First lady named UNESCO en­voy for women, girls

Peng vows to fight for ed­u­ca­tion rights and gen­der equal­ity

China Daily (Canada) - - CHINA - By LI XIANG in Paris lix­i­ang@chi­

Be­ing des­ig­nated a UNESCO spe­cial en­voy for girls’ and women’s ed­u­ca­tion had first lady Peng Liyuan think­ing of her fa­ther.

“He used to be the prin­ci­pal of a night school in the coun­try­side, and he helped a lot to im­prove lit­er­acy in the ru­ral area,” Peng said in front of a group of guests and re­porters at the UNESCO head­quar­ters in Paris on Thurs­day.

In the spa­cious hall on the sev­enth floor of the UNESCO head­quar­ters, which over­looks the Eif­fel Tower, the iconic sym­bol of France, Peng was given the of­fi­cial cer­tifi­cate of des­ig­na­tion that made her the sixth per­son — and the first Chi­nese — to be made a UNESCO spe­cial en­voy.

“It means that I will ac­tively par­tic­i­pate in this no­ble cause, and I am will­ing to do my best to fight for the right of ed­u­ca­tion for girls and women,” Peng said.

Irina Bokova, UNESCO’s di­rec­tor­gen­eral, said that the des­ig­na­tion sent a strong mes­sage of the im­por­tance of in­vest­ing in girls’ and women’s ed­u­ca­tion and the pro­mo­tion of gen­der equal­ity in the world.

“I hope the voice of Peng can help bring pos­i­tive changes to China as well as the world and to play a leading role in the ef­fort of pro­mot­ing ed­u­ca­tion world­wide,” Bokova said.

Un­like the bet­ter-known UNESCO good­will am­bas­sadors, who are usu­ally celebri­ties who use their fame to spread the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s ideals, the spe­cial en­voys are rec­og­nized for their com­mit­ment to a cer­tain cause, and they help pro­mote UNESCO’s mes­sages through their pro­fes­sional ac­tiv­i­ties and per­sonal charisma.

Other in­ter­na­tional dig­ni­taries who were of­fered such ti­tles in­clude Princess Lau­ren­tien of the Nether­lands, for lit­er­acy for de­vel­op­ment; Sheikha Moza Bint Nasser, a wife of the for­mer emir of Qatar, for ba­sic and higher ed­u­ca­tion; and Prince Talal Bin Ab­dul Aziz of Saudi Ara­bia, for wa­ter.

Some ob­servers said Peng’s des­ig­na­tion has helped fur­ther push China’s soft power and diplo­matic in­flu­ence in Europe and the world.

“Peng is a well-known Chi­nese fig­ure with an el­e­gant per­son­al­ity. Her pres­ence at UNESCO is an op­por­tu­nity to demon­strate the soft power of China and also to strengthen China’s cul­tural, aca­demic and hu­man­i­tar­ian ex­changes with the world,” said Pierre Pic­quart, a China ob­server and pro­fes­sor at Univer­sity of Paris VIII.

Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping’s visit and speech at the UNESCO head­quar­ters and the in­volve­ment of the first lady in the mis­sion of the in­ter­na­tional agency demon­strate a new style of China’s global com­mu­ni­ca­tion, said Alice Ek­man, a China specialist at the French In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Af­fairs.

“Al­though de­vel­op­ing soft power and im­prov­ing the im­age of the coun­try is not a new aim for Bei­jing, we are wit­ness­ing a more per­son­al­ized com­mu­ni­ca­tion style of the Chi­nese lead­er­ship with a greater in­volve­ment of the first lady,” she said.

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