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Interview with Christina de Bruin the UNICEF Representative to the Republic of Bulgaria

Mrs. Christina de Bruin is the newly appointed UNICEF Representative in Bulgaria since June 2021. UNICEF in Bulgaria will continue to work for a better future for every child under Ms. De Bruin’s leadership. Christina de Bruin has been working for children as an international civil servant for over 20 years. She has extensive experience around the world, working in humanitarian and development contexts including at UNICEF Headquarters. Prior to her current assignment, Ms. De Bruin worked as Deputy Director at the UNICEF Office for Relations with EU Institutions in Brussels providing leadership in innovative partnerships, overseeing resource mobilization and leveraging strategic partnerships. She represented UNICEF in global interactions with a diversity of EU partners at political and policy levels. She has further served as Deputy Representative with UNICEF in Cote d’Ivoire, and held functions with UNICEF in Senegal, Sri Lanka, and New York Headquarters. Prior to joining UNICEF, Mrs. De Bruin worked at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs as Policy Advisor with the Human Rights, Peacebuilding and Humanitarian Aid Division. Christina de Bruin is a national of the Netherlands. She holds a Master’s Degree in Public Policy and Public Administration from the University of Leiden and a Bachelor’s Degree in European Human Rights Law/Political Science. She is married and has two children.

The Power of Women in Diplomacy

Her Excellency describe herself as a person, the woman, the mother, the partner, and the leader and this amazing personality has been shaped by her personal history and professional journey.

Your Excellency as a Female UN Representative could you describe your profession – the duties, challenges, and perspectives…

Who I am today – the person, the woman, the mother, the partner, and the leader – has been shaped by my personal history and professional journey. I grew up in a large, loving family in The Netherlands and I remember that my parents were among the first ones in our town, who were volunteering and worked with migrants and refugees who had arrived from Iran, Africa, and Afghanistan. They did this besides their regular job, and from an early age, both my parents instilled in me, a curiosity for the other, respect and interest for other cultures, respect for the other who is ‘different’. Having respect for others and for being different was part of my life growing up. Including a strong sense of empathy towards others – empathy towards the most vulnerable.

I have been with UNICEF for over 20 years and worked in different countries in Sri Lanka, India, in Ethiopia, in Senegal, in Cote d’Ivoire, in New York Headquarters, in Brussels, another HQ and now in Bulgaria. I feel grateful, being a woman diplomat and humanitarian activist, for the passionate teams that I have worked with in UNICEF, and to contribute to this beautiful mandate of UNICEF.

Speaking about the cultural dialogue in 21st century your opinion as a citizen of the world is very valuable regarding the establishment of a new kind of communication in our society today.

On cultural dialogue, I would like to reference former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan who stated, that: “dialogue can triumph over discord, that diversity is a universal virtue and that the peoples of the world are far more united by their common fate than they are divided by their separate identities.”

The Power of Women in Politics

According the “Women in politics: 2021” map, created by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and UN Women, despite increases in the number of women at the highest levels of political power, widespread gender inequalities persist: progression in women holding ministerial portfolios has slowed, with just a small increase to from 21.3 per cent in 2020 to 21.9 per cent in 2021; the number of countries with no women in government has increased; and only 25.5 per cent of national parliamentarians are women, compared to 24.9 per cent the year before. Could Your Excellences share some positive trends of women empowerment in politics regarding your experience.

Women's political participation is a fundamental prerequisite for gender equality and genuine democracy. Engagement in the decision-making process should start in the adolescent years and it is essential for adolescent girls and boys to develop the skills they need to form and voice their opinions. Investing in adolescent girls and young women is investing in future change-makers. Creating conditions that unlock their talents, skills, and potential means that girls can live out their dreams and be productive members of society. Promoting civic engagement is key to UNICEF’s work. We empower adolescents and enable them to become drivers of change through a variety of actions.

The Power of Women in business

Women in business: advantages, challenges, and opportunities! Your Excellencies would you summarize this topic regarding your professional experience?

UNICEF is committed to creating purposeful partnerships with the private sector toward priorities for children, especially the most vulnerable. As more and more women in Bulgaria are represented at leadership level, female business leaders are always an inspiration – for girls’ empowerment, self-respect, courage, and success. Women often are naturally empathic and compassionate and strive to contribute to their families and communities. Their voices and talents are powerful tools for the achievement of sustainable change. Women in business can also pave the way for more women to be heard and empowered to design and implement solutions and policies.

