Fight against Poverty, Gender Equality Taken Up

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United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Director-General Koichiro Matsuura and other international theater dignitaries from various countries yesterday vowed to continuously carry out arts-based initiatives that will fight global poverty and promote education and gender equality.

Also yesterday, House Speaker Jose de Venecia conferred on Matsuura, 69, the Congressional Medal of Achievement for his contributions to culture and international peace and understanding through the arts.

President Arroyo, meanwhile, thanked the visiting UNESCO official for his support for the Philippines' proposals in the United Nations for debt relief schemes for developing countries.

During the Leaders Forum of the 31st UNESCO International Theater Institute (ITI) Intercultural Congress, Matsuura cited the importance of theater as a cultural art form and education to the realization of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the main focus of the World Theater Congress.

Of the development goals, the "Education for All" is UNESCO's priority program, followed by eradication of poverty, child and women empowerment, and environment sustainability.

"UNESCO recognizes that theater and arts education can stimulate communication and promote understanding and awareness of crucial issues such as respect for human rights, health and other development concerns," Matsuura said in addressing some 1,000 participants, including both local and international artists participating in the weeklong World Theater Congress at the Fiesta Pavilion of the historic landmark Manila Hotel from May 2229.

Matsuura, who will end his three-day official visit today (May 24) and proceed to Brunei Darussalam, expressed confidence that the World Theater Congress, a country project unanimously affirmed by a UNESCO General Conference Resolution and fully supported by President Arroyo, "will enable us to forge new and creative initiatives for the promotion of dialogue and cultural diversity."

Citing that environmental, heath, educational, political and social problems are on the rise, he vowed to continue to "collaborate" closely with the Praguebased ITI and other partners "to combat isolation, poverty, exclusion, and ignorance."

He also noted that globalization creates new opportunities, which should be taken advantage of by the 82-member countries of the United Nations (UN).

"However, these opportunities will be wasted without strong governmental and grassroots support, as well as a clear understanding of the important role of intercultural dialogue in peace-building and harmonious coexistence within societies," he said, calling a strong governmental and grassroots support.

"It is the government themselves and their local partners that must bear the greatest responsibility for the future development of the arts as a means to achieve the Millennium Development Goals," he added.

Among the visiting dignitaries who participated in the forum were Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Secretary General Ong Keng Yong; UNESCO Special Envoy-Designer for Development Bibi Russel; Jean Pierre Guingane, a Burkinabe playwright theater director; Dr. Essop Goolam Pahad, Minister in the Presidency of the Republic of South Africa, and internationally renowned painter Countess Setsuko Klossowska de Rola.

Also gracing the forum were Ion Caramitru, an actor and former minister of Culture (PNTCD) in Bucharest; Roselyn Crasaz, a former Swiss Minister of Interior in French side; Horst Toegel, UNESCO Artist for Peace for 2005-2006; Ameen Kalthoom of Bahrain; Emre Erdem, a prominent theater critic in Turkey; Steve Seskin, songwriting teacher for the West Coast Songwriters Association; and Dr. Noah Wekesa, the Kenyan Minister for Science and Technology.

"The guiding principles expressed in UNESCO's programs, of seeking peaceful and equitable solutions to the human problems experienced in many parts of the world, should be actively, resolutely and responsibly carried out," the Leaders Forum said in a statement. …