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
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.