21 April 2020

UNESCO webinar participants uphold libraries as among the “most precious” tools to fight racism and discrimination

UNESCO’s International Coalition of Inclusive and Sustainable Cities (ICCAR) hosted an international webinar on 20 April 2020 addressing racism, discrimination and exclusion in the time of COVID-19.

The webinar brought together national and local policymakers and stakeholders, international and regional organisations, academics, students and NGOs to discuss the intersectional challenge of combating racism and discrimination.

Racism, Discrimination and Exclusion 

Webinar speakers included:

  • Erias Lukwago, Mayor of Kampala City, Uganda
  • Aida Guillén Lanzarote, Director of Barcelona City’s Service for Citizenship Rights and Diversity
  • Benedetto Zacchiroli, President of the European Coalition of Cities against Racism.

Each of these speakers attested to a trend of racism, discrimination and exclusion during the COVID-19 outbreak in their respective cities.

As we have seen over the past months, the COVID-19 epidemic has brought about a flood of 'fake news', regarding everything from treatments to origins of the virus. This has made the development for media and information literacy skills ever more vital. Deliberately misleading news stories, combined with growing fear, misunderstanding, and economic anxiety have led to a rise in racially motivated attacks and discrimination around the world.

The speakers also issued a dire warning – that vulnerable people will be in an even more vulnerable position, both as emergency response measures continue and once life restarts. These groups, including refugees, immigrants, and marginalized communities, will need solidarity and assistance from governments and society at large.

A Cultural Effort

Benedetto Zacchiroli, President of the European Coalition of Cities against Racism, stresses that combating racism and discrimination is a cultural effort. It requires programmes, campaigns, and common meeting grounds that show communities how diversity is richness.

Aida Guillén Lanzarote, Director of Barcelona City’s Service for Citizenship Rights and Diversity goes on to say that in this cultural effort against racism and discrimination, libraries are among the “most precious” tools we have.

Libraries can do so many things. They are how we make neighbourhood networks and build community. [A library] is a place to meet, to see other people - a free place. There is a broad range of opportunities to do a lot of things with libraries.

She offered the example of language programmes held at libraries in Barcelona. These opportunities to build personal relationships are vital, as interaction is the basis of non-discrimination. Libraries are a meeting point where these interactions can occure, and therefore play a major role in the fight against racism.

When they reopen, this role will be more important than ever.

Post-COVID-19, the world will be different than it was before. Benedetto Zacchiroli closed by saying:

The target of the virus is humanity. Before the virus, humanity wasn’t equal, therefore the virus affects people in different, unequal ways.

He suggested that this could be an opportunity to use the lessons learned during the crisis to create more inclusive systems.

Libraries can help build back better.

For more, see the European Coalition of Cities against Racism (ECCAR) call for inclusive measures against COVID-19.

Library Services to People with Special Needs, Advocacy, Cooperation, Disadvantaged persons, Human rights, Immigrants, Information literacy, Library as place, Library services, Library services to people with disabilities, Marginalised populations, Minority groups, Multicultural populations, Refugees, Social inclusion

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