Ingeborg Breines, Director, Women and a Culture of Peace, UNESCO


Education, in its broad sense, is central to UNESCOs mandate, as expressed in the preamble of the constitution: "Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that defences for peace must be constructed".

Even if this is a European congress, it is important to keep a global perspective. We should heed Leonardo da Vinci's warning to the passengers of a boat in peril of sinking. At the moment of greatest danger, there are no rich or poor, no men or women, no more-colored or less-colored, no young or old. All must pool their knowledge, expertise and imagination to have a chance of survival. We are those passengers, the vessel in danger is our planet.

It is equally important to underscore the complexity of the issue. We must avoid simplistic solutions. For far too long we have given uniform treatment to very different development situations, "recipes" for economic organization and administrative rationalisation. In the words of the Director General of UNESCO: "If we only have simplified perceptions of complexity, we will perhaps be able to modify the perceptions, but not the reality." Reality has been far too narrowly defined. Reality and vision are inextricably entwined.

It is intellectually intriguing how the world for so long has upheld social injustice, discrimination and huge gender disparities. Half of the world's population lacks adequate access to knowledge, resources and power. According to "Human Development Report" (1995), no country treats its daughters as well as its sons. Time is ripe for a major effort, hopefully by men and women together to obtain parity in representation and participation, full sharing of responsibility and of joy. What is new after Beijing is the emphasis on the full utilisation of the human potential and the gender perspective on all planning and implementation processes.

It is no longer sufficient to speak of undoing injustices or undoing the "gender-apartheid", we must underline the need for women's broad participation, also on macro-political and macroeconomic levels in meeting the challenges of the world today. We must not dwell on women as victims, but focus on women as active agents of change and increase the capacity building and self-esteem of women.

The present under-utilization of women's competence, skills strength and potential is a waste of human resources which is detrimental to the individual and costly to the development of society. Not only will we have to see to it that all our reflection and action benefit women as well as men, but also that female knowledge and insight be used to the benefit of society. A dynamic exchange - a process of evolution into a more equitable, peaceful society cannot happen if half the population's contributions are restricted to the private sphere.

Existing gender gaps and disparities should be addressed as a social issue - and not as a women's issue - through a new and open dialogue between men and women of good will. It is an enormous educational task, considering our numerous cultural particularities, to liberate women and men fettered by roles based on stereotypes and false hypotheses. This liberation will release untapped feminine and masculine potential to the benefit of individuals and societies alike.

And the main normative instrument specifying these rights, "The convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)" (1979), needs sustained support through broader ratification and integration into national laws, through translation and wide distribution and through the inclusion of "legal literacy" for women in curricula, teaching materials and teacher training.

I should like to stress that the themes of the World Conference on Women: equality, development and peace, which also form the basis of UNESCO's mandate, are closely related. There is likely to be no lasting peace without equality, and without peace, development is not possible. Women's contribution to the rethinking and humanization of the goals and means of development is vital.

The Challenge of a Culture of Peace

UNESCO's Culture of Peace Programme can be seen as a response to the challenge of Boutros Boutros Ghali's Agenda for Peace. The strength of the programme, besides the coordination and networking of different peace initiatives and projects and the establishment of national peace-building programmes is, to my mind, the concept itself, which is a concept that inspires hopes and brings out visions. It is ambitious and calls for no less than a global transition from civilisations/cultures of war to a culture of peace, and it invites different partners to cooperate and network with UNESCO in providing both their visions and their practical solutions based on their different socio-cultural experiences and contexts.

Building a culture of peace entails unlearning the codes of the cultures of war that have pervaded our existence in a myriad of ways, it entails challenging destructive use of and trafficking in arms and drugs, it entails equally challenging a notion of development based primarily on economic criteria and it challenges all kinds of injustice and discrimination and exclusion - and the narrow concept of security. Earlier we measured security by counting tanks and weapons - in the future, hopefully, we will measure security by the level of understanding of each other.

The goal of the Culture of Peace Programme is that people from a wide diversity of cultures live together in an atmosphere marked by understanding, tolerance and solidarity. In a culture of peace, people assume a global identity which does not replace but rather builds upon other identities: gender, family, community, ethnicity, nationality, profession, etc.

At this moment of history, when it perhaps for the first time is possible to plan and take action towards the general disarmament of nations, it is both feasible and necessary to disarm also our minds - as we have to disarm history. In the place of violence, there must be dialogue and respect for human rights; instead of enemy images, intercultural understanding and solidarity, instead of secrecy, the sharing and free flow of information; and instead of male domination, the full empowerment of women. We must improve our sharing of resources and knowledge in order to include the excluded, primarily through life-long, qualitative gender-sensitive, inclusive education.

