Inaugural Ceremony of the UNESCO Category 2 Centre for Human Rights in Graz, Austria

Dear Minister; Dear Governor; Dear Mayor, Dear Director,

dear friends,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a real pleasure to be here with you at the inauguration ceremony of the International Centre for the Promotion of Human Rights at the Local and Regional Levels under the auspices of UNESCO. I have to tell you that this is my first international trip as ADG for Social and Human Sciences.

I could not miss this opportunity. The creation of the Centre carries a lot of symbolism; it is the first UNESCO centre worldwide dealing with human rights at the regional and local levels. Moreover, its establishment marks a major milestone for the host City of Graz: its 20th anniversary as a Human Rights City.  Congratulations!

I would like to acknowledge the commitment and the leadership of Minister Schallenberg, Governor Shutzenhoffer, Mayor Nagl and Director Starl for making it happen.

The creation of the Centre is extremely timely. If achieving Agenda 2030 seemed an elusive goal at the SDG Summit of September 2019, the prospects for sustainable human development for all everywhere are significantly bleaker today.

Indeed, the COVID pandemic has brought to the fore all the vulnerabilities in our economies and societies, that ultimately have a negative impact on human rights.

Notably, it has revealed the depth of inequalities in all countries, exacerbating these phenomena, which left the most vulnerable further behind. Two areas require, in the words of the UN Secretary-General António Guterres, our utmost attention: “racism, discrimination and xenophobia. And gender inequality.”  I would add, that in our agenda, these problems should be tackled in the real and digital world, and this should be done based on science.

It is widely acknowledged that the pandemic has fuelled a wave of racial hatred worldwide; with a significant number of recorded incidents globally of physical attacks, hate speech and conspiracy theories targeting people belonging to racial, religious or ethnic minorities. Beyond their adverse effect on the diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19, structural racial inequalities have left these groups disproportionately exposed to the social impact of emergency measures; job losses; disruption of education; worsened housing conditions: and so on. Deep challenges, very often cumulatively.

COVID-19 impact has also intensified discrimination and violence against women and girls, who have seen 1.8 times higher exposure, according to the IMF, to lose their jobs and economic security.  What is worst, violence has increased. According to UN-Women, “globally, there has been an increase from 30 to 50% violence in all countries, no matter the development level! If women were lagging behind, the situation only got worst.”

On top of this, and in a context of high insecurity and fear, we have also seen an increase in populism, nationalism and authoritarianism, all those -isms that do not augur well for people. Just this week, we witnessed a horrifying act against freedom of speech. Unfortunately, these violations are a recurrent thing in some countries.

So in this context, it is great to be in the City of Graz to remember what it means to have a human rights-based approach. It is great to celebrate the Centre and is it great to have such high-level political commitment from the Austrian Government. At UNESCO, we need this kind of leadership,
to counter the trends I have mentioned.

Moving forward, we need to recognize the indivisibility and interdependence of all human rights, in our policies and programmes.

When fighting poverty, we must address it in all its dimensions, economic but also social and cultural. When promoting the right to food, we should remember this is the basis for a better enjoyment of the right to education. When fostering freedom of expression and thought, it is not only about the media, but all scientists and creators. Given this complexity, we also need complex answers, that bring together all levels of government and all parts of our societies.  

UNESCO places human rights standards and principles at the centre of all its interventions. In the Social and Human Sciences Sector, we have three flagships on which we would love to partner with you.

First:  the fight against discrimination and racism. This has been core to our mandate since the establishment of UNESCO. But we were proud that in December 2020 the Organization adopted a global call against racism and committed to elaborating a Roadmap to take strong action.
The Roadmap will deliver an anti-racism toolkit, that will help us ensure that governments, at all levels, have strong frameworks – legal and institutional – to fight racism and discrimination.

We will work with our Member States, but also with the network of Inclusive Cities to roll over the toolkit. The Roadmap will benefit from well-established programmes in my sector, such as the Slave Route Project; the General History of Africa; the Master Class Series against Racism and Discrimination; the “Art-Lab for Human Rights and Dialogue”; and  Intercultural Dialogue. We count on the City of Graz, the Centre and our partners to translate the Roadmap into meaningful action.

We are ensuring that this Roadmap has a strong gender angle. Gender progress is way too slow, and not it has been sent back, even in countries where equality is part of the legal frameworks. This is why we are launching a flagship programme to change mindsets, attitudes and behaviours that perpetuate gender stereotypes.

A network of women leaders and role models to reimagine leadership will be leveraged to inspire young girls and to break the mould that keeps their ambition low.

