First Edition – UNESCO Series of Regional Expert Consultations against Racism and Discriminations

Welcome address by Gabriela Ramos, Assistant Director-General for Social and Human Sciences of UNESCO during the opening of the first edition of the UNESCO Series of Regional Expert Consultations against Racism and Discriminations. 1st edition: Africa

Distinguished panelists,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Welcome to the first edition of the UNESCO Series of Regional Expert Consultations against Racism and Discriminations. My name is Gabriela Ramos and I am the Assistant Director-General for Social and Human Sciences of UNESCO.

Let me first of all remind the participants that English and French interpretation is available during this online meeting. You may wish to switch your channel to your preferred language.

This expert consultation comes at a very crucial juncture for the international community. In an era of globalization and multiculturalism, the COVID-19 crisis has further unveiled the harsh realities of racial inequality, injustice and stigmatization with the most disadvantaged groups disproportionally affected, especially women and girls who are more likely than men and boys to live in extreme poverty, to be out of school, to be subject to sexual or physical violence, to have unstable low-wage and low-benefit jobs, to be prevented from accessing leadership and decision-making, and the list goes on.

According to Tendayi Achiume who is the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, “many of the groups who have been subject to racist and xenophobic attacks because associated with having spread the disease, were already subjects to latent intolerance and xenophobia. It is of the utmost importance to tackle the root causes of intolerance and racism taking into account the specificities of each context”.

As the custodian of UNESCO’s work to promote social inclusion and the fight against racism and discriminations, UNESCO’s Social and Human Sciences Sector is upscaling its ongoing work. In order to do so, it is crucial that we understand better the mechanics of discrimination in all its forms, including racism and gender based discrimination, its history and legacies, and ultimately their repercussions on societies. It is also fundamental that we address the critical data gaps at the global level in an effort to ensure science-informed decision making and action. Given the lack of consolidated and analytic data in Africa, especially related to COVID, UNESCO has recently partnered with the Association of Canadian Studies and Metropolis in collaboration with African cities to identify key issues, indicators and socio-demographics to generate evidence-based responses that address the social and economic dimensions of the COVID-19 crisis in Sub-Saharan Africa, including discriminations and inequalities.

Through these expert consultations, we wish to privilege a scientific assessment of the situation and the needs of specific groups by involving experts from various disciplines to bridge their perspective on racism and discriminations to the policy responses of national/local governments, as well as to the fundamental needs assessment mechanism targeting the most affected populations. Today’s edition is focused on the African region.

One of the most significant aspects in analyzing racism and discriminations revolves around the concept of communal identity. In Africa, data from the past year indicates the persistence of intercommunal conflicts and violence within a number of countries. Urbanization has also exacerbated ethnic grievances with an “urban dilemma” highlighting the intersection between urbanization, poverty and violence.

Violence is another heavy consequence of discrimination that has exposed society’s flawed ways of thinking and uncivilized behavior. There are for example striking examples of these heinous acts committed against people living with albinism, who are regularly dehumanized, bullied, abandoned, mutilated and killed in complete social silence and indifference.

It is paradigmatic of the issue of racism which has prevailed throughout the years despite the innovative measures taken by governments, institutions and citizens to eradicate it through scientific research, legal frameworks and education, among others.  It has also been significantly pushed further into the forefront of global issues as a result of the accounts of racial and gender-based violence and discrimination heightened by the COVID-19 crisis.

The example of the global movements against racism and discriminations carry with them unequivocal narratives of racial injustice, discrimination and intolerance. Around the world, these voices may be different – but the narrative remains the same. It resonates not only with the marginalized groups who continue to face adversities in their respective societies but also with the individuals, governments and institutions who are committed to helping change these narratives for the better. 

This is the context in which the world must mobilize itself in today. This is also the aspiration UNESCO seeks to fulfill in this regional expert consultation series: to engage experts in a meaningful exchange of knowledge and experience, facilitate an evolution of the organizational mindset and strengthen the approach to eradicating racism and discriminations.  The insights gained from the regional expert consultation series will be an indispensable step in the right direction for UNESCO on the road to achieving this mission.

