09.09.2010 - ODG

Irina Bokova Advocates for Literacy at the United Nations

© UNESCO/Bob Krasner - UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova and Laura Bush, Honorary Ambassador for the UN Literacy Decade, at the international conference ‘Literacy: an essential foundation for development’ at UN Headquarters on International Literacy Day, 8 September 2010.

UNESCO’s Director-General Irina Bokova and Laura Bush, Honorary Ambassador for the United Nations Literacy Decade, urged everyone to become engaged in scaling up support for literacy at an event organized at the United Nations in New York by UNESCO, UNDP and the United Office for Partnerships on 8 September to mark International Literacy Day.

“If literacy is to attract more widespread support, we all have to become its ambassadors,” said Irina Bokova, noting that literacy remains a neglected education goal despite its “multiplier effects” on all the Millennium Development Goals, from improving health to income. “There is enormous scope for scaling up best practice, influencing policy and improving the contents of literacy programmes. This is also a matter of creative thinking and citizen engagement,” she said.

Both speakers focused on women’s empowerment, the theme of the 2010 International Day. Irina Bokova drew the audience’s attention to UNESCO’s Literacy Prizes awarded to innovative programmes in Egypt, Nepal, Malawi, Colombia, Cape Verde and Germany that are bringing real transformations into women’s lives and well beyond.

Laura Bush, honorary ambassador for the United Nations Literacy Decade, spoke about efforts underway in Afghanistan to ensure education and literacy for women. She reiterated the far-reaching impact of women’s literacy on families, communities and countries and urged for “new solutions and new partnerships to promote literacy.”

During the event, Olav Kjorven, senior policy director at UNDP, called for stronger collaboration with UNESCO in order “to increase the importance of education and literacy as a precondition for successful societies in the 21st century.”

In closing, Jacob Atem, a Sudanese refugee who learnt how to read in a UN refugee camp in Kenya and is now completing a Masters of Public Health degree in the United States, said that “literacy remains the most essential building block for meaningful change” and shared his organization’s efforts in Southern Sudan “to establish literacy skills as a basis for bringing improvement, stability and prosperity to our communities.”

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