Second: putting the spotlight on a rights-based approach to science. UNESCO is particularly committed to advancing a human rights vision for science. While there is unanimity about the critical place of science in addressing the challenges of COVID-19 and in accelerating progress towards the SDGs, the human rights anchoring of science remains inconsistent.

This has implications even to ensure the equitable sharing of the benefits of scientific progress – as we have witnessed with the access to vaccines. But the impact is much broader. A lack of human rights anchoring prevents the creation of a science ecosystem favourable to upholding universal values,
and to ensuring access to scientific knowledge, methodologies and data. It limits diversity amongst scientists and trust in science and science-driven decision-making. This message was clearly articulated at the Centre’s Human Rights Academy that I had the pleasure of attending in February last. 

We want to upscale this important narrative, taking as a basis our  milestone Recommendation on Science and Scientific Researchers (2017) which provides for a holistic rights-based vision for science of the sort I mentioned above.

Talking about science, I want to refer to the fact that UNESCO has been at the core of an ethical reflection on scientific progress, starting with the human genome. Today, we are in one of the most meaningful projects, which is to ensure that Artificial Intelligence is developed with ethical standards that uphold universal values, and respect and promote human rights. I know you may find this interesting, as Austria has been a leader of digital humanism, and this is exactly what the Recommendation aims at.

Unfortunately, we are far from technological developments that brings us together. We know the impact of malicious use of these technologies – with disinformation, hate speech, tampering with democratic processes. But there are also non-intended consequences that need to be better framed, such as decision-making processes with incomplete datasets,
or with biased algorithms. This is happening, and this is why, with the Recommendation, UNESCO is ensuring human oversight and control of technological developments.  We need the full rule of law online as much as we do offline.

Third: whole of government/whole of society approaches: the role of cities. Finally, to advance these meaningful agendas, we need everybody on board. National, regional and local governments. Businesses, civil society, academia. This is why we are so pleased to be here.

Since 2004, UNESCO has invested in mobilizing local governments and concerned stakeholders through its International Coalition of Inclusive and Sustainable Cities – ICCAR. With more than 500 members worldwide, ICCAR promotes, through its seven regional and national branches, multistakeholder dialogue, mutual learning and joint action for inclusive development.

Much of the progress made throughout the years in the European region is due to the active involvement of Austrian cities, notably Graz and Vienna. The leadership of Graz’s Mayor and the City have been a source of inspiration for the network. Similarly, the association absorbed by the Graz Centre,
the ETC, has been a loyal partner, contributing with technical advice to steering ICCAR’s European branch. 

I cannot overemphasize the importance of this event, the creation of the Centre, and the leadership of the Government of Austria at different levels. We count on you to continue pushing this agenda in UNESCO, and to ensure that the initiatives that I mentioned above deliver for good.

We are living uncertain times. Times of fear, times where trust is not high. But I am hopeful that we can make meaningful contributions to advancing better ways. Better ways based on full respect and promotion of human rights, and based on cooperation with powerful actors such as the one we have today with us. Count on UNESCO to advance this agenda, and we are looking forward to a wonderful new chapter of our already 70-years successful cooperation.

Thank you very much.

European Humanities Conference 2021 Introductory Session

Good morning everyone.

I thank our partners, CIPSH and FCT, as well as the Portuguese Government for making this conference possible despite such difficult circumstances. I thank you, our eminent group of experts and hope this Conference will lead to fruitful discussions and concrete outcomes.

We are living in what some call the plague year. A reference to Daniel Defoe’s Journal, published in 1722. A reminder that humanity has been here before, and a warning that we will be there again.

Listen to Defoe three centuries before the term “fake news” was invented:

The plague was itself very terrible, and the distress of the people very great… But the rumour was infinitely greater.1

Of course Defoe is far from being the only voice that speaks to us from the past. As René Girard reminds us, “the plague is found everywhere in literature”.2 We can think of Thucydides describing the plague in Athens, or Boccaccio describing it in Florence. More recently, Tetsuo Takashima published The Pandemic in 2010 about a virus starting in China provoking lockdowns in Tokyo. The visual arts, too, such as Tintoretto’s precise rendition of the symptoms in Saint Roch Healing the Plague-Stricken.

Beyond descriptions and insights, we can find analyses. In his course on The Philosophy of Nature in 1830, Hegel shows that to understand an epidemic, you have to understand the interactions between the internal functioning of the organism, the whole of nature outside it, including climate, geography, and history.3

We can learn from the past to prepare for the future. The humanities are the guardian of this knowledge, and they provide us with the tools to understand our predicament, cope with its challenges, and even come out stronger.

