Some people say time flies when you are having fun, but I would like to add, time flies when you are getting stuff done. I had a lot of fun at UNESCO this summer during my three month internship, but I challenged myself, accomplished a lot and learned new things about myself. Here is a one-second-a-day snapshot of my time in Paris. Profitez bien (aka enjoy)!
Wow, how time flies. It feels like I just arrived, but after three months I am proud to say I completed my internship with the gender equality division at UNESCO. To be honest, it came with challenges, but I am grateful for every single one of them because it taught me new things about myself, international development, and working for a huge organization.
When I was determining what kind of internship I wanted, I made a list of what I was looking for. I put two things on that list that I really wanted. The first was to work for a big organization. In the past I had worked in all sectors (public, private and non-profit) but I had never worked for a large international relations organization and I wanted a first-hand look into what that might be like. Second, I wanted to work in an area that I am passionate about. That limited but important criteria led me to the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, to work in the gender equality division.
Working for a huge organization like UNESCO comes with its perks and challenges. The community is diverse and many brilliant minds come together to work on projects that are really trying to make a difference in the world. This is something that I have cherished while working at UNESCO. However, due to it’s large size, many things get stalled while going through protocol or getting approved. When I first learned about all the formalities, I thought this would be incredibly frustrating. Instead, I have actually learned to settle into it and be more patient. I have a very North American work ethic, so waiting to get things done was never a strength of mine. However, understanding that different people and cultures have different perceptions of time has been a great learning experience for me and it has made me more patient and iterate as new information comes up.
In the short time I have been at UNESCO, I have done many different things and I have gained a lot of confidence in my abilities. I have represented my division at international conferences, I have written speeches for both the Director General, created summaries, graphs and policy briefs on topics and recommended further steps for action. I have a funny feeling I will be back at UNESCO soon, but until I know for sure, it’s been a wonderful experience living and working in Paris and for an incredible organization.
Summer is in full effect in Paris, and that means most Parisians have left the city. The weather is great and I don’t mind having the extra room to walk, bike and hang around. I have been working in the gender equality division for over two months, and I finally feel at home. Whenever I start something new, there is always a learning stage. I learn by doing, so not having an orientation when I arrived meant I was bound to make mistakes, but learn a lot along the way. This is exactly what I’ve done. The hardest thing for me to learn is the formalities. Since UNESCO is a huge organization, doing even the simplest task requires oversight, approval and often revisions from various departments. There are words that UNESCO uses (and does not use) and the format of all documents, programs, speeches, emails, etc. must fit specific parameters or it will get lost in the fray. In addition, switching from French to English and English to French in a conversation, email, or meeting can be a bit of a headache at times. However, it’s beautiful. I love walking into the UNESCO building every day and hearing several languages spoken. I love practicing my French and learning by listening. I think my enthusiasm to learn and try new things has caught the attention of my division, because they are happy to give me a variety of tasks.
In the past month I have had the honor of representing the gender equality division at conferences and official meetings, I have written speeches about women’s empowerment for the Director General and the Assistant Director General, and evaluated RFP/grant applications focused on empowering girls and women in all different sectors and all across the world. Some times I feel like I’m suffering from imposter syndrome, and that I don’t belong here. In those moments my wonderful director always lets me know that I’m here for a reason and since I believe in the work I am doing, I should never doubt myself.
Speaking of the work I do, I get this question a lot. When people ask, I say, “I work for the gender equality division at UNESCO.” Usually, they pause, try to process and then say, “what is that?”
In the beginning this question (in French, English, Spanish, or any language) used to bug me. Then, I realized that sometimes important work is hard to understand unless it’s clearly explained. So, here is my brief attempt at answering that question:
So, you know how the world is not a completely fair and equal place?
Overtime, systems/institutions and cultural norms of all kinds have exacerbated inequalities and certain people have been victim to these exploitative systems. My job is to review projects, practices and bring awareness through education about how to create a more equatable world through all the sectors that UNESCO works in, including but not limited to education, science, culture, communication and information. Gender equality is something that everyone can get behind, but in order to build better systems we need to examine the problems in the current system and adapt and innovate them so they level the “playing field” for everyone.
