» Jill Biden, Second Lady of the US, and Irina Bokova launch girls’ education initiative at UNESCO Headquarters
14.06.2016 - UNESCOPRESS

Jill Biden, Second Lady of the US, and Irina Bokova launch girls’ education initiative at UNESCO Headquarters

On 14 June, Dr Jill Biden, wife of the Vice President of the United States of America, launched the TeachHer initiative, at UNESCO Headquarters. TeachHer is a public-private partnership to help bridge the gender gap in education, focusing on science & technology, engineering & the arts, as well as Mathematics (STEAM).

The First Lady of Costa Rica, Mercedes Peñas Domingo, attended the event, alongside representatives of several UNESCO Member States. The launch featured the participation of young students working on STEAM projects and some of their technological innovations.

In her opening, Irina Bokova expressed her condolences to the people and Government of the United States for the tragic loss of life in the terrorist attack in Orlando last weekend and highlighted the link between education and human rights, both part of UNESCO’s mandate. “We know the two go together, inextricably, especially for girls and young women,” Ms Bokova said.

“The world has set a new agenda for Sustainable Development for the next 15 years,” she added, “this agenda for poverty eradication and sustainability is designed to leave no one behind, it is an agenda for human rights and dignity.”

“This is the significance of the TeachHer Initiative, to empower girls to pursue science, technology, engineering, arts and design and mathematics. STEAM goes to the heart of sustainability.”

The US-led programme draws on an April decision by the UNESCO Executive Board and will build on UNESCO’s work in promoting science education and rewarding outstanding women scientists, including with the L’Oréal Foundation, to eliminate all biases discouraging girls from STEAM careers.

“I see the face of the new global agenda as that of a girl named Zeynab,” Ms Bokova said, speaking of the 15-year-old Ethiopian supported by UNESCO who won the 6th National Science, Technology and Mathematics competition held by African Union, Addis Ababa, for inventing a solar mobile charger, an incubator and an instrument to spot rotten eggs. “We must support Zeynab,” the Director-General said, “because Zeynab is the promise of a better world for everyone.”

Dr Biden declared that “It’s our responsibility to make sure all girls are given the same opportunity to learn and grow into confident and independent women, so they can realize their dreams and help contribute to the success of their nations. All around the world today,” she added, “too many girls’ dreams are deferred. Too often girls are discouraged from pursuing their ambitions—they’re told they can’t dream big because of who they are, because they’re girls.”

“Students of both genders are equally interested in STEAM education and careers,” the Second Lady argued. “But a gap begins to open up and by the time college rolls around, young men are almost twice as likely as young women to graduate with a degree in those fields. Somewhere along the lines, we are losing these girls.” 

Dr Biden insisted on the need to change this situation and said that “Advancing women’s equality in the economy could add $12 trillion to the global GDP by 2025. So, investing in girls’ education is good for the bottom line. But, more importantly, women have a right to equality of opportunity. We have to do what we can to level the playing field — to make sure that our daughters have the same options that our sons are given. Because our nations cannot reach their full potential until its women and girls reach theirs.”

Mercedes Peñas Domingo, First Lady of Costa Rica, which will serve as Central America’s pilot for the TeachHer initiative, voiced her country’s commitment to education. “Costa Rica has the unique privilege of having more teachers than soldiers”, she said, adding that 8% of its GDP is devoted to public education. “To incorporate girls and young women into scientific and technology education will enhance their chances through innovation, leadership and passion,” the First Lady declared . “You can count on Costa Rica”.

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