“Sport can be a powerful driver for gender equality”

“Sport gives women fabulous opportunities to engage in the public sphere, to assert themselves both in the field and in managerial positions, to develop new skills,” said the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, at the 6th World Conference on Women and Sport, held under UNESCO’s patronage in Helsinki, Finland, from 12-15 June 2014.

Attending this major event at the invitation of Ms Tarja Halonen, former President of Finland and Patron-in-Chief of the Conference,  Ms Bokova delivered a keynote speech at the Plenary session “Buck the Trend –Leading the change in sport policy” on 13 June. Ms Dorcas Makgato-Malesu, Minister of Trade and Industry of Botswana, and Ms. Anita DeFrantz, Honorary Member of the International Olympic Committee Women and Sport Commission, also took part in the same session to advocate for greater participation of women in sport.

Referring to the principles of the Brighton Declaration on Women and Sports, the Director-General called for “stronger policies to translate these principles into reality, to make them real for every girl and woman”.

“A national sport policy cannot be developed in isolation, but only in conjunction with education, health and youth policies,” she continued. “Sport is a language that speaks to everyone and crosses all borders – it is also framework for action, to reach out and bring in all men and especially women, around the shared values of human dignity, equality and mutual respect.”

The Conference, organized by the International Working Group on Women and Sport under the title “Lead the Change - Be the Change”, brought together over eight hundred participants from over 100 countries, and was opened in the presence of Mr Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee, and Sir Philip Craven, President of the International Paralympic Committee, among others. The Conference is expected to adopt the “From Brighton to Helsinki” Women and Sport Progress Report, calling on the international community to take immediate measures to bring positive changes in the areas of sport policy, leadership, coaching, participation and safety.

While in Helsinki, the Director-Genera encountered Ms Tarja Helonen, former President of Finland, who paid high tribute to Ms Bokova’s leadership of UNESCO in challenging times. They have discussed a wide range of issues relating to the empowerment of women, starting from improving girls education, women’s active participation in the public life to the inclusion of gender quality priorities in the post 2015 development agenda.

During her meeting with Ms Pia Viitanen, Minister of Culture and Housing, the Director-General underlined the importance of recognizing culture’s role as an enabler for sustainable development and called Finland to support UNESCO’s efforts in that regard. “Culture is a key factor for shaping nations’ identity, developing creative economies and cultural industries and for promoting social inclusion”, said the Director-General. She also highlighted UNESCO’s activities in support of cultural heritage in conflict zones, condemning the usage of heritage sites as targets for intentional military attacks. The Minister outlined Finland’s priorities for its membership on the World Heritage Committee in view of strengthening the credibility of the World Heritage Convention.

The meeting of the Director-General with Mr Pekka Haavisto, Minister for International Development, largely focused on UNESCO’s role in the field of education. Ms Bokova expressed appreciations to Finland’s longstanding support to the Organization’s CapEFA Programme and informed the Minister of the positive outcomes of UNESCO’s action in several countries in the Arab region in the field of press freedom, which have benefited from Finland’s extra-budgetary funding. She welcomed the Minister’s assurance that Finland was committed to continue supporting literacy, teacher training and technical and vocational training programmes in priority countries in Africa, Asia and Arab States. The Minister underlined the importance of improving the quality of education, especially in the Sub-Saharan Africa and stated that the Finnish model can be used as a best practice.

During her visit in Finland, the Director-General met with the members of the Finnish National Commission for UNESCO and the representatives of the civil society. She thanked them for supporting and promoting the Organization’s objectives at the national level, underlining that the contribution of the civil society was crucial in achieving UNESCO’s constitutional objectives.