Hopefully this brings greater insight into what I’m doing in Paris, besides eating baguettes with cheese 🙂
« Quand à Rome, fais comme les Romains » When in Rome, do as the Romans. It has been a month since I have arrived in France and started working at UNESCO. Oh, how time flies. My first couple weeks have been very exciting. The UNESCO building reminds me of a museum, art adorns almost all of the spaces. The “C” in UNESCO stands for culture, and almost every day there is an event celebrating a country or holiday. UNESCO is an international organization, so there are many different work styles that create the office culture. The overall sentiment is that your division sets the work pace and you have to accommodate other divisions because their pace might be different. This requires patience. Time appears to be of the essence, depending on the culture, and this has been a wonderful learning experience for me; I have realized that there is no single correct way to get something done. In order to be culturally sensitive, I usually tell colleagues that I have a North American work ethic and then allow them to respond or act however they choose. Some laugh, and so far I have been commended for my work, which has been rewarding thus far.
So, what have I been up to lately? Since the Gender Equality (GE) division is a global priority, my work covers all the various sectors at UNESCO. Because of this, I have been fortunate to work on many different initiatives from evaluating university gender studies programs, to consolidating field office reports and creating summaries for the next general executive meeting and attending intellectually stimulating conferences on behalf of GE. In addition, I have had the privilege to write a few articles for UNESCO’s website. My first piece was about a conference I attended that focused on women in business in the UAE and France, and the speakers offered some great opinions that shattered many of my preconceived notions of what business must be like for a woman in France or the Middle East. I also wrote two other pieces which you can read here and here.
Besides that, Paris is heating up and air conditioning is scarce, so I’ve been staying up late and practicing my French wherever I can. Even though French is technically my second language, I speak Spanish as well so it’s been an interesting experience trying to pronounce words and having people look a bit confused at first. However, my confidence is growing as well as my vocabulary. Until next time, I will continue to gently shake the world….from Paris with love.
It has always been a dream of mine to work for the United Nations and I never thought I would get the opportunity to do it in Paris. Ever since I was young, I have always knew that my life’s goal would be make some kind of positive impact in the world, or at least try and leave the earth in a better condition than when I entered it. Call that what you will, but every weird twist and turn in my life has been building to eventually achieve that goal. So, one might ask, what am I doing in Paris, and why? As an introduction to my internship, here is a rough guide to UNESCO and the work I am doing within the organization.
The Headquarters of UNESCO is located on the Place de Fontenoy, in Paris, France and was officially inaugurated in November 1958. Given the historical and geopolitical context of international relations from a western perspective, the city of Paris is a key location for social innovation within UNESCO. Paris is a vibrant, multicultural and international city. However, Paris has also endured a long history of unrest. The city has survived sieges, wars, revolution, occupation and more recently, terrorist attacks. On January 7, 2015 a violent attack at the Charlie Hebdo headquarters, the French satirical magazine, led to the death of 17 people. During the aftermath of the incident, many people from around the globe came together in defense of freedom of speech. In response to the tragedy, UNESCO organized a day for debate about freedom of journalism one week after the attack. The day was dedicated to freedom of expression, the safety of journalists and to promoting intercultural dialogue in fragmented societies. These violent actions have ignited discussions about how free societies can share different points of views, without fear of violence. UNESCO’s role as an information sharing organization is more relevant now more than ever. In terms of the part UNESCO can play in the peacebuilding process within Paris and beyond, the former French Justice Minister Robert Badinter said it best. She made a passionate speech at the end of the one-day debate at UNESCO and stated,
“Society today is fragmented…But we are at UNESCO, and here we can say that the fragments can be brought together to make a work of art like a mosaic. The framework for achieving this objective is human rights.”
As the world becomes increasingly more globalized we, as individuals, are more connected to receive and spread information than ever before. UNESCO’s mission is to encourage communication and interaction between nations in order to increase incentives for more diplomatic and mutually respectful dialogue.
The United Nations Education, Science and Culture Organization (UNESCO) was established in the aftermath of World War II and it is a specialized agency of the United Nations (UN). UNESCO is known as the intellectual body of the United Nations. The main goal of the UNESCO is to contribute to peace and security by promoting global collaboration through education, science, and culture in order to further universal respect for justice, the rule of law, and human rights– along with fundamental freedoms declared in the United Nations Charter.