We have solid foundations to build on, including our own work at the 2017 conference. At least two aspects of that work have proved to be of particular importance in the pandemic.

First, the importance of the humanities in disaster risk reduction. There is no point in having the best medical advice, the best technical solutions, if people reject them. We need to understand how people make decisions, who they trust, where they get their information. This requires an understanding of culture, tradition, language, norms, community… Knowledge that is difficult, if not impossible to acquire without the humanities.

A second aspect highlighted in 2017 was the need to apply a gender lens to focus attention on issues. Women are exposed on the front lines of the fight against Covid in health care, in retail, in all those other activities that we now realise are essential. But they are the victims of a pandemic of violence within the Covid pandemic. Their jobs are often the first to be cut. They usually have the extra burden of home care and home schooling on top of all the unpaid work they were doing already.

Other oppressed groups have also seen their oppression get worse, with the surge in racism and discrimination.

Beyond the data and details, the humanities teach us that humans and the societies they create are not machines to be controlled by pulling a few policy levers. The philosopher Edgar Morin reminds us that uncertainty “remains an impregnable element of the human condition and that we must accept it”. Or as Jurgen Habermas said recently about the pandemic, “In this crisis, we have to act in the explicit knowledge of our non-knowledge”.4 Even the best public policies in the world are not answers to uncertainty. The dialogue between the humanities and public policy needs to strike the right balance: balancing probabilities, when our civilisation has instilled in us the need for ever more certainty about the future, often illusory. The humanities are the key to recovering this form of humanism and resilience, as we need them to critically analyze the social effects of the pandemic.

Behaviours, events, social structures, emerge from trillions of interactions among people, the environment, society, the economy. The humanities can help us understand how the past and our thoughts on the future influence these outcomes.

At UNESCO, we promote this broad agenda as the only realistic way to understand the world and guide policy actions, especially at critical junctures like the present.

These are the reasons why we were so keen to maintain, despite the pandemic, important events such as World Philosophy Day and World Poetry Day, or the International Summit on Futures Literacy. Beyond the crisis, UNESCO calls on the human sciences to respond to the major challenges facing our world.

First, to address, understand and combat inequalities, we use economics, anthropology, geography and sociology, through our Management of Social Transformations program and our Inclusive Policy Lab.

Then, human actions are based upon cultural, social, and ethical schemes of knowledge, interpretation, engagement and awareness. The UNESCO Humanities, Arts and Society project supports multidisciplinary cooperation between various fields of research and the arts as part of the process of enhancing creativity and imagining new futures.

We shed new light on the past too. Through our General History of Africa and The Slave Route projects, as well as our Silk Road programme, we can build more peaceful societies in the present by better understanding the complex lessons and diverse views of the past. The General History of Africa, written by Africans, paints a precise, decolonialised portrait of the past of the African continent, its cultural diversity, and its contribution to the progress of humanity. Today, fifteen African states and France have embarked on the path of integrating this educational material into their school programs to promote better reciprocal knowledge but also to fight against racism and xenophobia, a pledge of cohesion and social peace.

We tackle global issues like planetary environmental emergencies through our BRIDGES initiative. The BRIDGES Session of the Conference will discuss the importance of expanding the science of sustainability through interdisciplinary contributions from indigenous knowledge, history, geography, philosophy, anthropology, and political science to develop tools to face the complex problem of climate as a whole. The Humanities are of inestimable value in facing the environmental crisis and in rethinking the relationship between man and the planet.

One of our most important initiatives is to draft a Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence, that our member states will vote to adopt in November. We do not see this as just a technical or a regulatory issue. The convergence between the human sciences (especially philosophy), computer science – and of course artificial intelligence – offers the opportunity to establish an interdisciplinary dialogue that serves as a tool to build an adequate and necessary ethical framework. An approach based on the humanities prompts us to ask deeper questions about the nature of intelligence that AI seeks to imitate, and provides a framework for considering who is producing this technology, how, for whom and with what consequences, for better or worse.

Lastly, the Recommendation on Open Science, which our Member States are currently discussing, aims to improve access to science, including the Humanities. This would improve research conditions, particularly in developing countries, but also provide more opportunities for science to develop solutions for our societies.

In conclusion, I am strongly calling upon our member states to adopt the Lisbon Declaration, the main objective of which will be to invite States and institutions to commit themselves to concretely support the autonomy of the Humanities and, beyond that, to strengthen the design of political responses to major contemporary challenges. Our societies are changing, and there is a need to track that societal transformation, so let’s build together the policies and practices that can help pursue societal resilience and cohesion.

Let’s recall that in La Peste, Camus also sounds a note of optimism: “What we learn in time of pestilence: that there are more things to admire in men than to despise”.

