A week ago today, I got the chance to hear Irina Bokova, the Director-General of UNESCO, speak in Chicago. For those of you who may not know, UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and their mission is to contribute to the building of peace, the eradication of poverty, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue through education, the sciences, culture, communication and information. They are kind of a big deal.
Ms. Bokova spoke on “Girls’ Education: A High Return on Investment,” and it proved to be an interesting look into the process of fulfilling the Millennium Development Goals… We definitely have a LONG way to go, but UNESCO’s efforts are helping bring about significant advance.
In her speech Bokova stated that “literacy is a security issue,” and with two- thirds of children in conflict areas illiterate, this statement could not be more relevant. An example of a way UNESCO is helping bring about progress is through their “10,000 Principals Leadership Program,” which is designed to train 10,000 school principals starting in Ghana, Kenya, and India over the course of four years. A report on the program states that it will “will improve the skills of those school leaders and the multiplier effect will benefit thousands of teachers and up to 10 million children.” When telling us about this initiative, she was quick to point out that these new principals will be trained in gender inclusivity in education, which will definitely change the way populations think about educating their daughters. The implications of this gender- sensitive and inclusive training cannot be overstated! How exciting!
“Sometimes we think that equality is a given, that we shouldn’t work for women’s empowerment, but we don’t need to stand still… I do believe that girls and women have the power to change the world,” Bokova stated.
Irina Bokova made it clear that girls education is her passion. At one point she told us that if she had a half of a billion dollars, she would “put it in girls education. No question.”
I was thoroughly inspired, and after the rousing applause, my friend, Karoline, and I made our way to the front to shake Ms. Bokova’s hand. When our moment finally came, I stuck my hand out and said, “Hello, Ms. Bokova! My name is Lily, this is Karoline, and we are two young women who want to change the world.” For the first time that day that I can remember, she smiled, and while still shaking hands she said to us “Wonderful! Changing the world as a young woman is so much easier than people think. Keep going.”
So, young women in the world, let’s do what Ms. Bokova tells us and KEEP GOING!