In celebration of International Day of Tolerance, UNESCO organized a Master Class on Tolerance on 16 November 2020 with the participation of former and current laureates of the UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize for the Promotion of Tolerance and Non-Violence. Tackling several of the global issues that hinder the development of a culture of peace, non-violence and tolerance, this Master Class aimed to empower young people by strengthening their understanding and capacity to combat intolerance; and engage them to become proactive agents of change and trainers within their own schools, families and communities for a sustainable impact.
At a time when the pandemic has intensified the divisions that fracture and disfigure our societies, sometimes leading to a reawakening of racism, fanaticism and extremism, it is more than ever necessary to reaffirm the founding values of our humanity. Dignity, justice, curiosity and diversity are intrinsic values of tolerance which UNESCO defends in its principles and through its actions.
Youth has the power! You are among 1.2 billion young people in the world, representing 16% of the global population. 70% of you are active in online spaces worldwide. You have the means to reverse what UNESCO characterizes as the disinfodemic associated with the coronavirus pandemic which has contributed to hate speech, socio-political polarization and an gigantic increase in acts of violence against women and girls. This must come to an end!
The Master Class welcomed more than 380 students from across the world, including Argentina, Indonesia, Mexico, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, Russian Federation, United Arab Emirates and Zimbabwe. It also welcomed H.E. Mr Vishal V. Sharma, Ambassador and Permanent Delegate of India to UNESCO; Ms France Marquet, Principal Trustee of the Madanjeet Singh Foundation; Ms Kubra Khademi, an Afghan young artist trained at the UNESCO Madanjeet Singh Institute for South Asian Art in Lahore. Participants were treated to musical interludes by Mr Tizoc Romero, a young Indian-Mexican classical guitarist. The Master Class was moderated by Ms Vaiju Narvane, a journalist, author and professor of Journalism and Media Studies from the Ashoka University.
Gabriela Ramos, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Social and Human Sciences, emphasized that youth are among the most adversely affected by the impact of the health crisis and in facing the harsh realities of discrimination and intolerance in their everyday lives, noting significant challenges in access to civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights. Because of this, she continued, youth are at risk of shouldering much of the long-term economic and social consequences of the crisis, leading to a decrease in well-being and intergenerational inequalities, as well as more divisive and confrontational societies.
Francisco Estévez, Chairholder of UNESCO-Madanjeet Chair on promoting tolerance and non-violence in Chile and Latin America through education, 2014 co-laureate, emphasized how non-violence must not be passive, as it is actively opposed to violence. He recognized that upholding tolerance and non-violence are not easy paths to follow – they come with perils for those who seek to promote tolerance and practice non-violence.
Etery Ordzhonikidze, Chief of International Relations of the Tolerance Center, 2016 Laureate, addressed the issue of bullying and also tackled new ways of showing emotions and problems through media and online platforms. She encouraged participants to “try to build an atmosphere of respect and equality” and emphasized the importance of kindness.
Manon Barbeau, Founder of Wapikoni Mobile, 2018 Co-Laureate, illustrated the power of “cinema on wheels” as a tool of cultural expression that is able to reach remote indigenous communities. She highlighted the development of an individual and collective sense of pride in one’s identity as being important in order to develop mutual understanding.
Ben Mussanzi Wa Mussangu, President of Centre Résolution Conflits, 2020 Laureate, shared a personal story in narrating his own struggles and expressed that “when you start working on fighting against injustice, defying injustice and intolerance, you cannot stand alone, you should not stand alone, you need people behind you.” He also inspired the young participants by stating that “You are the world of tomorrow.
Students gained a lot of compelling insights on how tolerance is challenged in the current context, and how young citizens could take action in their own way. Participants cited different initiatives that could be implemented in schools such as the celebration of tolerance week and the creation of anti-bullying committees. Some mentioned that after attending UNESCO training programmes, their knowledge on tolerance and acceptance in school environments is enhanced. Others shared their conviction that since education plays a pivotal role in fostering a tolerant and non-violent mindset among youth, the importance of designing relevant course content and building partnerships with governments is crucial.
The UNESCO Master Class Series aims to sensitize young people to the phenomena of racism and discriminations in society, understand its origins and discuss concepts. It is a means of conveying fundamental knowledge on the construction of prejudice and sharing experiences through testimonies so that everyone can, at his or her own level, fight against racism and discrimination in various forms. Beyond raising awareness, the Master Class is designed to collectively reflect on a list of commitments to be made by the schools so that they can apply them in their curricula. The Series is part of the anti-racism roadmap that UNESCO is currently developing, which includes a scanning project to strengthen institutional and legal frameworks against racism and discriminations, affirmative actions in public and private sectors and anti-biases training.