Let us work together to identify and nourish what is admirable.


[1] https://www.gutenberg.org/files/376/376-h/376-h.htm

[2] https://www.jstor.org/stable/40754299?seq=1

[3] G. W. F. Hegel, Encyclopédie des sciences philosophiques, II, Philosophie de la nature, Paris, Vrin, coll. « Bibliothèque des textes philosophiques », 2004, texte intégral présenté, traduit et annoté par B. Bourgeois, § 371, p. 326

[4] https://www.lemonde.fr/idees/article/2020/04/10/jurgen-habermas-dans-cette-crise-il-nous-faut-agir-dans-le-savoir-explicite-de-notre-non-savoir_6036178_3232.html

“How we can ensure that AI technologies are used ethically for the benefit of humanity”

Policies matter. Regulatory frameworks matter. They should achieve a good balance of strong protection while allowing for innovation to flourish. We need to avoid the abuse and misuse of AI technologies, for example to spread hate speech and misinformation and to interfere with democratic processes. We need to promote diversity and inclusion in the whole AI system life cycle, particularly by supporting the participation of women and developing countries.

“Youth as Researchers” session

Covid is making a lot of bad things even worse, especially inequality, and especially for young people. And we know from experience of previous crises that the effects can be long-lasting. 

The pandemic will have a negative impact on young people’s mental well-being, employment, income, education, family relations and friendships, as well as individual freedoms.  

The pandemic has resulted in 1.6 billion children being unable to attend school in person. The educational implications are obvious, especially for those without the means to follow courses digitally.  

Many girls may never return to education and child marriages are expected to rise. Boys, too, face increased risks, for example of being recruited by criminal or terrorist organisations. 

Health issues will be exacerbated. For instance, many sexual health services are closed, increasing the risk of unwanted pregnancies and enabling sexually transmitted diseases to spread even faster.   

Many young people report poorer mental health as a result of lockdowns. The risk factors associated with mental health conditions – including domestic violence and risk-taking behaviour such as increased alcohol consumption or drug-taking – are also increasing because of the pandemic. 

Young people today already have less disposable income compared to previous young generations: they are 2.5 times more likely to be unemployed than people aged 25-64. And their jobs were often the first to be cut as the economy slowed.  

This may have long-lasting “scarring effects” on job opportunities and future earnings. Young people with a history of unemployment face fewer career development opportunities, lower wage levels, poorer prospects for better jobs, and ultimately lower pensions.  

Young people also have fewer savings, increasing the risk of falling below the poverty line, especially those from poorer families.  

But young people are not just victims, not just passive spectators to their own problems. You are fighting back. 

In the Youth As Researchers programme, you are researching the impact of COVID-19 on the issues I’ve just mentioned like access to education and learning, or youth well-being. But you’re going further too, showing us how to approach youth-led action and civic engagement, youth and human rights, and youth use of technology. 

I’m proud to be associated with such intelligent, innovative and caring young people. And I’m eager to hear what you have to say. 

Women, Leadership and Sport

Sport is good for everybody. It improves mental, as well as physical health. It teaches useful social skills. And of course it is enjoyable.  

But most people do not take an active part in sports, and the situation is worse for women and girls. 

Whereas 44% of men exercise or play sport at least once a week, only 36% of women do so. 

When you look at those who play sports regularly, the gap is even wider: 12% of young men compared to 6% of young women engage in sport or other physical activity at least five times per week. 

Likewise, if you look at employment in the sports sector, men get 55% of the jobs both in sport-related occupations in the sector itself (such as professional athletes or professional coaches) as well as outside the sport sector (for example as school sports instructors). Non-sport occupations in the sport sector show similar findings, for example receptionists in fitness centres.  

Voluntary work that supports sporting activities reflects the imbalance too. 

Sexism permeates the structure of sport, as witnessed by the hierarchies of sports governing bodies. Or the fact that a man who thought women talked too much could head an Olympics organising committee. 

In Europe, women make up only 31% of the members of sports clubs and federations, 8% of the presidents of national Olympic sports federations and 23% of the board members of national Olympic committees. Only a few organisations in Europe have an action plan to address gender equality in sport: 23% of national Olympic sport federations, less than two thirds of national Olympic committees, 35% of the ministries responsible for sport. 

The media are slow to cover women’s sport too. In America for instance 40% of athletes are women, but only 6-8% of the total sports media coverage is devoted to them. And women-only sports stories add up to just 3.5%of all sports stories in the four major US newspapers. 

Women must contend with the ridiculous circular argument that TV doesn’t cover events because nobody watches them. As we see with regularly with tennis and the last women’s football world cup, you can create a virtuous circle where exposure generates interest, which generates more exposure.  

