A key principle of the charter of the United Nations, of UNESCO's constitution and of all human rights treaties is that everybody should enjoy the same human rights and fundamental freedoms without any discrimination of random properties such as “race” or gender. This principle governs the relation between states and the individual and also relations among individuals.
It has always been an important task of the United Nations and UNESCO to fight all forms of discrimination. The UN and UNESCO have taken especially serious the fight against racism, a set of wrong beliefs which has lead to incredible suffering for millions of people in the 20th century. Racism remains a spectre in most modern societies, even if people with different cultural and ethic backgrounds live and work together more closely than ever.
In the fight against racism, UNESCO’s General Conference has from 1950 publishe several statements which maked clear that there is no scientic basis for the belief in different human "races". UNESCO has also passed:
- the Convention against Discrimination in Education (containing the first definition of discrimination in an international treaty; 1960),
- the Recommendation concerning Education for International Understanding, Co-operation and Peace and Education Relating to Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (1974)
- the Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice (1978) and
- the Declaration of Principles on Tolerance (1995).
UNESCO is also a strong supporter of the normative efforts of the United Nations, e.g. the Convention for the Eradication of All Forms of Racial Discrimination of 1965 and the Declaration of the World Conference on Racial Discrimination in Durban 2001.
UNESCO's currently focuses on two instruments:
A second strong anti-discrimination initiative of the UN and UNESCO concerns the fight against discrimination towards women. The UN has established reliable international norms through the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and through the World Conferences on Women (the most recent took place in 1995 in Beijing).
The strategy of Gender Mainstreaming has been firmly established in most UN organizations over the last decade. UNESCO carries out research into the role of women, for example in the context of globalization, in the legal system or in conflict-resolution and peace keeping.
UNESCO supports affirmative action in areas such as education, science or the media. A prominent example is the UNESCO-L’Oréal-Prize awarded and related scholarships awarded on the international and on the national level. In Germany, these awards have been complemented by an own national support programme since 2006.