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International Day for Tolerance – UNESCO Asia-Pacific and the everyday fight against intolerance


 “In too many countries in the world I have noted the rise of doctrines based on withdrawal and rejection. I have noted that migratory crises, the tragic situation of refugees and armed conflicts are being used as tools to whip up hatred of the other, stigmatize minorities and legitimize discrimination. I have heard the rise in racist attitudes and stereotyping of religions and cultures, as it is said that different peoples cannot live together and that the world would be a better place if we returned to olden times when 'pure cultures' lived alone, protected from outside influence, in a mythicized past that has never existed.”

Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO, on International Day for Tolerance 2016


In an increasingly diverse and complex world, tolerance is needed more than ever to build bridges between cultures and ensure peaceful societies. In the Asia-Pacific region, UNESCO’s offices are active in a multitude of ways to fight intolerance every day. On the International Day for Tolerance, we spotlight a few of these along with tips on how we all can be champions for tolerance in our own communities.

Intolerance has many dimensions and one whose negative influence is often underestimated pertains to gender stereotypes. From a very young age, boys and girls are often taught to behave in distinctive ways according to their assigned gender at birth. This can infringe on their freedom to act, think, dress or behave how they want, and encourage destructive intolerance and bullying. Many schools around Asia-Pacific are marred by bullying on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression (SOGIE), which can include everything from verbal taunts to physical violence.  

UNESCO Asia-Pacific is active in the effort to make schools safe spaces for all learners. Along with extensive research into bullying on the basis of SOGIE, including Asia-Pacific’s first regional review on the subject, our organization seeks to address the problem right where it is occurring with “Connect with Respect”. Designed for lower secondary school learners, the programme provides a curriculum tool that teachers can use to encourage positive attitudes and students’ knowledge on a variety of subjects. How should children react when seeing friends bullied? Should children be banned from certain activities on the basis of them being “for boys” or “for girls”? These are the kinds of questions addressed in Connect with Respect – ones that need to be asked and answered if our children are to become the backbone of open and tolerant societies.

In Nepal, UNESCO’s Kathmandu office has been working on the #PurpleMySchool campaign, which was launched in Bangkok in 2015. As part of the initiative, students are encouraged to make, wear or draw something purple to signify that their school is a safe place for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) students. As our regional review noted, bullying on the basis of SOGIE is widespread in Asia-Pacific, making it more important than ever to ensure new generations are able to grow up feeling safe with their identities and fully able to access their right to education. If you’re around, get your purple on!

UNESCO is planning to release its Global Guidance on School-Related Gender-Based Violence (SRGBV) in December.


Zooming out and looking at our complex concrete jungles, UNESCO is also working on making cities more inclusive places. The Coalition of Cities Against Discrimination in Asia and the Pacific (APCaRD) was founded 10 years ago in Bangkok and since then has been pushing for cities to commit to the Ten-Point Commitment relevant to Asia and the Pacific. Today, over 50 cities across 21 Asia-Pacific countries have made the pledge and are addressing urban discrimination daily. Combating racism and discrimination in major urban centres is a gargantuan task and the Ten Point Commitment offers strong guidance to make it practicable, including calls to increase popular participation into urban policies; improved access to information for city dwellers; preventing employers from discriminating; promoting cultural diversity and inclusive societies; among others. While several cities have signed on, it is ultimately citizens who will make this a reality – we all can live up to the spirit commitment and help build inclusive cities as well.

Regardless of whether you live in the city or the countryside, are a parent or simply an engaged citizen committed to making our societies more inclusive, here are a few tips on how we can all fight intolerance in our everyday lives:


By Alexandra Stenbock-Fermor