There are signs of change, but progress is slow and fragmented.  

Gender equality funders outside the sports world agree that building a movement is the key to sustainable change. This is precisely what the gender equality in sport space is lacking: despite remarkable efforts by deeply committed individuals and the creation of a series of women and sport organisations, there is no shared, coordinated and overarching approach – certainly not one that is acknowledged and recognised by external key stakeholders. 

That is why at UNESCO, we are arguing for a Global Observatory for Women, Sport, Physical Education and Physical Activity. 

The need for a distinct project to promote gender equality in and through sport, and to create a coherent movement in the sport and gender equality space is greater than ever. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted women’s sport very negatively and has disproportionately affected women and girls both outside and inside the sporting arena, with women’s events being simply cancelled whereas solutions were found for men’s to be rescheduled.  

Let’s use the post-Covid recovery to get rid of business as usual and build back better. 

International Bioethics Committee (IBC) session

Dear IBC Members, 

It was a pleasure to spend this week with you, to be immersed in the highly insightful, intellectually rigorous and topically relevant discussions.  

I want to thank you for your commitment to UNESCO’s mandate, and your excellent work. I see our mission here at UNESCO as making sure that your work counts! That it generates the impact that it deserves! That it captures the attention of policy-makers and the public at large!  

I was especially inspired to see the type of impact we can generate after experiencing an avalanche of feedback through the social media following the launch of the joint statement on vaccines, from stakeholders across the world, thanking UNESCO and its ethics committees for throwing their weight behind this global battle. 

The reports and analysis of the committees have a great value in shedding light on complex issues and proposing concrete ways of action.  

The report on the ethics of neuro-technologies, for example, is elucidating and helping to define a challenge that is clearly one of the most urgent to address, related to the behavioural and mind changes that the digital platforms and the digital space are exerting on humans without their full understanding and consent.  

It is already a problem when this is used for commercial purposes. But it is worse when it is related to meddling in political campaigns;  or when the same technologies are used by violent extremist groups for recruitment.  

It is great to see also the synergies with the work of COMEST on the Internet of Things. I am also fascinated by the principle of protecting future generations, especially in view of recent challenges raised by developments in genome editing, as well as existing challenges in access to health.  
 

For me, working on this principle represents a fulfilment of UNESCO’s core mission to be the guardian of the peaceful, prosperous and just future for humanity.  

There is a need to understand, and more importantly, there is a need to act. For this, I believe we should build spaces for discussion and for following up on the report’s conclusions and recommendations. Dafna tells me that this is something that you raised regarding the reports.  The Secretariat fully supports this. 

 We at UNESCO have a long track record of doing just that – whether it is transforming the seminal Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights of 2005 into concrete action in countries around the world, or already elaborating the capacity-building programme linked with the Ethics of AI Recommendation, which we are counting on being adopted by the General Conference at its October session.  

But there is also a need to have a broader forum to foster discussions and solutions. We need a better link with policy discussions, and to make the work count at the tables where decisions are taken. It could be great, for example, to have every year an Ethics week, where we can have multi-stakeholder discussions based on your work.  

This will not only help us with visibility and impact, but also in enhancing the contributions and capacity of the Secretariat to support them. This is a call for us to work closely together to increase our analytical capacities, and we need your help. 

You have an excellent team in the Secretariat supporting your work, and I am constantly trying to secure more resources to reinforce them! We need more analytical capacities to connect the good substance with policy options and best practices, but we need also the help of your countries, so put in a good word for support.   
 

I thank you once again for your time and commitment.  
I am looking forward to meeting with you in person, during the next session of the IBC, hopefully in a post-pandemic world.   

World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST) Session

Dear Members of COMEST, 

It was a pleasure to spend this week with you, to be immersed in the highly insightful, intellectually rigorous and topically relevant discussions.  

I want to thank you for your commitment to UNESCO’s mandate, and your excellent work. I see our mission here at UNESCO as making sure that your work counts! That it generates the impact that it deserves! That it captures the attention of policy-makers and the public at large! I was especially inspired to see the type of impact we can generate after experiencing an avalanche of feedback through the social media following the launch of the joint statement on vaccines, from stakeholders across the world, thanking UNESCO and its ethics committees for throwing their weight behind this global battle. 

The reports and analysis of the committees have great value in shedding light on complex issues and proposing concrete ways of action. The Report on Land Use Ethics goes right to the heart of interdependency of humankind and the environment, illustrates the challenges through case studies, and articulates the key ethical principles. All these principles – from human dignity and human rights to prevention of harm, scientifically-informed decision-making and gender equity – form the ethical framework that is indispensable for achieving broader developmental goals, such as SDGs.  