Currently in its 70th year of establishment, UNESCO functions as an incubator for ideas and
sets a standard to forge universal agreements on emerging ethical issues. The organization also serves as a knowledge center for the dissemination and knowledge cultivation – while helping Member States build their human and institutional capitals in all aspects of society. UNESCO currently has 195 Member states and 6 Associate Members and the main languages within the headquarters are French and English. At a time when the world is looking for new ways to build peace and sustainable development, UNESCO exists to bring educational, scientific and cultural innovation to life to strengthen the capacity of countries. UNESCO has a unique role to play in reinforcing the foundations of peace and sustainable development. Advancing this cooperation in education, the sciences, culture, communication and information holds strategic weight at a time when societies across the world face the rising pressures of change.
The Division for Gender Equality
The test of courage comes when we are in the minority. The test of tolerance comes when we are in the majority.
Since its inception 70 years ago, UNESCO has been at the avant-garde of efforts to support women’s rights, women’s empowerment, and gender equality. UNESCO has two global priorities, operations in Africa and Gender Equality; and the organization’s approach to gender equality has evolved over the past few decades. Where the focus was previously on women’s rights and equality measures, the intention has shifted towards gender, while including issues not only related to women, but minoritized gender issues in general. This shift still focuses on promoting the rights for women and girls, but it also addresses the spectrum of gender that includes Lesbian, Gay, Queer and Transgender issues as well.
While UNESCO has always been fully committed to the promotion of gender equality, it previously was viewed through the lens that gender in was just one issue among several others that needed to be addressed. In 2007, during the 34th Session of the General Conference, a landmark decision took place within UNESCO, where they made their greatest commitment thus far to the achievement of gender equality by making it one of their two global proirities to focus on.
UNESCO’s vision of gender equality is aligned with the relevant international agreements – the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (PfA), the Millennium Declaration and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and the UN Secretary-General’s Five-Year Action Agenda – where gender equality is mentioned specifically to ensure sustainable development. UNESCO maintains that gender equality is a fundamental human right and a foundation for lasting social justice and economic mobility.
As stated by the UNESCO Priority Gender Equality Action Plan (2014) — gender equality refers to the equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities of both women and men, and girls and boys. It implies that the, needs, interests and capabilities of both sexes are taken into consideration, in order to recognize the diversity and unique skill-sets of women and men around the world. The long-term vision of the Action Plan states that:
“The ultimate goal of UNESCO’s Priority Gender equality is to strengthen the Organization’s ability […] to support the creation of an enabling environment for women and men from all walks of life, to contribute to and enjoy the benefits of sustainable development and peace. UNESCO also commits itself to ensure that the Organization’s contributions to sustainable development and peace have a positive and lasting impact on the achievement of women’s empowerment and gender equality around the globe.”
All United Nations agencies, including UNESCO, are required to promote gender equality within the framework of their mandates. Gender equality is intimately linked to education, where there are systematic efforts to promote the right to education for all. The gender equality division aims to address chronic and persisting gender disparities in terms of promoting gender equality within and throughout the education system. In the Sciences, UNESCO works to provide role models in the field of science for women, building the capacities of women in natural sciences and engineering, and supporting the unique contributions of men and women to scientific knowledge. With respect to Social and Human Sciences, the division works to ensure that gender equality considerations are fully integrated into policies for social inclusion and social innovation. The policies specifically target young women and men, and express consideration is given to the distinct needs, expectations, and the aspirations of young women in disadvantaged positions. There are also efforts to develop capacity-building activities that target young boys and men to become strong gender equality advocates.
Internship at UNESCO’s Gender Equality Division
The gender equality division at UNESCO is a fast-paced environment where the ability to adapt is key to executing tasks on a day-to-day basis. Since gender equality is a stand-alone priority set forth in the current Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the division works closely with the Director General, Irina Bokova to ensure this goal is executed. The division is relatively new and small, so everyone works closely together to collaborate on all gender-related issues. Considering I previously had a background working in a start-up back in San Francisco, based on my short time here, I believe this division functions similarly, wherein everyone has many different roles and at times must be challenged to do things that are unfamiliar. The office speaks and does casual business in French, but all offical correspondance, reports and emails are done in English. Seeing that UNESCO is a bureaucratic organization, I do expect to have administrative tasks but I also believe that the changing nature of the work environment, will give me the opportunity to expand my skillset in many ways while also meeting experts in all fields and learning from them. I have always wanted to know what it is like working for a large internationally governing body like UNESCO. I believe internship will give me a in-depth look into the inner-workings of a big international organization and better understand how it operates and executes on a grand scale.