Education International
Education International

International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

published 20 March 2014 updated 21 March 2014

On the occasion of the International Day against Racial Discrimination,celebrated every year on 21 March, EI calls on all education union leaders to take a leading role in the promotion of human rights, equality, and respect for racial diversity as an integral part of every education union’s activities. It also urges them to encourage non-discriminatory practices in the workplace and protect education workers’ rights.

EI’s own Constitution commits the organisation “to combat all forms of racism and of bias or discrimination in education and society due to gender, marital status, sexual orientation, age, religion, political opinion, social or economic status or national or ethnic origin”.

Quality education for a better world

EI strongly believes that quality education for all is the basis for an equitable society, with a sustainable, peaceful, and prosperous future. Trade unions, including education unions, and civil society organisations have vital roles to play in promoting social inclusion, equal opportunity, and social cohesion.

“Quality Education has a central role in creating new values and attitudes and provides us with important tools for addressing deep-rooted discrimination and the legacy of historical injustices,” affirmed the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, Mutuma Ruteere.

In line with the 2011 EI Congress Resolution on Respect for Diversity, “affiliates should campaign in their societies and with governments to promote policies and practices in schools and teacher training which ascribe rights and dignity to male and female learners and educators, who are experiencing, for whatever reasons, any form of neglect, discrimination, hostility, violence, hatred, hostility, sexism, misogyny, racism, xenophobia, homophobia or transphobia”, stressed EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen.

“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights promises a world in which everyone is born free and equal in dignity and rights — no exceptions, no one left behind," said the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, Navi Pillay. “In reality, it’s still a promise for too many people forced to confront hatred, intolerance, violence and discrimination on a daily basis.”

Decent work for all

Migration is a fundamental part of our reality, stated van Leeuwen, adding: “All migrant workers, including teachers, are human beings with human rights. While some migrant workers and members of their families are successful in their attempts to seek decent working and living conditions abroad, others face discrimination, abuse and exploitation in the workplace - loss of professional status and rights, inferior conditions of service, charging of exorbitant fees, job insecurity, rigid contracts and impediments to gaining legal residence. They are also highly vulnerable to racism, xenophobia and discrimination. Most migrants face social, legal and, often, economic difficulties greater than those experienced by the host country’s citizens.”

Speak up stop discrimination

He went on to condemn that, in too many countries, people are persecuted because of their real or perceived sexual orientation, gender expression, or gender identity, so they are forced to recede, go underground, and forfeit privacy and personal and family safety. Schools become less safe, partners of individuals murdered in hate crimes or transgender adolescents are disowned by their families, and LGBT teachers and their partners are forced to live in hiding, he said.

Their ability to live safely, earn a living, and rent a place to live and to be healthy is undermined, he explained. The criminalisation of adult consensual sexual behaviour or blaming “foreign influences” for homosexuality or being singled out as enemies by presidents, lawmakers, politicians, and religious authorities only makes the daily reality of LGBT people worse.

Van Leeuwen also deplored that Indigenous peoples face many challenges and their human rights are frequently violated: they are denied control over their own development based on their own values, needs and priorities; they are politically under-represented and lack access to social and other services, including education.

Union leaders’ responsibilities

Union leaders can do more to turn around the current trend of discrimination and violence, van Leeuwen said. This can be done, for example, by: evaluating the impact of budget cuts on educations, particularly for disadvantaged groups; getting involved in joint work with other unions and civil society organisations to tackle discrimination in educational settings; using sensitive inclusive language in publications; tackling long-standing and new prejudices and negative stereotypes in the curricula; and standing up against unacceptable language, bullying or jokes.

“Let’s value human rights, pluralism, and mutual understanding; let’s value the mission of our trade union movement,” van Leeuwen said.


In 1966, the United Nations declared the first Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to commemorate the 21 March 1960 Sharpeville massacre, when 69 people were killed while peacefully protesting against South Africa’s Apartheid laws. Today, the world commemorates the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination for the first time following the death of former South African President Nelson Mandela.

Mandela’s journey from prisoner to President was the triumph of an extraordinary individual against the forces of hate, ignorance, and fear – and a testimony to the power of courage, reconciliation, and forgiveness in overcoming the injustice of racial discrimination.