African Cities and UNESCO will continue to fight together against all forms of discrimination

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© UNESCO

On 1 December 2015, UNESCO organized a panel discussion entitled “Global Solidarity for Diversity, Inclusion and Non-Discrimination”, to examine issues of racism, discrimination and xenophobia in cities worldwide. The event, organized in partnership with the City of Durban, South Africa, and under the auspices of UNESCO’s International Coalition of Cities against Racism (ICCAR), took place during the 7th Africities Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Nada Al-Nashif, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Social and Human Sciences, reaffirmed UNESCO’s commitment, within the context of its International Coalition of Cities against racism (ICCAR), to continue working closely with African cities to fight against all forms of discrimination. She particularly lauded the leadership of the City of Durban, and their efforts to keep the ideals and aspirations of the Coalition alive. “UNESCO will accompany you every step of the way” as we all work towards creating a world that is truly “inclusive, fair and underpinned by universal principles of solidarity, social justice and human rights”.

The discussion was structured around three broad themes, namely: Contemporary forms and challenges of discrimination and racism, Global city level action to combat discrimination and racism, and Participatory policy processes and partnerships to support urban inclusion.

The following recommendations were put forward:

Inclusive cities for sustainable development

  • The promotion of inclusion and diversity at the city level is essential to advancing social and economic development for all citizens as articulated within the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Participatory policy making

  • Participatory policymaking at the city level, with the full engagement of all citizens, particularly women and youth, is critical to the meaningful advancement of inclusion for all women and men.
  • Changing public perceptions of migrants, refugees and other vulnerable populations is key to the promotion of inclusive and safe cities.

Disaggregated and comprehensive data

  • Cities are well placed to collect, analyze and act upon relevant, accurate and disaggregated data on inclusion and discrimination.
  • Cities are well situated to collect citizen-generated data to better understand the nature and experience of citizen’s exclusions and needs to ensure evidence led inclusive policies and services.

Global solidarity and action

  • The international nature of exclusion and discrimination requires global collaboration and solidarity through networks such as UNESCO’s Coalitions of Cities against Racism and Discrimination.

Professor Hubert Gijzen, Director of UNESCO’s Regional Office for Southern Africa and moderator of the panel, opened the discussions with reference to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. He highlighted the centrality of urban inclusion within the goals on “inclusive cities” and “peaceful social cohesion”, the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the emerging New Urban Agenda. Professor Gijzen set the tone for the panel, stressing the need for greater global collaboration to ensure the promotion of urban inclusion is effective in countering pressing contemporary challenges such as the global refugee crisis and the deplorable xenophobic attacks experienced in South Africa in early 2015.

Councilor Logie Naidoo, representative of the eThekwini Municipality in Durban, insisted on that fact that “more than 21 years after apartheid there is still discrimination against certain categories of people.” He spoke of how “exclusion and discrimination can be the foundation for radicalization, and hence early warning systems must be built” within city and municipal structures to prevent this from happening. Councilor Naidoo noted the success of the eThekwini municipality while using education as a vehicle to sensitize the population about negative consequences of racism, discrimination and xenophobia, by working with artists and musicians to spread the message, particularly in the aftermath of the 2015 violent attacks against migrant communities. He also praised UNESCO’s efforts in the run up to the Habitat III Conference, where the New Urban Agenda will be articulated, saying that “Habitat III should be a great opportunity for moving forward the agenda of inclusion”, and committing Durban’s support to UNESCO.

Eric Apelgren, Head of Governance and International Relations at the eThekwini Municipality, presented a case study on the 2015 xenophobic incidents. The focus is on fighting discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS, migrants, and the poor, who are among the most vulnerable categories of people and who experience discrimination the most. Measures are put in place by Durban authorities including the creation of a public platform to facilitate exchange of ideas and promote dialogue between citizens and the authorities.

Benedetto Zacchiroli, President of the European Coalition of Cities against Racism (ECCAR), and Deputy Mayor of the Metropolitan City of Bologna in Italy, underscored the need for city-level policy responses to discrimination, migration and development. He cited Ecuador as an example where discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS has been outlawed through the inclusion of a specific clause in the national constitution. Mentioning the importance of connecting cities, he stated that ECCAR is ready to start cooperation with the African Coalition of Cities to work together to find solutions to these challenging issues.

Delicia Beatrice Kotungondo, Deputy Chairperson of the National Youth Council Board of Namibia, focused on youth and women’s empowerment. She highlighted the patriarchal nature of many societies in Africa, which, she argued, must be replaced with more inclusive societies where women and youth in particular are given the opportunity to play a central role in public affairs and decision making.

Fadila Lagadien, Representative of the African Disability Alliance (ADA) and a disability rights activist in Pretoria (South Africa), said that “race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity must be respected and celebrated” as part of the diversity that is necessary to move societies forward. She argued that authorities must always take into account not only the “access” that disabled persons must have to those services, but also the “accessibility” of those services to them.

Fatimetou Mint Abdel Malick, Mayor of Tevragh Zeïna Commune, in Nouakchott, Mauritania, and President of Réseau des Femmes Elues Locales d’Afrique (REFELA), emphasized that “local governments are central to diversity.” As one of the five women mayors across the country, she urged women to also develop the confidence necessary for them to take on responsibilities in public institutions, and expressed gratitude to UNESCO for creating the platform for reflection on these issues.