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At UNESCO, First Lady of China Affirms her Commitment to Girls’ and Women’s Education

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova welcomed the First Lady of China and UNESCO Special Envoy for the Advancement of Girls’ and Women’s Education, Ms Peng Liyuan, to UNESCO Headquarters on 30 November 2015.

The Director-General thanked Ms Peng Liyuan for her deep commitment to the cause of girls’ and women’s education, recalling the inspiration she provided to female educators from Asia and Africa  at the International Seminar organized in Beijing in early September 2015, and her memorable speech at the Global Education First Initiative’s high-level event on 26 September, during the UN Special Summit in New York.  

Ms Bokova asserted the importance of the recently established UNESCO Prize for Girls’ and Women’s Education, an initiative proposed by China and adopted by the Executive Board in October 2015 to reward the outstanding efforts of individuals, institutions, other entities or NGOs in this area.

“I firmly believe that girls’ education is  the key to transformation and sustainable development, but there is still much to be done. We must focus on the countries lagging behind, on the obstacles that are keeping girls – especially adolescents - from going to school, and on the links with other sectors in society – health, skills, jobs and the environment – to show the impact of girls’ education across all the development goals. We believe this Prize will carry great impact,” she said, suggesting to the First Lady that the first edition of the Prize could be awarded jointly at a special event.

The First Lady offered her full personal support and that of her country to advance girls’ education, also emphasizing the importance that China attaches to the education of young people, who are increasingly exposed to the world. “As China becomes more integrated, we have a sense of responsibility to our young people, to educate for tolerance, to learn how to embrace other people’s cultures,” she said, inquiring about UNESCO’s work in this area.

The Director-General asserted that UNESCO’s mandate was firmly inscribed in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including through a comprehensive approach to education and the recognition of culture, expressing appreciation for China’s active role in shaping this agenda and in searching for solutions.

She also briefed the First Lady on UNESCO’s role in countering violent extremism and preventing youth radicalization through education for tolerance, respect, intercultural dialogue and human rights. She highlighted the relevance of UNESCO’s mandate to the COP21 conference on climate change, noting once again the importance of education to promote responsibility for sustainable development.

“This is a golden time for cooperation between China and UNESCO,” affirmed Ms Peng, recalling also President Xi Jinping’s historic speech at UNESCO in March 2014, when she was appointed Special Envoy for the Advancement of Girls’ and Women’s Education. She warmly welcomed the Director-General’s proposal to organize a special event in 2016 to further promote education for girls, following the success of major conferences hosted by China, in Beijing, Shanghai, Qingdao and Hangzhou, among others.

Ms Peng Liyuan was accompanied to UNESCO by Mr Hao Ping, Vice Minister of Education and Chairman of the National Commission of the People’s Republic of China for UNESCO and former President of the General Conference of UNESCO; Ms Zhang Xiuqin, Ambassador and Permanent Delegate, Mr Du Yue, Secretary-General of the National Commission, and Ms Wang Xinxia, Councillor of the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in France and spouse of Mr Zhai Jun, Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to France.