The Report on Internet of Things pushes us to the frontiers of technological development, where the present meets the future, and we get a glimpse of how our lives will be transformed through this technology. As Peter Paul remarked from the outset – “things are not what they used to be.” And thanks to your reflections, we know what the risks of this rapidly advancing technologies are, and how to mitigate them. It is great to see also the synergies with the work of the IBC on neuro-technologies. This work is truly exciting! 

There is a need to understand, and more importantly, there is a need to act. For this, I believe we should build spaces for discussion and for following up on the report’s conclusions and recommendations. We at UNESCO have a long track record of doing just that – whether it is transforming the seminal Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights of 2005 into concrete action in countries around the world, or already elaborating the capacity-building programme linked with the Ethics of AI Recommendation, which we are counting on being adopted by the General Conference at its October session. But there is also a need to have a broader forum to foster discussions and solutions. 

This will not only help us with the visibility and impact,  
but also in enhancing the contributions and capacity of the Secretariat to support them. This is a call for us to work closely together to increase our analytical capacities.  
You have an excellent team in the Secretariat supporting your work, and I am constantly trying to secure more resources to reinforce them! We need more analytical capacities to connect the good substance with policy options and best practices. 

I thank you once again for your time and commitment.  
I am looking forward to meeting with you in person, during the next session of COMEST, hopefully in a post-pandemic world.   

3rd Roundtable on the Ethics of AI – Shaping the Future of AI through Cultural Diversity

Good afternoon and welcome to our discussion on AI and cultural diversity. 

It is a great pleasure for UNESCO to be able to host such a timely and pertinent debate amid Covid, as the development and use of technology, including AI, is becoming so pervasive, determining our everyday life. 

We are honoured and grateful to have such distinguished guests today for our roundtable. They come from the fields of philosophy, the arts, science, IT, and education. And we need such a range of expertise to do justice to our subject. 

*** 

Today, artificial intelligence plays a role in billions of people’s lives. Sometimes unnoticed but often with profound consequences, it transforms our societies and challenges what it means to be human at an unprecedented pace.  

Human societies are profoundly diverse. This diversity is the wealth of humankind and should translate into technology, particularly AI. Therefore, we must think about the making of AI, find ways to nurture diversity which is of a paramount importance for social good and humanity as a whole. 

Who is behind AI? Who is developing the algorithms behind it? Who carries out research on that technology? What data are they drawing on and how did they obtain it? Who controls its use and how do we control them? 

Diversity should be central to our answers to these questions, but it is seriously lacking throughout the AI life cycle, from basic research to consumer products and beyond. 

*** 

Nowadays, much of AI technology is geographically concentrated in the hands of a few private tech companies – according to MIT, the world’s 13 most important AI firms are based in the US, China, Japan and Europe. None in the rest of the world. 

Those companies are located in the richest countries such as the US, China or Japan. These countries account for most AI peer-reviewed publications and patent applications according to the OECD AI Policy Observatory. According to the Stanford HAI AI Index 2021 report, South America, Africa, Arab States, South East Asia – to name only a few geographical areas – are lagging behind.  

Furthermore, professionals, academics, and experts in the field of AI are overwhelmingly men-based in North America, China, Japan or Europe, leading to well-recorded gender and ethnic/cultural bias when it comes to AI technology.  

Diversity is key to preventing any kind of bias. We cannot neglect it, all voices count. If we disregard diversity, it will lead to major data bias and significant technology and social issues in the future. 

*** 

If we look at languages and dialects in the world, we can count nearly 7,000 different ones. Yet, only 7% are reflected in published online material. 

Swahili for example is not supported by large platforms. Arabic – although the 4th most spoken language – only accounts for 1 to 3% of the online content. AI-powered voice assistants only work in eight languages. 50% of the web pages are written in English and 75% of the web’s top-level domains come from Europe and North America. 

There is a real issue regarding lack of diversity in internet content. 

*** 

As an organization whose missions encompass science, culture and education, UNESCO is strategically and uniquely placed to address the full spectrum of issues AI generates. 

Taking into consideration the multiplicity of approaches to technology found in different cultures is a prerequisite to addressing these issues. Diversity must be integrated in every single step of the AI life cycle: from the creation of algorithms to the collection of data down to the numerous applications of AI in every aspect of today’s society (healthcare, education, transportation and so forth). This is the only way to ensure that all voices will contribute to the development of ethical tools, policies, and frameworks for AI. 

