27.01.2012 - UNESCOPRESS

India’s Barefoot College and UNESCO join forces for Girls’ and Women’s Empowerment

© Barefoot College - Solar engineers in training at Barefoot College, Tilonia, India

Director-General Irina Bokova welcomed the first civil society partner on board UNESCO’s Global Partnership for Girls’ and Women’s Education by signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the Founder and Director of India’s Barefoot College, Mr Bunker Roy, on 26 January 2012.

“You bring a different and new perspective to this Partnership and to our ambition to create a global movement that gives more girls and women knowledge about their rights and sustainability, and brings confidence to themselves, their families and communities,” said Mrs Bokova. “I know that you will make an excellent match to our more upstream policy work and that you will open new avenues and doors to convince other partners to join in this endeavor.”

UNESCO will cooperate with Barefoot College to offer technical support for establishing environmentally sound Community Empowerment Centres in villages around the world. These centres will promote girls’ and women’s education, vocational skills, women’s entrepreneurship, literacy and lifelong learning, in line with the aims of the Global Partnership launched by UNESCO in May 2011 to narrow the gender gap in secondary education and adult literacy.

The Barefoot College, a non-governmental organization established in Tilonia, India in 1972, has pioneered solar electrification in villages since 1989 by training a few members of the community to become “Barefoot Solar Engineers.” Many of them are illiterate or semi-literate middle-aged women - often grandmothers - who are trained to install, repair and maintain solar powered lighting systems, and  to set up "Rural Electronic Workshops" where components and equipment are stored. UNESCO will provide support to make the workshops learning hubs, using new technologies for literacy and skills training.

“When women are trained, they train others,” said Mr Roy. “We will make the role of grandmothers more visible in society and show that they can be leaders. We hope that through this Partnership we can tangibly improve the quality of life of many people around the world.”

India’s ambassador to UNESCO Mr Vinay Sheel Oberai noted that the Indian Ministry of External Affairs supports the Barefoot College by enabling grandmothers from developing countries to travel to India for six months to follow training courses on solar electrification, taught in sign language.

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