Female Leaders in and beyond educational planning

18 July 2017


Opening of the High Level Conference on “Fostering Womens’ empowerment and leadership".
UNESCO/Christelle ALIX
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Opening of the High Level Conference on “Fostering Womens’ empowerment and leadership".

“Stop looking at us as victims, and start looking at us as the leaders that we are.” This was the simple appeal a group of Afghan women once had for Melanne Verveer, the first United States Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues.

Verveer recounted this powerful moment from her time working on conflict mitigation in Afghanistan as she opened a panel at a recent UNESCO conference on women’s leadership and empowerment.

Many of the speakers at the conference UNESCO’s Soft Power Today: Fostering Women’s Empowerment & Leadership on 30 June 2017 echoed this idea that women need more opportunity to leverage their ability to become leaders. While the individual trajectories shared by the women - including presidents, foreign ministers, activists, CEOs, filmmakers, female members of royal families and many more - varied greatly, it was clear that the challenges they’ve confronted share many similarities.

Tarcila Rivera Zea, who is the Executive Director of Chirapaq and a Quechuan activist from Ayacucho, Peru who has fought for over two decades for the recognition and acknowledgment of Peruvian indigenous peoples and cultures, spoke about the importance of having role models in one’s life.

“Indigenous women are always portrayed as women who need help, rather than for what they really are,” she said, stressing how having no official standing has added to the difficulties facing women in her community.

Hoda Al-Helaissi, one of only 30 women in the Consultative Assembly of Saudi Arabia, also known as Majlis Ash-Shura, said the media plays a significant role in the misconception of women. For example, she said her daughter, while living in London, was frequently asked what life is like in Saudi Arabia, and was confronted with questions such as, “do you go to work on a camel?”

So, how can women cut through the bevy of lingering stereotypes that hinder them from becoming the leaders they deserve to be?

“When we see stereotypes, we have to speak against them,” said high-profile lawyer Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, “both publicly in the media and in their own environment.” For 14-year old self-taught filmmaker Zuriel Oduwole this means girls and women must take the reins in telling their own stories.

Clare Twelvetrees, Interim CEO at Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, added that when you build the capacity of women they are more likely to invest in their communities and go onto mentor others and share their learning.

Many of the experiences and solutions offered during the conference can relate back to women in the field of educational planning and management. While many women hold teaching positions worldwide, most of the highest-ranking positions in educational leadership and management continue to be held by men.

UNESCO and IIEP have committed to making gender equality a priority. To help bring more women to the table in the formulation of educational policies, plans and programmes, IIEP is hosting a Summer School next month to provide a few dozen women from all over the world an opportunity to acquire leadership skills and hone their technical knowledge.

The overarching aim of this course is to bolster the technical skills of women who are already working in educational planning and to encourage them to play a larger role in implementing and monitoring progress towards the fourth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 4), which calls for inclusive quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all. It also contributes directly to actions around Target 5.5 of the Sustainable Development Goal 5 (SDG 5), which demands countries to achieve gender equality by 2030.

By strengthening the technical skills of next month’s participants and helping them to advance in their careers, it is these women who will ultimately become the role models and mentors for a future generation of women planners. For as Barbara Cleary, Executive Committee Member, European Women's Lobby, noted in the UNESCO conference, “you can’t role model what you can’t see.”

Representatives from IIEP-UNESCO attended a recent conference at UNESCO’s Headquarters on women’s leadership and empowerment. While not directly related, it came ahead of a special IIEP Summer School for female educational planners and managers. Similar to many other professions, there is a pipeline issue that is preventing women from rising through the ranks and taking on the top roles in educational planning. IIEP shares here some perspectives from women leaders worldwide.

Find out more about IIEP’s Summer School for female educational planners here.