UNESCO’s present initiatives alongside the emergence of global movements is predated by its already long-held stand in the fight against racism and discriminations and the promotion of universal human rights for more than 70 years. Beyond its landmark Declaration of Race in 1950which pioneered the rejection of racial inferiority or superiority due to its non-existent scientific foundation, it also held scientific conferences in the post-Second World War where statements on racial equality as an ethical principle were issued. The 59 member cities of UNESCO’s Coalition of African Cities against Racism and Discrimination represent a unique city-level platform in the UN system aiming to fight against racism and discriminations through the development of inclusive policies, capacity-building activities and advocacy initiatives. UNESCO launched for instance in November 2019 the Master Class Series against Racism and Discriminations for secondary level students that seeks to empower young women and men to become champions against racism and discriminations in their own schools and communities, and undertake local actions to fight them. These UNESCO programmes continue to evolve to remain relevant in optimizing opportunities in the midst of these unprecedented social transformations.

UNESCO is also in the process of elaborating a Recommendation of Ethics of Artificial intelligence, a first global standard-setting instrument that will address the ethical and social issues related to discrimination, including gender bias and stereotyping, in the development and research of artificial intelligence.

The COVID-19 pandemic also reminded us of how fast, useful and convenient the use of digital technologies could be to address the crisis, and yet of how unequal it remained. Not only in terms of access, as there are more than 300 million fewer women than men using smartphones. The digital divide reaches 43% in least developed countries, which has an enormous impact on women’s and girls’ education and mobility, but also in women’s representation in the industry, in the ICT studies and in terms of gender-based violence. Cyber discrimination has also increased during the pandemic and tends to lead to self-censorship and exclusion of vulnerable groups. This digital discrimination is yet another problematic angle that our discussions should explore.

We are very honored to host this important expert consultation series with our distinguished panel of experts. We look forward to being enlightened and inspired by the insights and exchanges that will be shared in the session, and hear about the perspectives and recommendations on the way forward regarding UNESCOs upscaling of its work against racism and discriminations, which also includes the Slave Route project. Your invaluable contribution, expertise and experience will undoubtedly help shape our organizational direction in the fight against racism and discriminations. Let us take heart today as we engage in this meaningful discussion and work together towards achieving our collective goal: to end racism and discriminations once and for all.

Thank you.

Hand-Over Ceremony for the Draft Recommendation on Ethics of Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Speech delivered by Ms Gabriela Ramos, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Social and Human Sciences, during the Hand-Over Ceremony for the Draft Recommendation on Ethics of Artificial Intelligence (AI), on 17 September.

From left to right: Mrs. Gabriela Ramos, UNESCO ADG for Social and Human Sciences; Mrs. Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO Director-General; Mrs. Dafna Feinholz, Chief of Section – Bioethics and Ethics of ScienceSector for Social and Human Sciences. Photo credits: ©UNESCO/Fabrice Gentile.

Dear Director-General,

Dear Member of the Bureau of the Ad Hoc Expert Group for the Recommendation on the Ethics of AI,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to the hand-over ceremony of the Draft Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence. This is a culminating point of months of hard, grueling work by the Ad Hoc Expert Group, which I would call nothing less than heroic, considering the circumstances and the volume of work at hand.

The mandate that the Member States provided for UNESCO in 2019 acquired renewed importance with COVID-19 and with the acceleration of Artificial Intelligence technologies to contain the pandemic and to keep the economy going. The ethical framing is essential if they are to continue to deliver for the benefit of the people.

Every member of the Bureau, with the support of our secretariat, made a commitment to deliver high quality work – and they achieved it. I want to commend particularly the leadership of Professor Emma RUTTKAMP-BLOEM from South Africa, who brought the entire group together. Emma was supported by the Members of the Bureau – Rapporteur Professor Sang Wook Yi from the Republic of Korea and the Vice Chairs: Constanza Gomez Mont from Mexico, Dr Irena Nesterova from Latvia, Ms Golestan (Sally) Radwan from Egypt, and Dr Peter-Paul Verbeek, from the Netherlands, who is the Chairperson of the UNESCO’s COMEST.

