Elizabeth Nyamayaro – for a future that's equal

Senior Advisor to the Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the United Nations Women, Elizabeth Nyamayaro drives the strategic vision and implementation of the HeForShe global initiative.

Personally helped by the United Nations as a young girl, Nyamayaro understands not only the difference that the UN makes around the world but also how it saves lives. 

Here, Elizabeth Nyamayaro discusses with us the importance of International Women’s day and the crucial work and effects of UN Women and the HeForShe campaign.

Can you tell us more about your career journey, as well as your current role with UN Women and HeForShe?

I am living proof that the United Nations not only makes a difference around the world but also saves lives. When I was eight, I nearly starved to death during a severe drought in my country. I was being raised by my grandmother in our small village in Zimbabwe, when the United Nations found me, gave me a bowl of porridge and saved my life. That encounter left such an indelible mark on my young brain that shaped my view of the world and subsequently my pursuit of a humanitarian career with the United Nations. I have now been with the United Nations for over 15 years addressing inequalities for underserved communities.

Who has been your biggest influence and why?

Definitely my boss, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women. She is an incredible visionary leader and one of the best pieces of advice she ever gave me was that “Being a leader doesn’t mean being in front, it means removing obstacles so others can lead.” Every day I thrive to live by this wisdom, which is why at the core of HeForShe is the fundamental belief that real and sustainable change only happens when communities are empowered to come-up with home-grown solutions to their own challenges.

Being a leader doesn’t mean being in front, it means removing obstacles so others can lead.
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

Can you tell us more about the HeForShe theme for International Women’s Day this year, what does International Women’s Day mean to you and why is it so important?

United Nations International Women’s Day theme for 2018 is “Time is Now: Rural and urban activists transforming women’s lives”. This comes on the heels of unprecedented global movement for women’s rights, equality and justice. Sexual harassment, violence and discrimination against women has captured headlines and public discourse, propelled by a rising determination for change. People around the world are mobilising for a future that is more equal. As a United Nations solidarity movement for gender equality, HeForShe will engage men as allies in transforming this current momentum into action by empowering women in all settings, rural and urban.

People around the world are mobilising for a future that is more equal.
Elizabeth Nyamayaro

Why does UN Women want to involve businesses in this initiative?

UN Women is a global entity of the UN to advance gender equality around the world but the UN itself places a big emphasis on engaging the private sector around the sustainable development goals.

We see a symbiotic relationship between the UN and the private sector in terms of making sure that companies also do business responsibly and that they don’t make the worlds’ problems worse than they are, there are so many challenges, so this is the starting point for why we need to get the private sector involved.

Also from a UN Women standpoint, the critical thing from us is to look at how women are represented within companies and within society. The fact that there isn’t a company in the world that has been able to achieve equality necessitates that we try to engage with global CEO’s of those companies to come up with a transformative agenda and really focus on creating systematic and structural changes within those companies.

So that really is the focus for us in UN Women, to really progress a way to rally the private sector to achieve a gender equal world by 2030.

What made UN Women choose to work with De Beers specifically for this partnership?

With HeForShe we’re trying to accelerate progress and hopefully achieve equality or at least in some key policy areas by 2020. We are looking for role models, we are looking for companies that demonstrate willingness and a proven record in terms of being transformative when it comes to gender equality.

De Beers was a no brainer for us in the same point, they have been doing a lot of work on gender and we knew that we would have a really good starting point with them.

We also wanted to look at the HeForShe angle, how can men and boys be part of the solution, how can they be equal partners in creating a society with equality.

That’s why we thought De Beers would be a fantastic fit for us and really become a catalyst to show other industries and partners or other companies within their sector that change is possible and you can indeed engage men to achieve this very ambitious but also needed goal that we have set for gender.

Why is it so important to engage men in the conversation and what difference does it make when you engage them?

With the HeForShe movement we would like to be able to say well here’s the difference that it makes, if the world says it’s going to take us 270 years to achieve equality, I would like to at least prove to you with the right kind of leadership and commitment by engaging men who hold mostly all the power, this can make the biggest progress.

While women can aim to smash through the glass ceiling, it would be better to take it away and save them from cutting their hands. So, this is the biggest thing that we’ve got to be able to demonstrate that yes, it does make a difference when you engage men, it does make an even bigger difference when you engage men with power, it makes an even bigger difference when men with power commit to concrete commitments and deliver against those commitments.

The big legacy piece for champions of HeForShe is that they stood on the right side of history, they created solutions and put them out into the world so that we are able to really accelerate and create a tipping point or flexing point in the 21st century.

While women can aim to smash through the glass ceiling, it would be better to take it away and save them from cutting their hands.
Elizabeth Nyamayaro

Can you describe a little bit about the societal benefits of female empowerment?

We know that when women play an equal role, economies grow and nations succeed.

When women are empowered, when women are at the table, there are more ideas and with those ideas, there’s more businesses can actually do, and of course it benefits the shareholders as well. But beyond this we even know that in parts of the developing world, women are also empowered with resources, their families are more likely to go to school unlike when the men are given the money, it is generally not utlised in the same manner. Women actually tend to support their whole communities, their whole families, they prioritise getting food for the family and of course sending them to school.  

Creating change

As part of our ongoing work for For Women. Forever, we are dedicated to the empowerment of women. Nyamayaro inspires us with her deeply ingrained passion to address inequalities in underserved communities and her work towards the equality between men and women.

Ultimately it is the small things that we can do to create bigger movements, and it’s these movements that have the power to create change. The future of equality is in our hands, and like us, Elizabeth Nyamayaro is an advocate on equality within men and women and on the protection of Forever.


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