First Session of the Permanent Forum on People of African Descent

05 December 2022

Remarks by UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem at the First Session of the Permanent Forum on People of African Descent in Geneva.

Su Excelencia Francia Márquez, Vicepresidenta de la República de Colombia,

Su Excelencia Embajador Federico Villegas, President of the Human Rights Council,

Excellencies, dear colleagues, dear Escuelita del Ritmo de Portobelo, Panamá, dear friends,

Twenty-one long years after the Durban Conference against Racism, through the persistence of people of African descent, here we are at long last. This is a historic day of righteous celebration, and I feel honoured to be here with you.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserts that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights; they are entitled to live their lives in larger freedom, as affirmed by the United Nations Charter.

Following upon 500-plus years of enslavement and injustice, following upon the denial of land and the denial of reparations for wealth amassed from stolen labour, following upon the ignominious death of Mr. George Floyd and so many others, today we renew our demand for equality and justice, for redress, for reparatory justice.

The opening of this Permanent Forum brings glimmers of hope, as it is a recognition of the strength, determination, resilience and power of people of African descent.

Queen Nzinga, Nana Yaa Asantewaa, Toussaint Louverture, Nanny of the Maroons, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Marcus Mosiah Garvey, W.E.B. Du Bois, Fernando Ortiz, Audrey Lorde, Martin Luther King, Jr., James Baldwin, Angela Davis. Our grandmothers, our forefathers.

It took bold acts of great courage to bring us to this moment. Heroes, past and present, fought and sacrificed, to make this achievement a reality.

At UNFPA, the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency, we have seen the need to take decisive steps towards advancing this agenda of Recognition, Justice and Development for people of African descent.

As Frederick Douglass reminds us: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has, and it never will.”

Systemic racism is pervasive. It is embedded in laws, codified in customs and policies, and it perpetuates inequalities, intergenerational poverty and chronic injustice.

To dismantle it, we must be intentional and determined in our actions.

At UNFPA, as we continue to lead in our work to support the objectives of the International Decade for People of African Descent, we understand the strategic value of building partnerships, strengthening movements from the ground up, collecting disaggregated data that makes the heretofore invisible clearly visible, so that suitable interventions can be deployed.

I wish to inform this Permanent Forum that UNFPA will support your experts and count as a prominent advocate for your mission of improving the lives of people of African descent and contributing to more just and inclusive societies.

The flagrant disparities affecting Black people in every corner of the world demand swift and credible responses.  Black women – 3 to 4 times more likely to die during childbirth. Why?

Black communities have less access to decent primary health care services, pre- and postnatal care, and mental health support. Why?

Afro-descendant communities are disproportionately affected by conflict, climate and Covid. Why?

Friends, we need data. We need strong and inclusive health systems that work for everyone. We need dialogue, and we need peace.

UNFPA helps build population data systems that support the disaggregation of data, including by ethnicity and race. Recently, UNFPA joined CEPAL-ECLAC, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, in a groundbreaking study, Afrodescendants and the matrix of social inequality in Latin America: Challenges for inclusion. We do this to shed light on the subject and to light the way to action.

We support health system strengthening and are helping to build a global health workforce with an additional one million midwives so that every woman and adolescent girl can get the care she deserves.

We bring evidence forward that promotes dialogue and raises awareness on difficult issues relating to racism, power imbalances, and sexual and reproductive health and rights.

African adolescent girls are three times more likely to acquire HIV than boys. Again, we must ask why and seek answers and action.

Black women and girls are more likely to be victims of violence, trafficking and exploitation. Why should they bear the heavy burden of both sexism and racism?

The challenges they face are often invisible to policymakers. This must change.

Let us stand united with Mother Africa, as Africa’s sixth region, its proud diaspora.

Know that of the eight countries with the most rapid population growth, five are in Africa — Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and the United Republic of Tanzania.

Quoting Frederick Douglass once again, while thinking of the young populations of this continent: “One generation cannot safely rest on the achievements of another.”

This shows the strategic purpose of supporting young people, through investments in education, health and employment – to reap a demographic dividend, and it shows the urgency of developing actionable policies and programmes.

Young people will need your support to navigate adolescence safely as part and parcel of our collective march towards justice.

The seriousness of this Forum’s purpose must be matched by the energy with which you involve young people.  

Let us continue to renew the Afro-descendant movement, particularly youth-led organizations and women-led organizations working to hold governments accountable for making good on their human rights obligations, their due diligence and commitments.

You can count on the United Nations and UNFPA to be vocal and visible as we stand with you in the years ahead to build a world of equal rights and justice for people of African descent and for all!

A luta continua! Muchas gracias.



We use cookies and other identifiers to help improve your online experience. By using our website you agree to this. To learn more, including how to change your settings, see our cookie policy