Monday, November 30, 2009

Announcing UNESCO's first-ever female Director General, Irina Bokova!


We are pleased to share UNESCO's announcement of the appointment of Irina Bokova, a former Bulgarian politician and ambassador to France and Monaco, as the Director-General of UNESCO. Director-General Bokova is the first woman and the first representative of an Eastern European country to occupy this position since the founding of the Organization in 1945. DG Bokova comes to the post with over three decades of experience in the international arena. Previously, she served as Secretary of State for European Integration, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and was elected a Member of Parliament in Bulgaria. She had been a Permanent Delegate of her country to UNESCO since 2005.

As the "Women's Empowerment" UNITWIN, Irina's appointment is of special excitement to us. Since one of UNESCO's two organizational priorities through until 2013 is Gender Equality, we anticipate a redoubling of the important work the Organization is carrying out in this arena!

A warm welcome and hearty congratulations to DG Bokova, from the Women's Studies Program at Boston University and from our University and NGO partners in India and Burkina Faso!

A Letter from BU Grad Yael Shapira from Southern India

Dear Prof. McSweeney,

I just wanted to send a quick update from India, since I have recently been thinking about you quite often in the context of my work.

Two weeks ago I began an internship with the NGO Aide et Action (it deals with education, especially of people in the rural areas). The specific project I'm working on at this point is evaluating the implementation of inclusive education programs for children with disabilities. I just came back from a week out in the villages, in Andhra Pradesh, where I went to government schools and interviewed students, teachers, mandal leaders, and self-help groups of people with disabilities. The point was to find out if the students are actually being included in the mainstream education and if they are still facing any discrimination. My findings were really fascinating.

With a self-help group for disabled people.

"Inclusive Education" is one of the methods of implementing the "education for all" law here in India. With regards to children with disabilities, it entails getting children out of their houses, work, or special education schools and including them into mainstream classrooms. It is an approach that requires the school to adapt to the child's needs, rather than an integration approach in which the child has to adapt to the rest of the class.

After going out into the villages and conducting many interviews, I found that the children with disabilities have indeed been identified and taken out of their homes to attend the mainstream schools. Awareness has been created by NGOs to rid of superstitions and discrimination. As a first step that is very important. However, these children are merely being integrated and their special needs are not being taken care of in order for them to get a real education and to achieve their rights.

With a classroom that has children with disabilities.

I also got to meet villagers living in a temporary tent community because their village and crops were destroyed in recent floods. It made me realize how important disaster relief work is, and I am pretty sure that I am going to focus on that in my future studies.

I want to let you know that I felt as if everything I learned in the Gender and International Development class came to life right in front of me. It was such an incredible experience to actually be out in the field and talking to people about their experiences instead of just reading about them in a textbook, and I was truly inspired by so many of the people. Your class really prepared me for dealing with so many of the issues I am coming across (such as child labor, girls in school, etc.) and I would really like to thank you for that.

All the best,


Sunday, November 29, 2009

UNESCO's UNITWIN Program Introduces its New Logo!

Owing to the growth of the successful UNESCO Chairs/UNITWIN (University Twinning) program under the dynamic leadership of Dr. Sonia Bahri, the program has now been accorded its own logo!

Pictured below is Sonia with her team on the occasion of a recent meeting in Paris with Brenda Gael McSweeney, to strategize for the future of the UNESCO UNITWIN on Gender, Culture, and People-Centered Development, anchored at Boston University and with prestigious partners in India and Burkina Faso. The UNITWIN poster featuring the new logo is the backdrop!

From l to r: Ariana Stahmer, Hassmik Tortian, Brenda Gael McSweeney, Sonia Bahri, Inga Nichanian, and Milena Caceres Valderrama.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Momentous News from Visva-Bharati, West Bengal!

 Just in from eastern India:

"Dear Dr. McSweeney,

I received a copy of your mail to Kumkum {Bhattacharya - UNITWIN Coordinator Visva-Bharati} and am happy to know the activities, plans and programs of UNITWIN. I am happy to inform you that UGC {University Grants Commission} has granted us the status of a Women's Studies Centre for which we have been trying for the last ten years as a Cell.

I have joined as Director two months back and we have taken up different plans and projects under the umbrella. We plan to have a national conference on Women and Development around March 2010 and would try to get Martha Nussbaum. Prof. Amartya Sen would also be visiting in Dec. 2009 and I wish to discuss our plans with him. We had a wonderful inauguration function as Kumkum wrote to you with paying our respects to about 30 Women in Santiniketan who have made life long contributions in various capacities to Ashrama life of

For the present we have decided to limit our activities basically within Birbhum District. I already had a meeting last month with 20 NGO's working in Birbhum for empowerment of Women. We plan to work with them beside our own programs and research.

We wish to thank you very much for all the help and look for more and more interactions.

With warm personal regards and best,

Asha Mukherjee
Director, Women's Studies Centre
Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan"

Huge congratulations to Asha and our Visva-Bharti UNITWIN Partners!

Kumkum Bhattacharya's excitement:

"One momentous piece of news - Visva-Bharati has its own Women's Studies Centre inaugurated on October 25, 2009 by Professor Jasodhara Bagchi the founding director of the Women's Studies Centre, Jadavpur University and presently the Chairperson, Women's Commission, West Bengal and Professor Sumita Sen, present Director of the Jadavpur University's Women's Studies Centre." 

Indeed, thrilling news that we hope will be inspirational to other Women's Studies initiatives in India and beyond!  

Monday, November 9, 2009

Newest 'TWIN'!

We're thrilled to announce that West Africa has joined our Network, in the person of Mme Scholastique Kompaoré from Burkina Faso. 'Scho', currently President of the Marche Mondiale des Femmes (World March of Women - Burkina branch), is also on the Board of Directors of CUSO/VSO - Canada (Canadian University Service Overseas/Voluntary Service Overseas). She was a pioneer in the gender equality movement in Burkina, and National Coordinator of the 'UNESCO/UNDP/Government Pilot Project for Equal Access of Women and Girls to Education'. She also ran from Zimbabwe the Africa South of the Sahara UNDP/UN Volunteers Programme for Exchange of Conmmunity Field Workers for a decade.

Welcome, Scholastique!

See also our new "Equality Burkina" blog here!