Irina Bokova on Girls' Education Eradicating Poverty
Irina Bokova, born on 12 July 1952 in Sofia (Bulgaria) has been the Director-General of UNESCO since 15 November 2009, and reelected for a second term in 2013. She is the first woman to lead the Organization.
Having graduated from Moscow State Institute of International Relations, and studied at the University of Maryland (Washington) and the John F. Kennedy School of Government (Harvard University), Irina Bokova joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria in 1977, where she was responsible for human rights issues. Appointed in charge of political and legal affairs at the Permanent Mission of Bulgaria to the United Nations in New York, she was also a member of the Bulgarian Delegation at the United Nations conferences on the equality of women in Copenhagen (1980), Nairobi (1985) and Beijing (1995). As Member of Parliament (1990-1991 and 2001-2005), she participated in the drafting of Bulgaria’s new Constitution, which contributed significantly to the country’s accession to the European Union. She launched the first seminar of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on the European Convention on Human Rights.
Irina Bokova was Minister for Foreign Affairs and Coordinator of Bulgaria-European Union relations (1995-1997) and Ambassador of Bulgaria (2005-2009) to France, Monaco and UNESCO and Personal Representative of the President of the Republic of Bulgaria to the "Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie" (OIF). As Secretary of State for European integration and as Foreign Minister, Irina Bokova has always advocated for European integration. Active member of many international experts active in civil society and especially President and founding member of the European Policy Forum, she has worked to overcome European divisions and to foster the values of dialogue, diversity, human dignity and human rights.
As Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova is actively engaged in international efforts to advance quality education for all, gender equality, cultural dialogue and scientific cooperation for sustainable development and is leading UNESCO as a global advocate for safety of journalists and freedom of expression.
Irina Bokova is Executive Secretary of the Steering Committee of the UN Secretary-General’s Global Education First Initiative (GEFI) and co-Vice-Chair of the Broadband Commission.
Irina Bokova has received state distinctions from countries across the world and is Doctor honoris causa of leading universities.
In addition to her mother tongue, she speaks English, French, Spanish and Russian.
Irina Bokova: We do believe at UNESCO and I personally am very much committed to girls’ education and women’s empowerment. I do believe in the first place that education is one of the best investments in order to achieve sustainability in any development but particularly girls. Because in many parts of the world girls are a synonym with poverty in the rural areas. Girls are the marginalized communities in the communities. There are still a lot of stereotypes and because poverty has sometimes a women’s face. Investing in girls’ education and we have a lot of data, a lot of research in this particular area – improves communities standard of living, eradicates poverty, has a particularly important and positive impact on health. We know that educated women that have passed through primary education are caring better for their children, for their families. And also for the environment. Investing in girls’ education is also one of the main, I would say, objectives of education for all which is the second millennium development goal.
And without achieving gender parity in primary education and also moving to the secondary education, we cannot achieve also what nowadays is considered one of the objectives of the international community to eradicate extreme poverty by the year 2030. And why we speak now about girls’ education? Because still inequalities are there. Only 58 percent of the countries have achieved gender parity in primary education and only 38 percent gender parity in secondary education. When girls are in school and our appeal is let’s keep girls in school. They marry late, they get pregnant late. When they’re in school they’re much more protected, you know, if not to get contaminated with some diseases. And they’re less also protected – I would say protected against violence. Keeping girls in school after primary education is the best investment in our development.
Well I believe that in terms of education it’s a value in any society. Education is, I would say also a cultural event in many societies. Although we know that stereotypes sometimes put girls in marginalized also populations in disadvantage. We believe that if we unite around education, religious leaders traditionally there is in many communities. Of course having a very focused public policies and government commitments and make an education a true value for families. We will then achieve also sustainability in all our development efforts. We don’t believe that there is juxtaposition between cultural values and educational values. We do believe that if we put it right, if we unite around this idea of education being one of the best investment for having healthy families, for having healthy communities, for having also I would say a better living. Education is a better living also for these communities and these families then we can convince also everybody and unite around achieving this important goal of access to quality education and lifelong learning for all.
I think the strategy to get children into school on one side – and we have already done it. It is to put education on the global political agenda. In the United Nations and we have now the education first initiative of the secretary general, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, who is the first one to put education with such a commitment and such a responsibility on the agenda of the United Nations. We have to have in the post 2015 agenda on sustainable development, we have to have a one very strong goal, sustainable goal, which is achieving free access to quality education and lifelong learning for all. And then, of course, we have to have a very strong commitment of governments, of the civil society, of the private sector also to reach the marginalized. We cannot continue business as usual because if we want to eradicate extreme poverty, if we have to move with the agenda of sustainability, if we want to tackle the problems of climate change, if we want also to in some cases also achieve the paradigm of development to it I would say a developmental aspect to all the issues about economic development, to have the three legs of sustainable development, the economic, the social and the environmental. We cannot do that separately from education. So I believe if we integrate education in these strategies of sustainable development then we will be successful.
I think the teaching and learning is shifting. Nowadays we speak not just about education. We’re speaking about learning. And this shift in our thinking about learning is very much linked also to the new technologies. It’s very much linked to a new, a very different environment that we’re living through where there is a broad access to information through the new communication technologies which gives a lot of opportunity also for high quality of teaching and of learning. So on one side we have to breach the digital divide. This is the question about access to online information. It is about broadband. We’re working there through the Broadband Commission in order to promote broadband and connectivity in those parts of the world where still we see this digital divide which is preventing many communities and people and young people and others from this access. On the other side we have to admit that the new technology, the technologies overall it’s not the name in itself. It is a means to achieving this learning. And it is about also the content.
It is about what kind of global citizens we want to create nowadays through the process of schooling and learning. And this is about values. This is about understanding about the others. This is about I would say what kind of young people come out of schools. We don’t want to have out of schools some kind of robots. We want to have young people who have skills but also who are culturally literate. Young people who understand about the others. Young people who know what is at stake nowadays who are – with values about human rights, about human dignity, about communities and about the others. So we call it within the global education first initiative we have put the third main objective of this initiative, global citizenship, education for global citizenship. And I think this is a time to speak about it. It is about education for sustainable development. We are having a major global forum later this year in November in Nagoya in Japan which is a forum about education for sustainable development. So the stakes are very high nowadays with all the challenges that we have. And we want that the oldest, I would say, global learning and education is about global citizenship and that young people know what is at stake.
UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova on investing in girls' education to combat poverty.
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