European Coalition of Cities Against Racism (ECCAR) General Conference 2020

Mayor Virgilio Merola,

Mr Benedetto Zacchiroli,

Distinguished representatives of European cities,

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is my privilege to welcome you to the 2020 General Conference of the European Coalition of Cities Against Racism. I am honoured to represent UNESCO in a Sector that is the contact point for inclusive cities, who are at the forefront of the fight against the pandemic.

I was equally pleased to recently meet the President of ECCAR, and I look forward to establishing a strong cooperation with him and this coalition. Since my arrival in July in UNESCO, I was looking forward to meet you. Actually, I was before at the OECD, and it was your network that inspired the Champion Mayors for Inclusive Growth.

The time could not be more complex, but where cities have a really important tole to play. Many of your members  have adopted measures to fight the pandemic and protect the most vulnerable populations.

We see global reports on COVID, but it is you who are in the frontline, and I want to commend this effort. I hope we will be able to overcome this dark period together,  with its immense human, social and economic cost.

 I particularly commend the efforts of the inclusive cities which have prioritized anti-discriminatory and antiracist actions against vulnerable groups, and efficiently dealt with homelessness, migrants, segregation, despair and shelters for battered women. Keep up this work!

In the context of increased discrimination, UNESCO is being called by its members to upgrade its actions in this domain. Thus, we were pleased to find that the European Union recently launched its anti-racism action plan for 2020-2025, aiming at increasing the number of countries with dedicated national plans that stands at only 15 from the 27 members. Let’s join forces in this endeavour. We should work in tandem  and develop a common action plan, that will bring the EU, UNESCO and ECCAR together to fight this challenge.

According to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, the issue of racism and discriminations across Europe is extreme in magnitude and scope. The proliferation of racist actions against people of African descent has reached as high as 14% annually across the European Union. The Agency also reported that discrimination related to anti-gypsyism has seen a 50% increase in the educational segregation of Roma children as recorded between 2015 to 2020. Regarding antisemitism, 39% of those surveyed have experienced some form of harassment. And the same regarding islam.

But not only that, even in Europe, Violence against women is rapidly escalating! The 30% increase in reports of domestic violence in the European Union during the lockdown highlights how the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these already adverse conditions. There is an urgent need to strengthen existing measures, including the creation of more shelters and integrated centers as well as improvement in the training and preparation of police forces and social workers. With your help, I would like to organize a landmark event in 2021 that features the work of mayors to eliminate violence against women and girls. We need to recognize the problem, but we also need to energize ourselves with best practices from the continent.

The pandemic also came with disproportionate economic and social impacts. According to ILO, people living under the minimum wage in some European countries reported that 70% of them had a family member who lost their job compared to less than half for more affluent families.

Moreover, the European Network Against Racism shows that although there is an over-representation of more than 30 % of immigrants in COVID related incidences, the barriers to access health care and basic services are multiplying. While the pandemic has devastated the world, it has also presented us with an opportunity to address the social ills that the crisis has unveiled.

At the Social and Human Science sector I am overseeing, we are strengthening our work to deliver for inclusive societies and economies.

Since its creation, UNESCO promotes the values of diversity, tolerance and dialogue by fighting social inequalities through targeted initiatives. UNESCO is elaborating a Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence, the first global standard-setting instrument to address ethical and social issues related to discrimination, including gender biases.

We are at the core of the promotion of gender equality, including in AI, but in protecting legal equality and benchmarks. But we also have targeted initiatives to empowerment through sports and quality physical education. We will soon establish a global Observatory for Women, Physical Education and Sport. We have also joined the UN Women led Sports for Generation Equality initiative to make gender equality a reality in and through sport. 

UNESCO has been called upon by its Member States to scale up our work in the fight against racism and discriminations. In my new responsibility as UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Social and Human Sciences, I am strongly committed to doing so in collaboration with ECCAR.

Some of you joined the UNESCO webinar series “Inclusion in the time of COVID-19” and highlighted the importance of addressing the social dimension through local policy interventions during the crisis. We also organized six Regional Expert Consultations which unpacked the societal challenges of COVID-19, resulting in a set of concrete recommendations that will guide UNESCO’s work.

We will develop a roadmap which includes as assessment to strengthen institutional and legal frameworks for anti-racism, affirmative actions in public and private sectors and anti-biases training, such as the intercultural competencies trainings and the Master Classes against Racism and Discriminations. A very successful and innovative edition was recently organized in Heidelberg, and other editions are foreseen in 2021 in Lausanne, Toulouse, Brussels and Liège.

I also commend the efforts of ECCAR through the City of Graz in Austria who partnered with UNESCO and the Arab Coalition of Cities to develop the Toolkit for Urban Inclusion. We will continue to broker for you in order to reach out to other cities.

Another significant platform for international collaboration is the recently concluded World Human Rights Cities Forum hosted by the South Korean City of Gwangju, which welcomed around 2,800 participants from 253 cities representing 76 countries. Four coalitions reviewed their Action Plans during this Forum by affirming their renewed commitments to the Sustainable Development Goals and Habitat III’s Urban Agenda.

The City of Gwangju offers an excellent opportunity for partnership with ECCAR, and we should leverage and encourage collaboration with other coalitions who want to work with us. It is only through collaboration and solidarity that our vision to end racism and discriminations once and for all can come to its full realization.

We look forward to many more years of fruitful partnership! Let’s join forces to deliver on the higher goals that bring us together.

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