Basic education and gender equality

'Leaders for Education' talk about lives and societies transformed

United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative interview series

© UNICEF/NYHQ2007-1287/Asselin
In 2007, Angélique Kidjo, one of the 'Leaders for Education' interviewees, holds up a slate with the message "Papa and Mama, I want to go to school" at a children's centre at the Dantokpa Market in Cotonou, Benin.

NEW YORK, USA, 18 May 2010 – In the lead-up to the global ‘Engendering Empowerment: Education and Equality’ conference now under way in Dakar, Senegal, the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI) has developed a series of web profiles called Leaders for Education. The series aims to raise awareness about girls' education and gender equality, highlighting many of the issues that are being discussed by UNGEI partners in Senegal.

Leaders for Education features interviews with global leaders from various sectors – including government, sport, business and civil society – who have contributed to progress on girls’ education and gender equality, or whose personal stories are sources of inspiration to advocates of quality education for all.

The voices featured in the series are diverse but they all agree on one key point: the power of education to transform the lives of children, their communities and the world at large. Below are excerpts from four of the Leaders for Education interviews. See the box at right for links to the full series.

Angélique Kidjo

Angélique Kidjo, the dynamic West African singer and songwriter, was appointed a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 2002. Ms. Kidjo speaks to us about the impact education has had on her life, and the importance of educating girls for a better and brighter future.

You are a successful international singer-songwriter and activist. Were there elements in your education that inspired you and shaped your worldview?

My parents always insisted that I had to pursue my education at a time when, as a teenager, I was already making a living. They told me that I had to fully grasp the world to be a real artist. My education has allowed me to travel all over the world and help promote the beauty of the African culture. History is a key element of education. Discovering the history of slavery and apartheid has greatly influenced my music.

Because of my education, I feel I am at home in every country I visit. I am able to connect and interact with people from different cultures.

Read the complete interview.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-0217/Gordon
UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Hilde Frafjord Johnson visits children at a safe house outside Monrovia, Liberia.

Hilde F. Johnson

Hilde F. Johnson is a Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF and was Norway’s Minister of International Development twice: from 1997 to 2000, and from 2001 to 2005. Here she tells us why education is the right of every child.

Why should governments invest in education? How does receiving an education translate into global development and gender equality?

First of all, education is a fundamental human right. Everyone, everywhere has the same right to education. It is crucial for the individual, the community and for nation building….

Second, there is ample evidence that investing in education, especially for girls, is the most profitable investment for any country. When governments ensure that children have access to a quality education rooted in gender equality, they create a ripple effect of opportunity that impacts themselves as well as future generations. Education is perhaps the most vital intervention to break the inter-generational cycle of poverty.

Third, education can be seen as a basic infrastructure in a society. It helps develop the human capital base fundamental to a vibrant economy, society and country…. 

Read the complete interview.

© Zoran Jovanovic Maccak
UNICEF Ambassador for Serbia Ana Ivanovic visits a school.

Ana Ivanovic

Ana Ivanovic is a former top-ranked world-class tennis player, much sought-after photo model and global sports star. In September 2007, Ms. Ivanovic became a UNICEF National Ambassador for Serbia and an advocate for child rights, particularly in the areas of education and child protection. She speaks to us about the role of education in her life and her involvement with the ‘School without Violence’ programme.

Why is your advocacy role important to you, and what messages do you have to share with children and young people about the importance of education and gender equality?

It’s an incredible honour to be invited to be a part of UNICEF and I take this role very seriously. I remember when I was a kid, I would look up to athletes as role models, and I understand that some children are looking at me this way. It is a nice responsibility to have.

I have always loved school and I enjoy studying. I am often asked for advice on how children can make it in professional tennis, and I always say that they should believe in themselves and follow their goals, but they should not forget about education because, along with having a stable family environment, it is the most important thing in a young person’s life.

Read the complete interview.

© Cisco
John T. Chambers, Chairman and CEO of Cisco.

John T. Chambers

John T. Chambers is Chairman and CEO of Cisco, the first private-sector organization to be part of UNGEI's Global Advisory Committee. Here Mr. Chambers talks to us about what education means to him and the role of women in fueling economic growth, not just at Cisco, but in the developing world.

What does education mean to you and how has it helped you launch your career?

I believe that education and the Internet are two great equalizers for the world.

The Internet breaks down geographic and financial barriers to education provision and also enables communities to interact and learn together. The use of the Internet in education has always been at the heart of Cisco’s corporate social responsibility initiatives. On a personal note, my wife is a former schoolteacher, and I myself struggled in school due to dyslexia. I’ve always felt that we can and should do more to enable everyone – regardless of location or socio-economic status – to have access to knowledge and opportunities.

Read the complete interview.

About the series, and UNGEI

Other segments in the Leaders for Education Navanethem Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights; Ela Bhatt, the founder of the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA); and Zainab Salbi, co-founder and CEO of Women for Women International. Additional interviews will be posted in the coming weeks.

Formed in 2000, the UNGEI global partnership embraces the United Nations system, governments, donor countries, non-governmental organizations, civil society, the private sector, and communities and families all over the world. UNICEF is the lead agency for UNGEI, and the Initiative’s secretariat is based at UNICEF headquarters in New York.



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