It is a pleasure to have all six of you together again, still online, but hopefully in not-so-distant future in person as well. 

Before giving the floor to Emma, I want to recognize the very strong support and leadership of DG Azoulay on this issue, and her vision for UNESCO’s work in this area. We are now well equipped to make UNESCO’s count in this important field. I would like to give the floor to Professor Emma Ruttkamp-Bloem, the Chairperson of Ad Hoc Expert Group, to be followed by brief interventions from the Members of the Bureau.

Second Anniversary of the Launch of the UN 2030 Youth Strategy

Statement by Ms Gabriela Ramos, Assistant Director-General for Social and Human Sciences, UNESCO at the Briefing to Member States on the Occasion of Second Anniversary of the Launch of the UN 2030 Youth Strategy, 16 September 2020.

I would like to thank the Permanent Missions of the Slovak Republic and Sri Lanka for the invitation to this event.

The Youth Strategy brings together the individual strengths of all entities of the UN System  and provides a means through which the UN can advance the paradigm that youth are true partners in the pursuit of the 2030 Agenda.

We have only 10 years left to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Yet, societies, politics and economies are transforming under the weight of the COVID-19 pandemic and the exacerbated challenges to inclusion, human rights and equality.

Education, employability and income, social and economic inclusion, mental and physical well-being, are youth development determinants gravely impacted by the crisis.

The closure of schools and universities has affected 60.5% of total enrolled learners – more than 1.5 billion children and youth worldwide! Unemployment rates are affecting youth more than other age groups. According to ILO, almost 25% of youth between the ages of 18 and 24, stopped working due to the pandemic. Recent research confirms significant psychological impacts of social distancing and quarantine measures on young people causing stress, anxiety and loneliness.

Young adults (aged 18 to 29) experience higher level of distress compared to other age groups. Considering the impact of the pandemic, prospects for future well-being are among the major concerns of young people in the long run.

Yet, young people are not only “victims” of this crisis – they are also the big hope for better, innovative and more effective solutions. UNESCO’s youth storytelling campaign, My COVID-19 Story, has gathered more than 300 inspiring stories showcasing how young people across the world have been engaging, proving resilience and inventiveness, notably by developing new forms of solidarity.

The response to the crisis will require that governments prioritize actions to support youth in their development, in the integration in the labor markets, in finding responses to their concerns. We should avoid by all means having a lost generation, as we did in 2008. The social fabric is so stressed, that this will have a negative impact in our societies for the time to come.

At the macro level, we need to provide targeted youth support and budgets from the fiscal packages that respond to the crisis. Short-term emergency responses must be aligned with investments into long-term economic, social and environmental objectives to ensure youth wellbeing. Given that governments and Central Banks have been core to keep the economy going, in the recovery packages, partnering with the private sector, they should promote opportunities for youth.

Finally, youth-related programming at country level must be incorporated in the overall national development planning to address the crisis. Youth-related actions must not be a separate, standalone chapter but rather embedded in the overall response to the crisis.

This could happen through 3 inter-connected transversal investments to boost the Strategy’s roll-out:

  • Firstly, we need data to map out the impact of COVID on youth. Real time quantitative and qualitative data on all aspects affecting youth well-being and livelihoods. At UNESCO we have launched a global “Youth As Researchers Initiative” that aims to produce such knowledge. Many other agencies have also launched data collection processes. Partnerships should be built, and data consolidated and further supported.
  • Secondly, enhanced technical guidance must be offered to national governments and youth related stakeholders. In this sense, UNESCO and UNFPA are supporting an initiative put forward by the government of Morocco, to organize technical and policy meetings of the Fast-Track Countries, in line with the Strategy.
  • Finally, meaningful partnerships and engagement with young people will be the game changer. Establishing platforms and mechanisms to collaborate and engage with the numerous young changemakers, entrepreneurs, researchers, scientists and innovators, as well as with the vibrant youth networks and organizations that have capacity to also reach out to the most vulnerable and excluded, is fundamental to shaping better, more efficient and sustainable solutions.

Thank you for your attention.

