Women of African Descent: Fighting a Battle on Two Fronts


During a high-level meeting at the 66th Session of the UN General Assembly on 22 September 2011, world leaders adopted a declaration to re-affirm their political support to fully implement the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA) — a framework of measures to combat against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

Marking 10 years this week since its adoption at the 2001 World Conference against Racism in Durban, South Africa, the Durban Declaration notes that people of African descent are specifically victim to racism and continue to suffer racial discrimination as part of the legacy of the transatlantic slave trade. In the Americas, there are approximately 200 million people of African descent. Millions more live in other parts of the world, outside of the African continent.

The 10th anniversary of the Durban Conference offers an opportunity to renew the commitment of the United Nations and the general public in the fight against racism and racial discrimination. Coinciding with the International Year for People of African Descent, the anniversary also serves to remember the victims identified in the DDPA.

Changes in Global Society

Brazil has the second largest population of African Descendants with 95 million people.

Coupled with the racism is sexism. Women still face barriers in acquiring high-power positions in public and private organizations. The presence of black women in management positions in companies is almost nonexistent: only 0.5 percent of black women are in executive management, 2 percent in management , 5 percent in supervisory roles, and 9 percent function in non-managerial roles, according to a 2010 study by the Ethos Institute.

Over these ten years, UN Women in the Southern Cone has supported political organizations promoting the rights of black women. One example is the Brazilian Black Women's Group, formed after the Durban Conference. Lúcia Xavier, one of the participating Brazilian activists in Durban, called attention to the perverse relationship that links racism to sexism.

“Our challenge as a movement of black women can be considered small in relation to the struggle we face daily with racism, sexism and social exclusion, Ms. Xavier said. “We are entitled to a full life, to enjoy an inclusive democracy and social rights. Society must change.

Empowering Black Women

Since 2006 UN Women has invested in empowering black women by incorporating dimensions of gender, race and ethnicity in its programmes to fight poverty in Bolivia, Brazil, Guatemala and Paraguay.

Financed by the Spanish Agency of International Cooperation and Development (AECI), the initiative includes perspectives of gender, race and ethnicity in governmental and non-governmental efforts to reduce poverty and discrimination and in the production of related disaggregated data.

According to Dorothy Wilson, coordinator of the Network of Afro-Latin and Afro-Caribbean and Diaspora, they were able to “approach other women's networks on the continent and coordinate joint efforts through forums that were held in preparation for the Durban Conference.

As part of its strategy to combat racism, the network promotes strategic partnerships with other social movements, the implementation of the Durban Declaration and the increased participation of youth in the movement of black women.

“We are promoting the implementation of the Durban Plan, the inclusion of the ethno-racial variable in the census and the establishment of the Inter-American Convention against Racism and All Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance, Ms. Wilson said.

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