UNESCO is, notably, in the process of elaborating a recommendation on the ethics of AI that provides an ethical compass to navigate diversity and other issues around data generation, ownership and sharing. 

All in all, different worldviews with regard to how people are connected with nature and technology, their perception of interaction with AI, their traditional values, could enrich the global dialogue of ethics of AI. 

If we get it right, we can multiply the benefits from AI for everybody, and avoid the pitfalls. 

*** 

We need to work together to make AI better by making it reflect the totality of humankind. We need a human-centered and diversity-driven AI for the greater interest of people. 

And without further delay, let us hear about your research and thoughts on how to do this. 

I am very much looking forward to listening to our distinguished guests. 

I thank again the Japanese Government for their support to promote global dialogue and ethical reflection on AI since 2018 through this series of roundtables and the production of short educative videos available on YouTube. It is my pleasure to give the floor, or to be precise the screen, to Yoshiaki Ishida, Deputy Secretary-General, Japanese National Commission, UNESCO. 

Opening Remarks – UNESCO Global Forum against Racism and Discrimination

Excellencies, 

Dear guests from all over the world, 

Let me begin by extending my thanks to the Republic of Korea – to Vice-Minister Choi and Ambassador Kim for making today’s Forum possible, and for leading, along with Mexico and many other Members States, UNESCO’s Global Call against racism.  

It was this “Global Call” adopted at the Executive Board, and your mandate for UNESCO to develop an Anti-racism Roadmap that brought us together today.  The framing could not be better, with the high-level speakers in the opening ceremonies reminding us of what is at stake.  

COVID 19 is a massive wake-up call, given the health, social and economic vulnerabilities that have resulted in higher costs from this pandemic, in the context of increased inequalities of income and opportunities. This higher cost is not equally distributed, as it depends on the capacities of people and communities to waive the pandemic.  

The inequalities of COVID-19 have mirrored the inequalities that we see in our societies more generally – those driven by discrimination on the grounds of gender, class, location, occupation, citizenship status, and, most starkly, by race and ethnicity. 

 COVID is just a mirror, but we do not like what we see: the uncomfortable truth is that racism worsened COVID outcomes, and COVID is also worsening racism: 

We know that Afro-descendent or Latinos in the US face two or three times higher risk than white Americans of being sick, or dying due to higher comorbidities and socio-economic background.  

We know that migrants, and people of migrant origin are usually less equipped to waive the impact of the pandemic, and their children less so in navigating school closures.  

We know that, besides the health and economic impact, globally more female jobs are lost than those of men, and moreover, women have to put up with violence at home, at the hands of an intimate partner.  

Racism emerges all over the world, with different manifestations. Shocking trends show now the increased aggressions to people of Asian origin.  We should stop this. 

Ladies and gentleman, Racism doesn’t just hurt only those directly affected by it. It challenges the very trust and cohesion that holds our societies together. it denies our human dignity. 

If COVID 19 was worsened by racism, and racism was worsened by COVID 19, to be effective, the strategies to recover from the pandemic need to have actions against racism at their core.    

And this is what we will be discussing today, with the framing of the Global Call Against Racism and the Roadmap, integrating the whole of UNESCO’s perspective.  

Our panelists – leaders, experts, practitioners, advocates, mayors from our inclusive cities network – are joining us to offer their experience and wisdom to carve out the Roadmap as a practical strategy for stepping up our common efforts. We look forward to hearing from them. 

Through the Roadmap, we want to provide support to Member States to enhance the effectiveness of their strategies and policies to fight racism. This should be done based on science and evidence, and through international dialogue. UNESCO can provide the setting for this. 

 We will make a strong call to prioritize investments for those that have suffered the most in the recovery packages post COVID, integrating strong anti-racism and anti-discrimination objectives.  

And we will continue developing campaigns, master classes and programmes all over the world with our field offices, and our networks, based on UNESCO’s mandates on education, culture, science and communication, to fight biases and stereotypes that remain engrained deep in the minds of our societies. The role of education and the global citizen education that ADG Giannini will present is important in this regard but every sector will contribute.  
Our Recommendation on Ethics of Artificial Intelligence is another important component, as is the Slave Route and the work on intercultural dialogue.  

Such action requires a whole-of-society approach in order to be transformative. We’re fortunate in  
this regard to not be starting from zero. 
 

UNESCO has a long track record of moral and intellectual leadership in the fight against racism, going back more than seventy years. 

Let me mention two of these initiatives that the Social and Human Sciences sector is advancing, to give you a flavour of the scale of our ambition: 

We have begun work on a comprehensive scanning exercise, examining existing institutional, legal and informal frameworks that create opportunities for, and  barriers to inclusion, and which can help to explain the successes and failures of antiracism strategies. The study will help to build very practical lessons and good practices on why certain strategies are successful, and to distill lessons that may be useful to Member States.  