High-Level Forum on a Culture of Peace

Opening segment by Ms. Gabriela Ramos, Assistant Director-General for the Social and Human Sciences, UNESCO at the High-Level Forum on the Culture of Peace, on 10th September 2020.

Your Excellency Mr. Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, President of the General Assembly, Your Excellency Mr. António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, Distinguished Ambassadors and representatives, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me first thank the President of the General Assembly for having convened this Forum, a valuable tradition that gains new significance within the current climate.


Our world has been deeply shaken by the COVID-19 crisis. The pandemic has not only taken a tragic toll of human lives, but it has also dramatically exposed our vulnerabilities, shed light on our injustices, and disrupted our assumptions.

The numbers speak for themselves:

Livelihoods and economic prosperity are being decimated with up to 340 million jobs at risk – 11.9% of the world’s total workforce[1], whilst between 71 and 100 million people are projected to enter extreme poverty because of the crisis[2].

The opportunity gap continues to grow, with UNESCO statistics showing that 825 million students – 47% of the global total – remain affected by school closures[3], exacerbating levels of inequality already unprecedented in modern history, and contributing to the first decline in human development since records began in 1990[4]. And discrimination and violence are on the rise (including through many populist governments), with the number of reported incidences of racism and xenophobia increasing significantly.

31 million additional cases of gender-based violence are expected to emerge over the next 10 years as a result of COVID-19[5]. And I want to commend the SG leadership on defending the rights of women in the current context.

All this create the conditions for a perfect storm that is not conducive to peaceful and cohesive societies.

The pandemic has demonstrated the fragility of our world.

But it has also confirmed that among our growing diversity, we remain fundamentally interconnected and unavoidably interdependent.

It has reminded us of the need for a culture of peace – a culture of peace that is a way of life: an instrument not only to avoid war, but to address longstanding tensions between individuals and technology; people and planet; and those who have and those who do not.

This requires a commitment to build peace in the minds of men and women all the way through, and a clear understanding that an unfair and unsustainable world cannot be the basis for truthful, peaceful and trusting relationships among countries and people.

Pursuing this vision is why UNESCO exists, and what we seek to achieve through every one of our activities:

This is why, among others:

We have created an innovative framework to measure the enabling environment and impact of intercultural dialogue, looking to strengthen the evidence-base on what works and why, and create actionable insights to help leaders build effective processes to address difficult issues before they lead to conflict or violence.

We work with communities to develop intercultural skills – respect, empathy, tolerance, and mutual understanding – providing the socio-emotional basis to learn and engage with those different from ourselves. This in turn can help to tackle challenges as varied as the integration of migrant communities in Austria, the participation of indigenous populations in Costa Rica, and gender-based exclusion in Zimbabwe.

We mobilise the arts to advocate for human rights and dignity as the inalienable foundation of intercultural exchange, working with the most vulnerable to facilitate post-conflict reconciliation, integration, and the prevention of violence.

And we are developing an instrument to address the ethics of Artificial Intelligence to ensure that these amazing technologies contribute to a peaceful world.

The need for a culture of peace, the need for UNESCO, is more pronounced today than ever before. Peace is as an essential enabler, and an ultimate outcome of a fairer, sustainable world.

We cannot rest on our laurels, and at UNESCO, we are building the evidence of what works, and what does not, we have increased our investments and strengthened our partnerships and commitments.

We hope that this will support the efforts of those that are now rowing against the tide in a world that is not as we would like it to be. Too much confrontation, too much violence, too much despair.

I am sure that today’s celebration will serve as an important catalyst for action in this direction. Count on UNESCO at this critical time.

Thank you.

[1] International Labor Organization. (2020). ILO Monitor: COVID-19 and the world of work. Fifth edition.

[2] Gerszon D., Laknerr M., Castaneda Aguilar A., Wu H. (2020). Updated estimates of the impact of COVID-19 on global poverty.

[3] UNESCO. (2020. Education: From disruption to recovery.

[4] UNDP. (2020). COVID-19 and Human Developement: Assessing the Crisis, Envisioning the Recovery.

[5] UNFPA. (2020). Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Family Planning and Ending Gender-based Violence, Female Genital Mutilation and Child Marriage.