Think tank, standard-setter, catalyst for cooperation
As one of UNESCO’s five specialized Sectors, our mission is to advance knowledge, standards and intellectual cooperation in order to facilitate social transformations conducive to the universal values of justice, freedom and human dignity.
The social and human sciences have a vital role to play in helping to understand and interpret the social, cultural and economic environment. They provide research, identify and analyse trends, propose paths of action. UNESCO has set itself a number of tasks that should help reduce the gap between what is and what should be. This also corresponds to the work of the Sector for Social and Human Sciences (SHS):
- Determine what should be (ethics and human rights)
- Anticipate what could be (philosophy)
- Study what is (empirical social science research)
Ethics of Science and Technology
The ethical dimensions of the current scientific and technological evolution must be fully addressed. Ensuring the world remains secure for everyone means that scientific and technological progress must be placed in a context of ethical reflection rooted in the cultural, legal, philosophical and religious heritage of all our communities.
UNESCO contributes to this ethical watch by:
- promoting the international conventions and instruments related to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights;
- developing ethical principles and drawing up recommendations for decision-makers;
- developing an educational approach to inform public opinion on the human rights implications of scientific and technological progress, including the impact of globalization;
- implementing its advisory role in the development of national capacities;
- helping the scientific community and decision-makers to incorporate the ethical dimension into their endeavours.
In the field of the ethics of life, UNESCO establishes standards, creates legal instruments, advises governments and coordinates intergovernmental organizations. It created the Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights and the International Declaration on Human Genetic Data. UNESCO’s 33rd General Conference has adopted the Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights, on 19 October 2005.
In the field of sustainable development, UNESCO works closely with the World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST), focusing on five areas: freshwater, energy, outer space, sustainable development and the information society.
On 19 October 2005, the 33rd session of the UNESCO General Conference unanimously adopted the International Convention against Doping in Sport. The Convention provides a legal framework within which all governments can take action to remove doping from sport and further the harmonization of anti-doping efforts worldwide.
UNESCO's work in the field of human rights extends the Organization’s contribution in the ethical and standard-setting dimensions. It has three major aims:
- strengthen awareness;
- act as a catalyst for regional, national and international action in human rights;
- foster cooperation with all actors and networks.
With regards to the advancement of human rights, action is concentrated in areas where UNESCO has a special mandate: generating and sharing knowledge, protecting human rights, renewing and reinforcing commitment to human rights education and providing advisory services and technical assistance to Member States.
In important related areas, such as women and gender, where emphasis is on promoting equality between the sexes and on the social dimension of women's rights, actions focus on research, networking, advocacy and knowledge sharing of best practices.
In the fight against discrimination, UNESCO tries to identify the obstacles hampering the full exercise of human rights: the impact of nationalism, religious intolerance, discrimination against minorities, and forms of discrimination arising from scientific progress or from illness such as HIV and AIDS.
UNESCO encourages and advances research on new forms of violence and develops regional plans for human security by improving links with local initiatives to prevent conflicts at their source, through respect for human rights and policies for sustainable development and for alleviating poverty.
Human sciences and philosophy are the keys for understanding and defending the principles that guide world peace. Philosophy is relevant to all cultures of the world; it instils critical thought, creativity and renewal of ideas; it is the basis for democracy, human rights and a just society. UNESCO gives priority to transdisciplinary and intercultural reflection on contemporary challenges such as globalization, diversity, development, citizenship, and ethical and cognitive dimensions of societies.
UNESCO helps social scientists and decision-makers to provide improved responses to societal issues of high complexity. Its intergovernmental programme, Management of Social Transformations (MOST), promotes the development and use of social science knowledge that contributes to better understanding and management of social transformations. It focuses on improving the linkage between research and policy-making, including the formulation, monitoring and evaluation of development actions and processes, the dissemination of research results, best practices and capacity-building.
UNESCO addresses five major areas:
- International migration and multiculturalism
- Urban development
- Physical Education and Sport
Partners and Support System
In the field of social and human sciences, UNESCO works closely with advisory committees, NGOs, networks and professional associations, civil society groups, etc.
UNITWIN/UNESCO Chairs projects deal with training and research activities and cover all major fields of knowledge within UNESCO’s competence. The principal beneficiaries of this programme are institutions of higher learning in developing countries and countries in transition. UNESCO Chairs and UNITWIN Networks have been established in many areas of the social and human sciences.
UNESCO prizes have been established over the years to honour action and achievements in ethics in science, human rights education, peace education, and tolerance.
Social and human sciences journals produced by or with UNESCO include:
- the quarterly International Social Science Journal (ISSJ), which publishes articles on topical issues such as violence, migration, governance, the knowledge society;
- Diversities (E-Journal, formerly the International Journal on Multicultural Societies).