Twenty years after 189 countries adopted a blueprint to achieve equality for women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said in an interview that not a single country has reached gender parity and equality.

The executive director of UN Women spoke ahead of International Women's Day on Friday and next week's meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women.

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.

Then-US first lady Hillary Clinton inspired delegates and women worldwide when she declared in a keynote speech: "Human rights are women's rights and women's rights are human rights."

Although there has been progress since Beijing, especially in women's health and girls' education, Mlambo-Ngcuka said, there are fewer than 20 female heads of state and government, and the number of women lawmakers has increased from 11 per cent to just 22 per cent 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 said.

She said the under-representation of women in decision-making and violence against women are "global phenomena," a result of male domination in the world that needs to change if women are ever to be truly equal.

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.

For the first time, it recognized that women have the right to control their own sexuality without coercion, and reaffirmed their right to decide whether and when to have children.

Mlambo-Ngcuka said the issue of sexual and reproductive rights, which were the most controversial issues in Beijing, still stirs the biggest controversy in UN negotiations.

"Instead of becoming a norm ... there has been resistance to those rights deadly resistance as we have seen now in the Middle East" and with the school girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in Nigeria who have reportedly been sold off to men as wives without any rights, she said.

Mlambo-Ngcuka said "the sheer scale of the use of rape that we've seen post-Beijing," especially in conflict situations, "I think tells us that the women's bodies are viewed not as something to respect, but as something that men have the right to control and to abuse."

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