UNESCO must Rally to Improve Education for All

UNESCO must Rally to Improve Education for All

Talking point

Moushira Khattab, Ambassador and Former Egyptian Minister

UNESCO must Rally to Improve Education for All

The Egyptian candidate to succeed Irina Bukova as General Director of Unesco is in the top three among the eight candidates still in the race.  She is the only one to come from Africa. She led many international and human right fights. She amended the Egyptian penal system against human trafficking, sale of children, sexual abuse and exploitation in pornography. She also prohibited and criminalized Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). She told our reporter in Paris, Christine Holzbauer, why she thinks that as an Arab, African and Mediterranean woman, she is the best candidate to win the October 9th-13th rounds of election.


Why do you want to lead Unesco?

I decided to run for the post of General Director because now is the time to build peace in the minds of men and women through education, science and culture. I can offer an expertise and a vision that are unique. I am myself a career diplomat and I have worked on the ground as a minister. I also come from a continent that desperately needs Unesco. The world could listen more to us, but as an Arab, African and Mediterranean woman who has travelled extensively and lived as far as in Australia, I feel I can represent the whole world. Finally, my country, Egypt, has a very special relationship with Unesco.  In the 1960’s we agreed to save the Abou Simbel temple and signed a convention that has become a landmark for the rescuing of historical monuments all over the world. In the streets of Cairo, you will find many people who want Egypt to lead Unesco since we are trying for the third time, and I hope, inchAllah, that we will be successful this time!


Which of your skills will make a difference in order to be elected?

First, let me say that being an Egyptian puts me at an advantage. Egypt is at a crossroad of civilization. We have 7000 years of history. We interacted with everybody coming from Africa, the Mediterranean, and the Middle east and the rest of the world. In Israel, we initiated and protected the peace process. At the United Nations, President el Sissi delivered a vibrant speech to call Palestinians and Israelis to agree to a permanent peace process. As for me, I am deeply convinced that there is room for a Palestinian state to cohabite with an Israeli state. So, I could bring Unesco to get more involved in accompanying this peace process through improved education, and through the training of teachers.

I have a long experience in building consensus due to my exposure as an expert on human rights and children protection inside the United Nations. I also worked with lots of agencies (Unicef, IOM, Unidir) not only in Egypt but globally. This expertise gives me an edge since I will come to Unesco not only knowing the kind of problems I will be facing, but also with an excellent reputation to induce partnerships or raise funds. As a minister, I raised hundreds of millions of dollars from USAID, UE, Italian, Dutch, Swedish cooperation, and AfDB. As a Muslim woman, I feel like I am fighting for the rights of all women.


What will you achieve at Unesco that you have not already made?

We still have lots of problems with girls and women being deprived of education or being victims of violence and sexual abuses.  We still have millions of children outside the education system and we have to work collectively to improve education. Not only building schools, but improving the quality of education to attract and retain children. Poor quality of education is one of the reasons why many families send their children to earn a living at a young age. In schools, they will not learn the skills that are necessary for them to work.

Will you continue to emphasize the education of girls in science?

Of course. The training of dedicated science teachers is the key since for us in the developing world, the main challenge is how to become net contributor to science and not only mere consumer.


Education is paid for by national budgets, but most developing countries lack the necessary resources 

I will invite all donors from now on to give absolute priority to build a quality education.  The developing countries will have to allocate an incremental percentage of their GDP to education. In between buying arms and investing in education, they can have all their other priorities.


What are the other priorities you want for Unesco?

Fighting terrorism and extremism, as well as raising awareness on the value of culture and the joy of learning from others is what is most needed for the moment! We live in a global village, so we have to learn how to become global citizens


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Written by Christine Holzbauer

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