The Power of Women in Science

According to UNESCO Institute for Statistics data, less than 30% of the world’s researchers are women. UNESCO chief Audrey Azoulay observed that “even today, in the 21st century, women and girls are being sidelined in science-related fields due to their gender”. How can we indeed reduce the gender gap in science?

Today, we see technological advances that we could only dream about 25 years ago, especially in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) areas. Yet, despite progress, on the global level, gender equality continues to be elusive. Some areas essential for the achievement of women’s empowerment, such as STEM, still lack women’s participation. Bulgaria is actually a positive example and is one of the countries in the EU with the highest share of women employed in Science and Technology (Eurostat, 2020). However, gender norms, negative stereotypes, and the gender digital divide continue to hold girls back from realizing their full potential. Limited opportunities and expectations of girls’ skills and performance in STEM and digital literacy, and a lack of role models become critical barriers for girls to develop the skills they need. For example, in Bulgaria, Roma girls and women experience particularly significant barriers to the realization of their rights. There are high school dropout rates for Roma girls and there is a very low number of Roma women in higher education.

The low level of digital skills among young people in Bulgaria is also a major challenge - only half of the young people aged 16-19 (52%) have basic or above basic digital skills and this is one of the lowest rates in the EU (average 69%).

Now the learning crisis is a global challenge. How can we overcome this critical situation?

Let`s speak about the lack of digital skills and resources especially during the Pandemic of COVID – 19.

Together with partners, UNICEF has organized an online national hackathon where teenagers, many of whom were girls, came up with the idea to develop digital projects on media literacy. Among the young innovators wеrе Anna-Maria who participated in the team that developed a website helping young people to deal with fake news online, and Yoanna who worked with teammates on a website aiming to improve young people’s knowledge of cybersecurity. In this way, they inspired their peers and helped them acquire digital skills that are a key element in education, active participation in society and employment.

UNICEF is determined to work with all partners to dismantle the barriers that girls face to develop the skills they need to become users, shapers and creators of scientific knowledge and new technologies.

Within the current Country Programme Document the United Nations Children’s Fund aims to equip at least 50,000 girls between the age of 14-18 years with digital and entrepreneurial skills by 2027. Our interventions also put a strong focus on training young people from the NEETs group on on-demand skills for their first job, career growth, and enterprise creation.

The Power of Women in Sport

Regarding the Sustainability Strategy of IOC “fostering gender equality and strengthening women`s empowerment in and through sport is also at the core of the mission of IOC.” Could you share with us the engagement of the women in your countries in the sports movement?

Sports is a powerful force that builds self-esteem and leadership skills. It gives children and young people a sense of hope and belonging and helps to break down barriers across gender, ethnicity, and socio-economic status. Sportswomen can be a true inspiration and role model for all young girls, encourage them to challenge gender stereotypes, and develop self-confidence. Bulgaria has a long tradition and experience in many sports with top-level sportswomen, some of them competing in what is traditionally seen as ‘men’s’ sports, for example, wrestling or boxing. At the last Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo 2020, all 6 medals for Bulgaria, three of which were golden, were won by female athletes. The Bulgarian rhythmic gymnastics team are usually among the most beloved female athletes, and they have previously supported UNICEF’s causes for children in Bulgaria. Another great example of a female role model in sports is UNICEF’s friend and advocate for child rights Emona – a young woman living with a physical disability and raised in institutional care who became a badminton player.

Your message to the younger generation!

I would like to say keep shining and inspiring us! You have huge potential, a lot of brilliant ideas and suggestions. We really want to hear your voice. I would encourage the young people to continue to speak up, share their ideas and be the driving force behind change and innovations.

The mental health of children and adolescents is also a key priority in our interventions and activities. The COVID19 pandemic has put a spotlight on this; it is crucial to speak openly about this topic. And finally, I want to thank all children and adolescents for inspiring us every day, and for holding us accountable to work harder and smarter for them and with them. Let’s build together a better world for every child and young person in Bulgaria – by making sure tolerance, solidarity and empathy are at the core of our journey!


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