Volume 16 Number 6
Don't Underestimate Unesco '- Or the Power of Women
01 December 2003

UNESCO is often criticized for its lack of efficiency, for the fact that too big a slice of the budget goes to the Paris Secretariat. Yes, it is a mammoth institution-but it has undoubtedly been allotted a mammoth task, a task that is perhaps of greater importance today then ever before.

I shall never forget the 31st General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). It took place only a few weeks after the terrorist attacks on Manhattan and Washington. The atmosphere before the opening was very tense, and all the delegates from the Arab states felt apprehensive, lest the terrible deed reflected on them.

At the time I was President of the General Conference in Paris and very much aware of what was at stake. I was, and still am, convinced that one of the aims of the perpetrators of the terrible attacks was to drive a wedge between the Islamic and the Christian worlds. At the time, the UNESCO General Conference was the only one at governmental level that was not postponed.

Thanks to words of wisdom uttered by President Jacques Chirac of France and others at the beginning of the conference, and the fact that practically all the delegates were educated, enlightened people of good will, a good working atmosphere was established. The resolution against terrorism was adopted unanimously and work went on in an atmosphere of mutual understanding and respect. (I intentionally avoid the word ‘tolerance’, as in my opinion it is not enough to tolerate, one has to try to understand and respect others.) Thus UNESCO played a crucial role at a very difficult time.

Now the US has rejoined UNESCO after many years of absence. It left the organization at a time when the Soviet bloc wielded enormous influence. Today, democracies are in the majority, and the reason for staying away from UNESCO no longer exists. The US’s return is significant for many reasons. No doubt its financial contribution will be more than welcome. But the US will also bring fresh air into the organization as Americans are ‘doers’. This will widen their horizons and give them the opportunity better to understand the situations that developing countries face.

The preamble to UNESCO’s constitution states: ‘Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed. Ignorance of each other’s ways and lives has been a common cause, throughout the history of mankind, of that suspicion and mistrust between the peoples of the world through which their differences have all too often broken into war.’

UNESCO is often criticized for its lack of efficiency, for the fact that too big a slice of the budget goes to the Paris Secretariat. Yes, it is a mammoth institution-but it has undoubtedly been allotted a mammoth task, a task that is perhaps of greater importance today then ever before.

human rights
For many, UNESCO is connected only with the protection of our cultural, natural and intangible heritage. Yet the delegates from every continent keep stressing that the main pillar of UNESCO is education. For, without education, a more enlightened attitude to life and human responsibilities cannot be achieved. In the less fortunate countries of Asia and Africa, access to education and the acquisition of basic skills is a decisive condition for growth towards prosperity. Their intellectual potential will never be fully realized until the people have access to education.

Another of UNESCO’s tasks that people do not fully appreciate is the support of human rights. The Committee for Conventions and Recommendations deals with human rights violations. It often has very satisfying results thanks to the fact that it works in strict confidentiality and never brags about a success. So countries that make concessions or release a prisoner of conscience do not lose face and are more willing to cooperate with the committee. Anyone can send a complaint to the committee on a specific case without waiting for the so-called ‘domestic remedies’, which in some countries exist only on paper or not at all.

UNESCO also endeavours to support all activities that contribute towards greater understanding of peoples in this troubled world of ours.

deadliest poisons
The strongest and deadliest poisons that plague humanity are hate and greed. Not much can be done about greed, but we should do our best to break the vicious circle in which hate, distrust and prejudice against nations and peoples is handed on from one generation to another.

Women can play a decisive role in this endeavour. They have enormous power as they can shape the minds of young children, both at home and at school, as most primary schools teachers are female. If women took it upon themselves to break the vicious circle of hate and prejudice, this world would be a happier one.

I intend to propose such a global movement of women to UNESCO when the opportunity arises. I don’t know whether I shall succeed. But at least people will think about it, and some action might result. In any case, I hope that some readers of For A Change might respond to the idea. I shall welcome any suggestions and initiatives. (Write c/o the Editors.)

Do not underestimate UNESCO. The organization’s aim is a better quality of life on our planet and the enhancement of human dignity. As I stated at the 30th General Conference, over which I had the honour to preside: ‘Whoever violates the human dignity of another loses his own; whoever elevates the human dignity of others enhances his own.’

Jaroslava Moserova is a playwright and politician, and former Senator in the Czech Republic. A medical doctor and burns specialist, she has also been her country’s Ambassador to Australia and New Zealand.

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