Statement by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, on the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, 21 March 2021

Condemn racism and discrimination wherever they occur: act to create racial justice and a gender-equal, inclusive world

Date: Sunday, March 21, 2021

As a world we have had to cope with so much additional grief and fear this last year. The COVID-19 virus exploited fragilities in health and starkly exposed inequalities, with particularly devastating effect on the poorest and most marginalized in society. This has been the most discriminatory crisis of our generation. A virus cannot act intentionally, but its impact maps the consequences, many of which showed up along fault lines of racially linked deprivation. For example, in nearly all countries, indigenous peoples are in the ‘most vulnerable to COVID-19’ health category. People of African descent likely to be poorer, less educated and have fewer opportunities everywhere in the world. And in each category women and girls are more severely impacted than men. 

The global uprising against racial injustice, ignited in the United States by murders of Black men and women, reflected a resurgence of the global struggle against pandemics of white supremacy and inequality.

Again, just this week, on 17 March, the murders in Atlanta, USA, brought increased anti-Asian racism into wider public view. Neither anti-Asian racism nor racialized sexual violence are new in the United States or elsewhere, but the year-long escalation of anti-Asian hate has taken them to another level. We have been calling out globally the acute intersectionality of xenophobia, racism and violence against women throughout the pandemic, and previously.

I condemn racism and discrimination wherever they occur, and UN Women stands in solidarity with all those affected by them. In their worst form they manifest in genocide and suppression of entire racial groups. As a world we must be on our guard against this.

Within UN Women and throughout the UN System, we acknowledge the existence of structural racial inequality, as in all institutions, as well as of conscious and unconscious bias. We have taken strong remedial action against racial injustice, which is often manifested through a lack of diversity and inclusion – at all levels.

But we have to keep pushing and we have to do more. For UN Women, this also includes the development of deeper programmatic and collaborative relationships with movements and organizations focused on racial justice. The momentum created by their actions across the world provides an opportunity to tackle the roots of racial discrimination, injustice and inequality, especially gender inequality.

Over 50 years after this Day was established to commemorate the killing of 69 people by police in Sharpville, South Africa, the UN General Assembly called on the international community to redouble its efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination. 

Today, almost exactly one year after the murder of Breonna Taylor, and in a global context fraught with racial tensions, we must not squander this moment but act now to create a world that is gender-equal, inclusive and anti-racist.