UNESCO Series of Regional Expert Consultations against Racism and Discriminations. 5th edition: Asia Pacific

Good afternoon for Asia Pacific. Good morning for Europe.  I am very pleased to open this 5th Edition of the UNESCO Series of Regional Expert Consultations against Racism and Discriminations. The UNESCO video that you just saw embodies what the consultation aspires to achieve which is for us to take action and to learn from our distinguished experts from around the world who have accompanied us in all the editions of these discussions and particularly today. I want to welcome: Ms Kristin Dadey, Chief of Mission of the International Organization for Migration in the Philippines, Dr Meghna Guhathakurta, Executive Director of Research Initiatives Bangladesh, Professor Sohail Inayatullah, UNESCO Chairholder in Futures Studies, Ms Raushan Nauryzbayeva, Executive Director of the Development of Civil Society in Kazakhstan, and Professor Gyonggu Shin, Director of Gwangju International Center. The moderator of today will be Ms Sue Vize, Regional Adviser for Social and Human Sciences in the Asia Pacific in Bangkok.

This consultation was launched because society has witnessed an increase of racism and discriminations all around the world. The figures need not be placed in front of you – as they are known by you. This debate has brought us together because of this worry that we share in terms of how much politics, societal changes and international relations are being colored by extreme assertions of nationalism, populism and discrimination. Society is witnessing horrible things happening like what happened in France against a professor. These excesses continue to confront us with the shared reality that things need to change.

Since its creation, UNESCO has been fighting against racism and discriminations illustrating its long legacy around these issues which have always been at the heart of our mandate.  From the initial initiatives led by Claude Lévi-Strauss in the 1950s to the normative work such as the adoption of the Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice in 1978, and to the programmatic activities like the Slave Route Project, the General History of Africa, the Master Class Series against Racism and Discriminations that was launched just recently and the work of the International Coalition of Inclusive and Sustainable Cities, our House UNESCO is  demonstrating that we have this strong commitment to fight racism and discriminations through the years.  Thanks to a very strong mandate of our members, an elaboration of a Recommendation of Ethics of Artificial Intelligence has been launched.  Looking at how much this impressive digital revolution is, it is not just translating the biases and problems it is encountering in the analog world into the digital word and therefore, Science and the Artificial Intelligence must also be understood deeply.

The harsh realities that are endured by the groups that are being discriminated must be put on the table in order to move forward with the meaningful agenda.  This is a call to our experts in the dialogue that we have today – to share their expertise in terms of how things happened and how they can be addressed.  More than anything, it is a call to think together how we can upscale our efforts to go against discrimination.

The magnitude of the movements that are being witnessed today, not only Black Lives Matters but also the different movements of minority groups in many countries are telling us that society is  bound to change and that it needs to take this opportunity also to advance better policies and to advance better decisions on these issues. These movements have real significance because they are an appeal to the essence of humanity – to act justly, to embrace diversity and treat one another with value and respect, despite our differences.  It is imperative that all sectors of our society – individuals, governments, organizations and institutions, hear this call to action and work together towards eradicating racism and discrimination once and for all.  It is widely known that this has become even worse in the COVID pandemic or more accurately, that the COVID pandemic has illustrated the state of the world and how much the groups that have been discriminated historically, have also been confronted with more challenges and being more harmfully impacted by the pandemic because their initial conditions were not the best that they could have.

This consultation is  looking to break down and to understand the existing barriers in society by understanding the different facets surrounding racism and discrimination and by providing insights towards addressing them around their given contexts and specificities.  In some countries, these barriers have manifested themselves as obstacles to political participation where a number of groups have been disenfranchised and experience difficulties as a result of the systemic exclusion they are faced with.  The lack of political participation is a real problem because then their voices do not exist and the racist sentiments remain prevalent in some countries including in schools, the workplace and access to government jobsThere are government systematic discrimination.  There is discrimination based on religion and there is an awareness around  some of the worst experiences that are happening in the region of Southeast Asia and many Asian countries experience tensions and violence in view of their multi-ethnic and multicultural societies.  The large scale communal and ideological conflicts that have occurred resulted in ethnic violence with a “significant increase in incidents related to identity” citing a frequency of more than three times in the 2010-2014 period. There are people that are discriminated and who are tried to be converted against their religion and this happens in many countries. The indigenous peoples are also not spared from the widespread discrimination, and it continues to affect various facets of their everyday life spanning from cultural, social, economic and political spheres – leaving many of them marginalized and impoverished.  There are approximately 476 million Indigenous Peoples worldwide. The vast majority of them – 70% – live in the Asia and the Pacific region. In addition, they account for about 15 percent of the extreme poor in the world.

Meanwhile, persons with disabilities endure a similar hardship as a result of the discrimination against them in the region: “less than 5% of children with disabilities [attending] school” with women and girls having even less access to education due to the “double discrimination” they experience.

Discrimination against the LGBT community in Asia and the Pacific also remains a significant issue, with some countries being grounds for hostility and prejudice against this group.  In addition, migration is another area in which there is a lot of discrimination which leave all these people behind.  Of course women, it is always women – and gender-based discrimination. Women are also prone to this situation and we have seen the fact that COVID had made things worse in increasing violence and increasing plain threats to the integrity and the survival of women.

A recent United Nations multi-country study of men and violence in the Asia Pacific reveals that 10% to 62% of all interviewed men reported having raped a woman or a girl in their lifetime.  It also shows that in some places more than 75% of women ages 15-24 think that there are conditions under which it is justified for a man to beat his wife.  This is terrible because this talks about the younger generation.  A global UN Women’s study from last April shows that fewer women than men receive information to prepare for the COVID-19 leaving them and their families more vulnerable to the outbreak. During these times of the pandemic, they also have less access to critical care and care insurance while simultaneously bearing the brunt of increased levels of unpaid care, domestic work, stress and risk of losing jobs and sources of income.  This is especially the case for women and informal workers that are already living in poverty.  For this reason, the capacity-building and awareness-raising initiatives within in the framework of legal systems can really help to close the gaps that have just been mentioned.  The aspiration for us is to advance reviewing the legal and institutional frameworks.  It should start there. There is a need to legislate equality and by addressing the data gaps in an effort to ensure science-informed decision making, it is our aspiration to advance the knowledge and understanding of the issue of racism and discrimination in order to take concerted, careful and collective action through participatory and holistic mechanisms such as this consultation.

The Organization will continue its commitment against this evil through the continuation of our programmes and initiatives against racism and discrimination.  It is truly a pleasure for us that this group of wonderful experts are here as our participants to share insights, to share new ways of addressing the issue, to share with us positive experiences.  It is sad to put the problems on the table but it is a must to be optimistic that solutions can be found with your help. I wish you the best and I look forward to the debate.

Thank you.

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