Statement

Standing up together against the legacy of enslavement: racism, discrimination and continued injustice

25 March 2020

Statement by the Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem on the International Day of Remeberance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, 25 March

 

Although the transatlantic enslavement trade ended in the nineteenth century, its legacy of racism endures. Today, descendants of enslaved Africans continue to be systematically marginalized and denied their fundamental rights. 

Women and girls of African descent face multiple, intersecting forms of discrimination and exclusion. In all countries, they lack equal access to quality services, including sexual and reproductive health care This disparity means they experience worse maternal health outcomes than majority populations. African-American women in the United States, for example, are 2 to 3 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  

This year, UNFPA is calling attention to the gross injustices faced by people of African descent in the Americas, where one in four people identifies as Afro-descendant.

For centuries, people of African descent in Latin America and the Caribbean have faced structural discrimination and segregation deeply rooted in racism, colonialism and enslavement. The consequences of these violations persist and continue to wreak havoc on our societies and institutions today. 

Deep inequalities limit the ability of people of African descent to exercise their fundamental rights and freedoms. Moreover, despite their significant contributions to the development of their nations, they have been denied recognition of their contributions and their fair share of the benefits of development. 

People of African descent in Latin America and the Caribbean remain systematically marginalized in their societies. They experience discrimination when exercising their rights and remain under-represented in political decision-making, which prevents them from breaking down the barriers that trap them in poverty.

Data on women and gender inequality collected by most countries are typically not racially disaggregated. This means the experiences of women of African descent often get subsumed under data on all women, hiding patterns of systemic inequality and making their struggles and concerns practically invisible to policymakers.

UNFPA, the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency, has partnered with the Government of Costa Rica to launch a regional compact for protecting the sexual and reproductive health and rights of people of African descent, focusing in particular on women and youth. 

In Latin America and the Caribbean and around the world, it's time to make sexual and reproductive health and rights a reality for all. Let’s finally take bold steps to end the racism, discrimination and prevailing injustice that leaves millions of people of African descent excluded, and let’s lift the cloak of invisibility off their shoulders through quality disaggregated data that reflects their lives and their needs.

The world has committed to making the next 10 years a decade of action to deliver on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. To succeed, we must make good on our pledge to leave no one behind. Eliminating the systemic racism caused by enslavement is crucial to achieving a world of universal rights and choices for all.