Education: The Leading Modality to Promote a Culture of Peace

Peace can only be sustained through democratic participation and good governance. For UNESCO, Education for All is the key for democracy in everyday life. Education is the most important process by which people can gain the values, attitudes and behaviours of a culture of peace.

Since its inception, UNESCO has taught and promoted the basic principles of peace and human rights and disseminated the international conventions of human rights in order to make their provisions known to the widest possible audience. The organization continues to work in accordance with the principles adopted in its 1974 Recommendation on Education for International Understanding, Cooperation and Peace, and Education relating to Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

The 1974 Recommendation was recently reviewed and its principles confirmed by the 44th session of the International Conference on Education meeting in Geneva in October 1994. At the Conference, Education Ministers from around the world committed themselves to a "Declaration and Integrated Framework of Action on Education for Peace, Human Rights and Democracy".

In 1993-1995, the international community adopted a number of other plans and programmes which are the basis of UNESCO's activities in education for peace, human rights and democracy: the "World Plan of Action on Education for Human Rights and Democracy" (Montreal, 1993); the "Declaration and Programme of Action of the World Conference on Human Rights" (Vienna, 1993); and the "Plan of Action for the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education, 1995-2004".

UNESCO and Education for Peace and Democracy

To put these principles into practice, UNESCO engages in a variety of activities, including the publication and dissemination of educational materials in many languages. An emphasis is placed on textbook research and revision with a view to their improvement as instruments of peace, human rights, democracy, tolerance, international and intercultural understanding, including the preparation of guidelines on the most effective procedures and methodologies for textbook writing and revision.

The main objective of the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education (1995-2004) is to assess the needs and formulate effective strategies for the furtherance of human rights education. UNESCO, recognising the organization's role and responsibilty in the Decade, urged member states to participate actively in developing national plans of action for human rights education as foreseen in the Plan of Action for the Decade.

Within the framework of the Plan of Action for the Decade, UNESCO conducted in 1995 a preliminary country survey and evaluation of human rights education in 9 countries worldwide. A prototype has been developed. The final report includes analyses of: i.) legal policy framework of human rights education; ii.) human rights in primary, secondary and higher education; iii.) minorities and human rights education; iv.) role of media in education for human rights and democracy, and v.) education for democracy.

Within this framework of the United Nations Year for tolerance, the 28th Session of the UNESCO General Conference adopted a Declaration of Principles on Tolerance. The Declaration defined tolerance as "an active attitude" and a "responsibility that upholds human rights, pluralism, democracy and the rule of law." In the report by the International Commission on Education for the 21st Century, four pillars of education are proposed - learning to know, learning to do, learning to be, and learning to live together - with the greatest weight placed on the last.

Under the specific circumstances prevailing for many people today, it is not enough to confine learning to a traditional school setting. UNESCO uses modern and emerging technologies to expand its educational activities through its new programme, Learning without Frontiers. This programme meets the learning needs of the unreached and responds to the challenge of lifelong learning.

An international team of scientists met in Seville, Spain, in 1986 to issue a Statement on Violence which counters the commonly held myth that war is inherent to human nature. The statement was adopted by the UNESCO General Conference in 1989. The scientists rejected the idea that war is genetically programmed into human nature or inherited from animal ancestors. They concluded that "the same species who invented war is capable of inventing peace. The responsibility lies with each of us".

Education for a culture of peace was taken up by participants at the Fourth World Conference on Women, and integrated into the Platform for Action. The UNESCO Statement on Women's Contribution to a culture of peace, emphasising that "efforts to move towards a culture of peace must be founded in education", was signed by eminent participants at the Beijing conference such as, women heads-of states and governments, women heads of UN Agencies and Nobel Peace Prize winners, ministers, first ladies, intellectuals and activists. Keeping in mind that "girls and women constitute a large majority of the world's educationally excluded and unreached", it called for equality in education as a key. It further opposes the misuse of religion, cultural and traditional practices for discriminatory purposes.

Real security requires a well-educated and well-informed world population. The world deserves enlightened women and men, actively and creatively participating in shaping our common future. The new millenium offers new possibilities that we must seize. Together we can make the culture of peace a reality rather than a vision. The future lies inescapably along this path - it is non-violence or non-existence; one world or none.

To know more about UNECOSs involvement in education and peace, human rights and democracy, a list of publications is available at UNESCO or UNECOS's Website (, or your National Commission for UNESCO or UNESCO headquarters.


Adams, David. (ed.), UNESCO and a Culture of Peace, Promoting a Global Progamme, Paris: UNESCO publishing, 1995.

Mayor, Federico, The New Page, UNESCO and Dartmouth Press, 1995




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