Bokova Urges Massive Investment in Education at UN Top Job Debate

World | July 13, 2016, Wednesday // 13:36
Bulgaria: Bokova Urges Massive Investment in Education at UN Top Job Debate Candidate for the post of UN Secretary-General Irina Bokova, Director-General of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) from Bulgaria, speaks at a Global town hall meeting at the UN Headquarters in New York, US, July 12,

A massive investment in education is needed to make sure girls around the world are able to go to school, UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova said at a United Nations debate among candidates to head the organization.

"One of the most effective tools for bridging inequality is education. If we have to have a face on this agenda of sustainable development, maybe we should take a photo of a girl that is 10-12 years that is continuing to go to school, that is not married, that is supported by her family and her community. And then she is empowered to continue with her life,“ Bokova argued, when asked how she would address the poverty gap, discrimination and violence against women.

Bokova is Bulgaria's official nomination to take over from Ban Ki-moon next year.

She took part, alongside all but two official candidates (those of Macedonia and Slovakia who were unable to attend) in a first-of-a-kind televised debate at the UN headquarters, aired and moderated by Al Jazeera.

Asked whether it would make her more proud to be the first Eastern European or the first female Secretary General, the Bulgarian candidate replied: “Both.” On whether some positions at the UN should be excluded from the principle of geographical rotation, she said: “None.” Bokova then emphasized the need to have all the regions represented in the world body.

She added that Eastern European countries were suitable to produce the next UN Secretary General candidate as they “know what it is to make democratic societies and instill democratic values.”

On the deadlock in the United Nations Security Council over the conflict between Israel and Palestine – with no resolution agreed since 2009 – she has emphasized the need to “build trust”.

“What we see now is lack of trust, lack of political process, practically no negotiations, no contacts. I think one of the first responsibilities of a future secretary general will be to start building trust between the parties. If you don't have trust, this will continue to be one of these protracted crises."

“Overall the UN system, particularly in the humanitarian area, is underfunded... I will fight for a bigger chunk of the fund,” Bokova simply concluded when asked where she would get the money for the proposed boost in the budget of the UN human rights system. She stopped short of elaborating, but added for “a lot of support from member states” that has to be mustered through “a very committed debate.”

Reforms aimed at cutting funding and increasing efficiency are known to Bokova from her experience as UNESCO head, she asserted. She recalled that 22 percent of her organization's budget were cut five years ago after the United States suspended its funding over a resolution admitting Palestine to the UN cultural body. “I had to make profound reforms of the organization to cut the red tape, to decrease the levels of management [sic]. At the same moment to protect the geographical distribution and increase to protect the gender representation. We are arriving at almost a parity...

Regarding gender parity, Bokova cited her effort to improve it at the UN cultural body, with 47% of her staff currently being female, up from 24% at the time she was taking over.

Bokova made clear she would “definitely be a big fighter for intercultural dialogue and peace and to overcome divisions” if selected for the post.

“The UN should do more to instill this feeling of a community that is united around certain values,“ she added as a concluding remark, pointing again to her experience at UNESCO as something useful toward this end. She again cited her experience at UNESCO as something useful toward this end.

The debate was designed to last around two hours, with candidates arranged in groups of five and thus grilled for an hour. Bokova's group included Slovenian President (2007-2012) Danilo Turk, UN climate change commissioner Christiana Figueres from Costa Rica, Montenegro's Foreign Minister Igor Luk?i?, and New Zealand's former PM and current UN development program chief Helen Clark. Candidates in her round had to answer to questions regarding the civil war in Syria, the reform of the UN Security Council, UN budgeting and human resources, the need for the unwritten principle of geographical rotation at the world body, and the UN peacekeepers' controversial role in the cholera outbreak in Haiti in 2010.

While the televised event is part of the unprecedented move to make the selection process for the UN top job more transparent, the final decision will lie with the UN Security Council and, subsequently, with the General Assembly.

Next week, an informal secret ballots procedure begins that will result in the Security Council recommending a candidate to the  Assembly for election.

The choice of the 15-strong body will not be officially announced before a meeting of the General Assembly that will have the final say on the selected candidate.

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Tags: Irina Bokova, UN Secretary General, UN top job, UNESCO, Bulgaria, UN, United Nations, debate, Al Jazeera
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