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What Is UNESCO And Why Are We Leaving?

Around Midday on Thursday October 12, the Trump administration announced its intention to pull the United States out of UNESCO, much to the shock of the international community. The move to leave this body keeps with the trend of this administration towards isolation. But what is UNESCO? And why is it such a big deal that we’re leaving?

UNESCO stands for United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization and is a specialized agency of the United Nations formed in November of 1946. This agency functions as a human rights organization, with particular focuses in improving education, gender equality, the global environment, and protecting world heritage sites, among many other human rights aims. Their current priorities are improving access to education particularly on the African continent, as well as improving world wide gender equality. UNESCO’s more long term goals are those of world peace and sustainable living. Perhaps what they are most known for however is the list UNESCO keeps of World Heritage Sites, currently totally 1,073 sites around the world, 23 of which are in the United States. With such aims for positive change, why would the United States want to leave?

The current reasoning released by the Trump administration for leaving is UNESCO’s perceived, “anti-Israeli bias.” The United States has long been a supporter of Israel in the tensions between Israel and Palestine, but has also tried to act as a mediator. This decision to leave may very well hurt this position. This is not the first time that the US has pulled back from UNESCO however. In 2011 the United States pulled all funding for UNESCO following the organization’s decision to allow Palestine full membership.

Some suspect as well that this decision was a result of the decrease in power of western states in the organization. After WWII, UNESCO focused on removing fascism and protecting victims of genocide in Europe. However, as decolonization began and continued, more and more small eastern states joined the organization, shifting the focus to the issues in these countries. The United States felt used, as it held less power but tended to provide more funding than the smaller states, due to their lack of resources. So, combined with recognition of Palestine as a member, in 2011 the US pulled all funding for UNESCO. Now, we are pulling out entirely.

So what does this mean for us? It’s hard to pinpoint the exact effects of an action like this, but ramifications are guaranteed. Many other states, as well at the Secretary General of the United Nations have already been decrying the actions of our government and warning against the dangers of isolationism. Our decision to leave has also spurred Israel to withdraw, and many are concerned that this complete bias towards Israel with hurt US interests and relations in the Middle East. It should also be considered that while the US may not have had the power it wanted in the organization before it left, it still had a voice there. Now the United States has no power or voice within UNESCO to direct it towards issues concerning the States. A small voice is better than no voice at all. 

To learn more about UNESCO and its relationship with the United States, I encourage you to check out the following web sources: 




*All sources for this article listed above

 I'm currently a junior at Millersville University with a major in International Studies and German and a minor in Government and Political Affairs. Outside of Her Campus I am invovled with Student Government, Society for International Human Rights, and German Club. When I somehow miraculously have free time I usually spend it being a total geek: gaming, watching youtube, watching netflix, you get the gist. Besides all that I also enjoy being creative in a variety of mediums as well as ice skating. I'm looking forward to the next few years at MU and I can't wait to see where it will all take me!
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