and gender equality around the world?


UN Women can achieve a lot, but not in isolation, it has to partner not only with other agencies but also with the vibrant feminist and women’s movements and civil society organizations around the world, to push Governments forward and transform societies. 


My vision is for a UN Women that strives to develop its work towards meeting the aspirations that guided the many years of advocacy, lobbying, negotiations and final adoption of the UN General Assembly establishing the Entity.


I think that UN Women has a unique role based on the fact that the UN is an intergovernmental organization. UN Women can be a "norm creator", a clearinghouse and source of best practices in the advancement of women; 







As Executive Director of UN Women, how would you seek to work with diverse women's rights organizations and movements?


I think that women’s rights organizations and movements have been the basic support of UN Women. 


I have fostered strong relationships with a diverse range of women’s organizations over the years, at all levels. 


The short answer to that question is "collaboratively". UN Women cannot do it all, but it must use its competitive advantages advantages.







Articles and Reactions from the Women's Movement

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: we have to become smarter on women's issues

01 August 2013

If women are not at the centre of the fight against poverty, we won't achieve what we want to, warns new head of UN Women


25 July 2013

Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN) would like to congratulate Ms. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka on her appointment as Executive Director of UN Women. We recognize her as someone who will bring to her position a steadfast commitment to address the wide areas of concern for diverse feminists, gender equality and women's human rights advocates, organizations, networks, and social movements. We are pleased to note that activists from Africa and elsewhere describe her as being progressive and discerning and we hope she will use these qualities to good effect in the challenging work ahead.

Message from Ms. Lakshmi Puri, Acting Head of UN Women

17 July 2013

Message from Ms. Lakshmi Puri, Acting Head of UN Women, welcoming the appointment of UN Women’s new Executive Director Ms. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka to head UN Women

17 July 2013

The spokesperson for Secretary General Ban Ki moon today announced the appointment of Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka of South Africa as the new Executive Director of UN Women.

GL welcomes the appointment of Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka to head UN Women

12 July 2013

Johannesburg, 11 July: Gender Links (GL) has welcomed the appointment of former Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka to head UNWOMEN as a “proud moment for the women of Africa and the world!” In a statement issued today, GL CEO Colleen Lowe Morna described Mlambo-Ngcuka as “a woman of substance, who has taken gender equality concerns to every portfolio she has ever led, with grace, humility and commitment. I cannot think of anyone better placed to fill the shoes of (former Chilean President) Michelle Bachelet in this critical post.”  


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