First lady named UNESCO envoy for women, girls

Updated: 2014-03-28 02:49

By Li Xiang in Paris (China Daily)

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First lady named UNESCO envoy for women, girls

Peng Liyuan chats with a boy suffering from asthma during a visit to Necker Hospital, the world's first children's hospital in Paris, on Wednesday. Peng, the World Health Organization's goodwill ambassador for tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS, brought panda toys as gifts to patients. [Photo/Xinhua]

Being designated a UNESCO special envoy for girls' and women's education had first lady Peng Liyuan thinking of her father.

"He used to be the principal of a night school in the countryside, and he helped a lot to improve literacy in the rural area," Peng said in front of a group of guests and reporters at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris on Thursday.

In the spacious hall on the seventh floor of the UNESCO headquarters, which overlooks the Eiffel Tower, the iconic symbol of France, Peng was given the official certificate of designation that made her the sixth person — and the first Chinese — to be made a UNESCO special envoy.

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"It means that I will actively participate in this noble cause, and I am willing to do my best to fight for the right of education for girls and women," Peng said.

Irina Bokova, UNESCO's director-general, said that the designation sent a strong message of the importance of investing in girls' and women's education and the promotion of gender equality in the world.

"I hope the voice of Peng can help bring positive changes to China as well as the world and to play a leading role in the effort of promoting education worldwide," Bokova said.

Unlike the better-known UNESCO goodwill ambassadors, who are usually celebrities who use their fame to spread the organization's ideals, the special envoys are recognized for their commitment to a certain cause, and they help promote UNESCO's messages through their professional activities and personal charisma.

Other international dignitaries who were offered such titles include Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands, for literacy for development; Sheikha Moza Bint Nasser, a wife of the former emir of Qatar, for basic and higher education; and Prince Talal Bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia, for water.

Some observers said Peng's designation has helped further push China's soft power and diplomatic influence in Europe and the world.

"Peng is a well-known Chinese figure with an elegant personality. Her presence at UNESCO is an opportunity to demonstrate the soft power of China and also to strengthen China's cultural, academic and humanitarian exchanges with the world," said Pierre Picquart, a China observer and professor at University of Paris VIII.

President Xi Jinping's visit and speech at the UNESCO headquarters and the involvement of the first lady in the mission of the international agency demonstrate a new style of China's global communication, said Alice Ekman, a China specialist at the French Institute of International Affairs.

"Although developing soft power and improving the image of the country is not a new aim for Beijing, we are witnessing a more personalized communication style of the Chinese leadership with a greater involvement of the first lady," she said.