We have also started work on an integrated anti-racism policy toolkit which will provide practical methods to integrate the consideration of racial equity in the design and revision of key policies, laying out the prerequisites for effective implementation; giving guidance for developing clear goals and measurable outcomes; providing methods for strengthening engagement with key stakeholders in affected communities; and outlining specific mechanisms for successful implementation and evaluation. In doing so, it will serve as a flexible and adaptable means of mainstreaming racial equity into the structures, behaviours, and attitudes that sit behind policy intentions.  

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, we are really excited about this Forum and the power of UNESCO to change outcomes for good. 

Let me finish quoting Elie Wiesel, writer, Nobel Laureate, and Holocaust survivor, who put it well when he said “Action is the only remedy to indifference: the most insidious danger of all.” 

We are proving today that we are not indifferent, and we are charting a clear path for action. 

I wish to thank you for your commitment and leadership – I’m sure that together we will achieve change on the ground, and support the so many people that needs it. 

Thank you so much. 

ARDN: Women of the Diaspora: COVID-19 & Mental Health

First of all, I would like to thank the Africa Renaissance and Diaspora Network for the chance to address you, and for the chance to learn from you. No doubt, this summit is focusing on one of the most difficult topics that concerns the rights of women of the diaspora, their mental health, and the context of the COVID crisis.  

The right place to start is by recognizing that the precarious conditions certain groups faced before COVID-19 only got worse during the pandemic: 

Poverty, violence, substance abuse, racism and discrimination…  In the intersectionality, women are always at the bottom, and women of colour, or from racial minorities, even more.  

One year after lockdowns began to be imposed across the world – a year of tragic loss of lives and livelihoods – we are being to project the legacy of this crisis. 

For the very first time in 20 years, we know that poverty will increase, by plunging 130 million people into poverty by the end of this year. We know that, given the impact on health status, the pandemic will also take away three years of life. What is worse, the other pandemic, men’s violence against women, has increased substantially, by 35% worldwide. In some regions it has increased by 50%. This share, as large as it seems, may hide the many cases that go unreported.  

On top of this, we have seen an increase in racism and discrimination. Attacks against people of different backgrounds.  

There is a compounding effect of the socio-economic background, race, access to public services, that prevent people fulfilling their full potential.  

As an article in the Journal of the US National Medical Association puts it: “COVID-19 represents a pandemic superimposed on a historic epidemic of racial health inequity and healthcare disparities”. 

It is no surprise then, that there has been an increase in mental health disorders, and even in the most advanced economies, women and youth suffer more. The rate of people feeling suicidal has increased, including among young people, which tells us how much this has affected life. 

More than 42% of people surveyed by the US Census Bureau in December reported symptoms of anxiety or depression that month, up from 11% a year earlier. Figures for the UK show a similar if less dramatic trend: up from 10% to 19%. From this, non-Hispanic Black adults (48%) and Hispanic or Latino adults (46%) are more likely to report symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorder than Non-Hispanic White adults (41%).  

And, at the bottom of the groups, are women in diaspora. They are the most vulnerable, with the least protection, and often with the most precarious jobs. They are subject to blackmail and violence, and many diaspora migrants have no recourse to justice. Even though migration flows decreased during the pandemic given the confinement measures, women continue to run away from violence and despair, and therefore present as women on the move.  

If the COVID pandemic magnified the vulnerability that existed in our world, the COVID recovery should magnify support to the most vulnerable groups. We should overshoot in this respect. 

First, by applying a gender lens to recovery funds. More investments, more support, more recognition of the contributions of women.  

We know what works as a regulatory framework to ensure gender equality. We need to legislate equality and scrap laws that promote inequality. We need to bullet-proof institutions against gender biases.  

We need to ensure that artificial intelligence and other new technologies are not amplifying racism and sexism and reinforcing stereotypes. We need to break gender biases by affirmative action, quotas, targets.  

Finally, we must make a special effort to help the most vulnerable: undocumented migrant women who are afraid to ask for help because in doing so they may face arrest, prosecution and deportation. We must argue that the main criteria should be these women’s needs and suffering as victims, not their administrative status.  

Migration is not gender-neutral. It is harder for women than men. Let’s work together to fight the systemic racism and discrimination that make it even harder.  

I draw hope from the fact that the diaspora scattered you, but you remain united. I draw strength from your strength.  

My organisation, UNESCO, is ready to help. I look forward to hearing you tell us how. 

Thank you.