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Irina Bokova, Front-Runner for UN Top Job

Is Irina Bokova, candidate for the next United Nations Secretary-General, a woman the world can trust?


UNESCO Chief Irina Bokova answers questions after her speech at the International Peace Institute's (IPI) Global Leaders Series. (Ph: VNY)

UNESCO Chief Irina Bokova understands how tough a job she will undertake if she wins. Yet, she continues on a hard campaign, focusing on the idea that since the UN is for everybody then more women are needed, and not just for equality, but to raise the UN’s accountability status. We followed her at the IP Institute

This year the new Secretary-General for the United Nations will be elected, succeeding Ban Ki-moon whose term ends on the last day of 2016. Irina Bokova is one of the nine contenders – four of which are females – vying for the position. Of the nine, seven candidates are from Eastern Europe, yet Bulgarian-born Bokova holds some very strong tendons over all of them. Her radical communism and family ties, however, may override her humanism and active membership to many expert international networks.

Woman-of-power Bokova, who is the current chief of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), gave a very formidable presentation at the International Peace Institute’s (IPI) Global Leaders Series earlier this week to a packed audience – 70% filled with females. “The UN is for everybody. It is not about geographical rotation even though that fact plays a huge role in the decision process,” Bokova said. “We need more women. It’s a good method of policy. I was the first woman voted into leading UNESCO,” she added.

And as far as she sees it, her goals for advancing overall quality education, gender equality, cultural dialogue, scientific cooperation for sustainable development, and being a global advocate for safety of journalists and freedom of expression have played out well so far. She shared her hopes that the changes she made at UNESCO upon her arrival in 2009 will reflect positively on her being voted in as UN SG in September.

“By putting emphasis on girls’ education there has been an increase in women participation – from 24% to now 47%, and the aim is for a full 50-50,” she said. “But formal education is not all there is. Learning and knowledge media are all out there nowadays [via the internet]. Knowledge can break apart all these challenges of today. It is all about human rights and dignity.” Bokova expressed her aim for allotting children the knowledge they need now in order to handle the future. “I just started tweeting two years ago when children can already do that. They are tired of hearing that they are in the future. I have heard them say, ‘We want to be in the now.’”

In highlighting her experiences and the part they played in informing her vision of the future of global politics and the UN, Bokova focused specifically on the issue of peacekeepers and their acts of sexual violence toward women. “Such actions lower the credibility of the UN,” she said, adding that in times of war, women and children are the most vulnerable and most abused.

“But on the other side, we need women to be a part of the peacekeeping and negotiation process. Only 5% pf the peacekeeping force are women and only 10% of UNESCO’s police forces are women. There will be much more success if more women are allowed to participate in the peace process as they will be more trusted by the victims. Sustaining peace across the borders means being accountable for any type of relapse.” Also stating her belief in multilateralism and the strengthening of preventive roles of the UN, she emphasized that sustaining peace is one of the biggest challenges.

But Bulgarian critics have conveyed total disquietude surrounding Bokova’s campaigning. As news has it, she doesn’t just have openly touted communistic ideologies, but critics also say that they shudder at the idea that her win would slowly intertwine her “former” communist “security” agents onto the walls of the UN’s inner organs, lining the walls of its stomach, vetoing every single resolution and putting up their own ‘red tape.’  That would create far greater controversy inside the UN organization, to the Western World and to small vulnerable countries, rather than make it more efficient as Bokova claims.

But is this enough to cost Bokova the seat? As the world sees it, communist roots run way deep. Some say it’s not all bad, for communist ideology advocates for equality—no one is hungry, everyone is educated and has a place to live. Plus, it teaches discipline and removes selfishness from society. Utopia, right? Let’s keep on the look-out for September’s announcement.

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