Interview de S.A.R. la Grande-Duchesse : Women and Unesco


Please give a brief presentation of your own background and how you got involved in UNESCO activities ? What is your most rewarding interaction or experience with the Organization?

After having left my native Cuba in 1959, I settled down with my family in Geneva where I graduated in political sciences at the University in 1980. During my studies, I met my husband who became Grand-Duke of Luxembourg in October 2000. We have five children. In 1997 I became Goodwill Ambassador for UNESCO. My preferred field of action is the education of women and children throughout the world as well as the promotion of micro-credits. I have visited many UNESCO projects in Bosnia and Bangladesh and given my special support to the project “Breaking the Poverty Cycle of Women: Empowering Adolescent Girls to Became Agents of Social Transformation? coordinated by Sayeeda Rahman. This project which is now drawing to its close has been exceptionally successful, since it enables thousands of young girls to start a professional life and thus become independent.

The purpose of the Organization is described in the Constitution “to contribute to peace and security by promoting collaboration among the nations through education, science and culture in order to further universal respect for justice, for the rule of law and the human rights and fundamental freedoms which are affirmed for the peoples of the world without distinction of race, sex, language and religion, by the Charter of the United Nations?
Please comment on your personal experience in translating these noble ideals into reality and highlight areas where you have first hand experience of UNESCO being particularly successful in living up to its mandate.

The purpose of UNESCO described above is philosophically and morally so important that each of us should live it in our everyday lives. As Grand-Duchess of Luxembourg I chair humanitarian foundations and organizations that strive to achieve similar goals. In my official and in my private life, I constantly try to pass on the important message of UNESCO. According to my personal experience as Goodwill Ambassador, UNESCO is particularly successful everywhere it fights poverty. A poor person indeed has one preoccupation: getting food and survive. It is only when this first need is satisfied that we can think about philosophical or social issues. Another important field of UNESCO's activities is the education of girls and women, too often cut off from literacy and schooling.

“Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that defenses of peace must be constructed? Has the preamble of the UNESCO Constitution been of particular importance in your work? If yes – in which way? And where do you believe this “building of defenses of peace in the minds of men? needs to be pursued with abiding or increased vigor in the present international environment?

If we look at the present international environment, we might say almost everywhere. In those countries that suffer from war and destruction, the answer is obvious. But peace is not always only the absence of armed conflicts. It is also a state of religious tolerance, of social respect, of equality between men and women, of protecting and helping children, of taking care of the sick. A society that does not live up to these goals is not at peace. And here, many things remain to be done. As long as there are countries where women are excluded from social and political life, where children are sold to prostitution or to warfare, where sick and old people die alone, sometime on the streets, we have a long way to go. And there the preamble of the UNESCO constitution is of great help since it keeps reminding us of the vital issues we have to live up to.

How would you characterize, in your personal view, the most significant contribution you have been able to make to the work of the Organization? With the benefit of hindsight, do you have any lessons to share or advice to give for successor generations involved in the same areas?

With due modesty, I am satisfied with the help I could give through the “Fondation du Grand-Duc Henri et de la Grande-Duchesse Maria Teresa? to the project of Sayeeda Rahman I mentioned earlier. This project is indeed important: young girls are schooled and trained and thus able to break the “poverty cycle? Thousands of these girls living in India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan are about to finish their training and schooling period. Now microcredits will help them start a small enterprise and an independent life. One advice I would give to people involved in the same areas is to open up their hearts, to listen and to be respectful of other cultures and mentalities.

How, if at all, has your involvement with UNESCO influenced/affected your professional or personal life or of your worldview?

You cannot get in contact with UNESCO and all the wonderful people working there, both in the administration and as Goodwill Ambassadors, and remain unaffected. My involvement with UNESCO has shown me how important professional team work is, how necessary it is to send competent and committed people to the areas where help is needed most, but above all, the ideals of this great organization are ideals we can all subscribe to, both in our personal and in our professional lives.

As a woman, did you experience special disadvantages or advantages while being associated with the Organization?

No, I did not. But my involvement with UNESCO shows me again and again how in too many countries women are disadvantaged because of the mere fact that they are women. And that is absolutely intolerable.

Where you involved in special efforts aiming at realizing the goal of gender equality and the empowerment of women? If so, what was your experienced and can we learn lessons therefrom? Do you have any views or comments on UNESCO's achievements in the areas of women's empowerment and gender equality?

The project “Breaking the Poverty Cycle of Women? I have mentioned before is one example. My commitment and involvement in the promotion of microcredits granted mostly to women is another. But we all know how many more things remain to be done before we can speak of gender equality, even in Europe. There are still less women in governments or parliaments, there are less female CEOs, women are battered and have to seek refuge with their children, women are raped and forced to prostitution… Not to mention the dreadful situation of women in societies where they are lapidated, excised, without any even basic rights. There are so many battles that remain to be fought….

Would you have any advice to young women working with UNESCO today?

If we talk about gender equality, why should I give different advice to young women than to young men? To young people of both genders who have the idealism to work for UNESCO, I would like to say: You have the chance to work for one of the most interesting international organizations that helps people in dire poverty and that is responsible for fascinating projects in the fields of education, sciences and culture, as it contributes to the protection of the heritages of mankind, be they cultural, natural or immaterial. Enjoy your work, communicate your enthusiasm and never forget that your work helps making the world better.

As UNESCO prepares to discuss the parameters for a new medium-term strategy covering the years 2008-2013, would you have some suggestions to make pertaining to the role of women, gender mainstreaming or in offering words of advice in general?

There are so many goals that I would like to see achieved by 2013: appropriate educational programs should put an end to the excision of women, there should be no more children soldiers or human trafficking. These are only a few examples. A special effort should also be made in the field of religious tolerance and respect, since I am very worried about some forms of extremism.

Is there one particular issue close to your hear that you would like to see pursued of emphasized as a top priority for the Organization?

There is indeed. One issue that is close to my heart is our common strife for a culture of peace and the respect of each other's cultural identity. I am deeply convinced of the importance of the thought formulated in the introduction of the UNESCO Constitution: "…since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed". For me, UNESCO is THE link between the ideals of peace, the respect of our planet and the hope for a better future for our children.