ICCAR Policy Dialogue: Joining forces with cities and civil society to fight racism

Posted on in: Categories News

On 20 October 2022 the first ICCAR Policy Dialogue in a series on strengthening institutional and legal frameworks to combat racism and discrimination took place online. The event gathered mayors, vice-mayors, city officials, academic experts, and civil society actors to share lessons, policies, strategies and experiences in their fight against racism and discrimination.

“Joining forces with cities and civil society to fight racism” is the first in a series of Policy Dialogues aiming to promote discussion about public policies and how to fight against racism and discrimination. Policy Dialogues contribute to the second pillar of UNESCO’s Roadmap against Racism and Discrimination, which aims to generate and mobilize knowledge and evidence to challenge these societal biases.

Organised by UNESCO in partnership with UNESCO’s International Coalition of Inclusive and Sustainable Cities (ICCAR), and in collaboration with the UNESCO International Centre for the Promotion of Human Rights at the Local and the Regional Levels and the UNESCO Chair in Human Rights and Human Security, the Policy Dialogue was divided in two panels with broad international representation.

In the first panel, civil society members addressed structural, procedural and context-specific challenges relating to racism and discrimination in their respective contexts. Structured in four blocks of questions, the panel covered stories of success, policy recommendations, participation issues and interregional cooperation.

Although the experts agree that the local level is the closest to the community, they also identified a mismatch between people´s demands and local government, whose decisions often don´t reach the citizens. This gap was thoroughly discussed alongside education for human rights. The panellists reported on widespread disinformation that hinders people from exercising their own rights. As one of the speakers summarized,  “unawareness facilitates discrimination”.

Possible solutions included focusing on policy implementation and enforcement, as well as bringing people to the centre of decision-making. The experts agreed that it is hard to demand rights in a space that is not welcoming, nor gives the opportunity to do so. In this sense, tackling structural racism and other forms of discrimination is even more difficult. Finally, an important point that was raised was to ensure vulnerable groups speak for themselves rather than speaking on their behalf.


The second panel gave the floor to local authorities from Africa, the Americas, Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. In their speeches, the panellists discussed local frameworks against racism and discrimination, achievements in the fight against racism, as well as initiatives, programming and policymaking.

Intersectionality was the main word of the debate, as there are many cross-cutting areas when it comes to discrimination, for example concerning the experiences of refugees, the elderly, women, impoverished people, and the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic. In their contributions, the representatives also recognised invisible, yet pervasive, forms of racism such as structural and institutional racism in their respective cities.

The interplay between the local and national level is undeniable. Still, the debate focused on the small scale, especially the so-called “sense of community” that appeared in many of the panellists’ experiences. Community building, sharing common values, getting people together and empowering them through public policies was showcased as an overall priority. The representatives shared how their administrations involve vulnerable groups in civic life, include them in social policies and foster their ability to exercise their citizenship.

Local authorities were enthusiastic in sharing their lessons, experiences, and successes but also were self-reflective and adamant about the high importance of holding local governments accountable. In its conclusion, the second panel of local authorities underlined the common agreement found in the first panel with civil society representatives: it is indeed necessary to bring people who face racism everyday and who have already developed tools against it to the centre of decision-making.

This Policy Dialogue emphasised the importance of fighting against racism and discrimination at the local level and drew together the vast global experience of stakeholders active on the city and municipal level. Outcomes and recommendations will be further developed during the 2nd Global Forum against Racism and Discrimination, taking place in Mexico City on 28-29 November 2022. The Forum represents one of the flagship initiatives contained in the Roadmap and its Global Call against Racism.