Chicago Gives UNESCO Director-General a Warm Welcome
Summerlike temperatures in Chicago were matched only by the warm welcome city leaders put out for Director-General Irina Bokova as she touched down in her third U.S. city in almost as many days, as part of her 10 day mission to the United States. Critical among the meetings was a private discussion with Senator Richard Durbin, the senior Senator from Illinois and a leader in the Senate majority and on international affairs.
Senator Durbin and the Director-General discussed the current situation following the cut in U.S. funding to UNESCO. Director-General Bokova explained that many member states have come to the aid of the Organization, some with early payment of dues and others with extra-budgetary contributions. However, she pointed out what could be lost if non-payment continues, would be the robust dialogue and debate that the U.S. participates in. “These discussions are critical to advancing shared values and principles that will influence education policy, scientific research, and freedom of expression around the world and for years to come,” the Director General told Senator Durbin.
Durbin responded positively to the meeting, encouraged continued engagement in the United States to raise awareness and promote the Organization’s initiatives, and committed to seeking possible solutions to the funding issue.
The Director-General’s visit to Chicago met squarely with his recommendations. Among her other engagements in the Windy City, Mme Bokova was the keynote speaker at a luncheon hosted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an organization that has been a leading voice on U.S. foreign policy issues since 1922. Over 200 influential Chicagoans attended the event at which the Director-General focused on women and global development. “To release this power, we need to target catalytic points. This is the importance of girls’ and women’s education. Education gives a voice, it encourages political participation, and it increases opportunities in the labor market. There can be no equitable or just society without gender equality -- and this begins with education.”
But Director-General Bokova, drawing from the recently release UNESCO World Atlas of Gender Equality in Education, added that significant progress eludes the global community. “Globally, girls remain more likely than boys to never enter primary school. Less than 40 percent of countries provide girls and boys with equal access to education. In sub-Saharan Africa, we estimate that almost 12 million girls may never enrol in school. Women still represent two-thirds of the world’s adult illiterate population of 796 million, and the price we pay for this is unacceptable,” she said.
In addition to high profile meetings, the Director-General was active in promoting UNESCO to journalists, and leaders in education and the cultural community. She held two meetings with journalists, one at the McCormick Foundation and the other with the editorial board of The Chicago Tribune, a leading American daily newspaper. She was hosted at the home of Irene Pritzker, president of the IDP Foundation, which is committed to mobilizing resources and strategic support to increase educational opportunities, and where the Director-General met with leading academics in the Chicago community. She met with the Chicago Architecture Foundation, where she emphasized the importance of integrating World Heritage Sites in their respective local communities, as well as with the MacArthur Foundation, where the Director-General found significant opportunities for possible partnerships on initiatives of common interest, including media freedom and education.
The Director-General’s six city mission to the U.S. includes stops in Washington, Philadelphia, Chicago, Miami, San Francisco and Los Angeles.