UNESCO’s Social and Human Sciences Strategy for 2010-2011
In order to contribute to the development of public policies that will correspond better to changes in society today, UNESCO’s Social and Human Sciences Sector acts as a think tank for the world’s nations, with the aim of associating all those concerned by its actions in their formulation and implementation.
UNESCO, which is responsible for building peace through education, culture and science, has always conjugated science in the plural, taking into account not only the natural sciences but also the social and human sciences.
The mission of the social and human sciences programme, one of UNESCO’s five major programmes, 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. In the present multidimensional crisis context, this mandate gives it the role of “laboratory of ideas”, making its work as think tank for the world’s nations more important than ever. At the 35th session of UNESCO’s General Conference held in October 2009, its 193 Member States emphasised its significance, enjoining the Social and Human Sciences Sector (SHS) to respond to the economic, financial and environmental crisis and study its ethical implications. In 2010-2011, SHS will therefore continue to encourage research in the social sciences in every corner of the world and encourage dialogue between researchers, political decision-makers and those concerned with economic, social, and cultural development, with a single, unique aim: that of contributing to the development of public policies which will respond the most effectively to transformations in society and the needs of the population, particularly through its Management of Social Transformations Programme (MOST).
Two priorities and four lines of action
In order to meet these aims, two priorities have been fixed. The first is to develop and implement standards in the field of ethics and human rights. In particular, this will mean monitoring the application of existing instruments and developing new ones, such as a declaration on the ethics of climate change. The second is to reinforce the link between social sciences research and public policy by developing the opportunities for dialogue set up between researchers and political decision-makers and creating new venues to reflect on meaningful topics such as gender equality, international migration, social inclusion, youth and poverty eradication issues, giving priority to Africa and the small island developing States (SIDS) and the most vulnerable populations.
To achieve this, SHS focuses on four main fields. First, the promotion of human rights, paying particular attention to fostering philosophical dialogue on democracy and peace. Second, providing support for the formulation of policies on regional integration, migration, SIDS, urban development and youth. Third, the promotion of policies on physical education and sport and the fight against doping, with a particular focus on the implementation of the International Convention against Doping in Sport, adopted in 2005. And finally, providing support for the formulation of policies on the ethics of science and technology and bioethics by stepping up programmes and infrastructure specializing in these fields and emphasizing that access to the benefits of scientific progress for everyone is a question of respecting human rights.
Ensuring that human beings are at the core of all development policies has been the credo of SHS for the last 10 years or so, particularly after it took on the responsibility of coordinating all of UNESCO’s programmes in a human rights perspective. With a total budget of a little less than $30 million for 2010-2011, SHS will strive to consolidate the work carried out over the last 10 years by capitalizing on the expertise and activities developed via a unique approach that consists of thinking and acting for and with those most concerned by its projects, whether they are Member States of UNESCO, regional and international organizations, researchers or representatives of civil society, and especially youth organizations.
When developing and implementing its activities, SHS is backed up by a team of some 100 people across the world together with a powerful network of partners mainly consisting of UNESCO Chairs in the social sciences, National Commissions for UNESCO, MOST liaison committees and national bioethics committees. Their help will be vital in strengthening the projects that have already proved their effectiveness and developing those which are still to be invented in order to meet the specific needs of different populations. Because it is in the field, at grassroots level, and in coordination with UNESCO’s offices, that this programme will continue to operate effectively, drawing on the experience of the numerous activities that have already been initiated.
In the field
Thus, in Africa – a continent that more than ever remains a priority throughout UNESCO – the Social and Human Sciences Sector will continue to support the development strategy driven by and for Africans, incarnated by NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa’s Development) which places the sciences and health among its main priorities. It was in this spirit that SHS held the first Bioethics Days for West and Central Africa and set up the first bioethics documentation centre in Africa at Egerton University (Kenya). The Sector has also conducted a wide-reaching project on the challenges posed by regional integration in West Africa and another project aimed at eradicating poverty by approaching it as a denial of human rights.
In the Arab States, SHS will pursue its initiatives to reinforce human rights and women’s place in society, backed up in particular by the extensive Arab Research-Policy Network on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ARADESC), created in 2006. A human rights database has already been developed in the region, taking gender issues into account and including stakeholders in Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania and Tunisia. The important studies conducted in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia on women, family law and the legal system, in order to draw up an inventory and define courses of action, will also be pursued.
In Eastern and Central Europe, SHS will actively support the expert committee on migrant workers which it helped to set up, as well as the American University of Central Asia’s migration research network development project initiated in 2009. It will also pursue its action to foster the development of bioethics, based in particular on the association of Central Asian bioethics centres, the regional network of national bioethics committees and the international network on environmental ethics, all three of which were set up in 2008. It will also continue to promote human rights, particularly through the HIV/AIDS discrimination awareness project developed in Moscow with UNAIDS, and cooperation with the Caucasian Network for Civic Education of Women and Children, launched in 2006, in order to strengthen the autonomy of women in different spheres of social life.
In Asia and the Pacific, where a vast project on the ethics of energy technologies was initiated in 2007, one year after the creation of a UNESCO school of ethics, scientific cooperation and the drafting of policy recommendations on these particularly important issues for the region remain among its priorities. In the field of human rights, the exploration and analysis of contemporary realities will continue to be the subject of constant attention, like the study on women and gender in Asia and the Pacific, published in 2003, and the student awareness project called “Sowing Seeds of Peace in the Mekong River Basin”, launched two years later.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, where the first Regional Forum of Ministers of Social Development was held in 2003 as part of the MOST programme, its action will focus on poverty eradication and support for the development of youth policies. Thus, among other activities, the youth development and violence prevention project, initiated in Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador, will be developed in Guatemala and the Dominican Republic; the continuation of another project on the same theme carried out in Brazil. In this country, in the wake of the success of the “Criança Esperança” programme conducted with the “Globo” media group, which has already financed over 5,000 projects benefiting 4 million children and teenagers, UNESCO will devote its efforts, among others, to fostering the integration of the most needy young people, while continuing to contribute to consolidating national youth policies.
In Latin America, a region which has no doubt been one of the most active in promoting the Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights, adopted in 2005, among researchers, local decision-makers and communities, the UNESCO Social and Human Sciences Sector will maintain and enhance its efforts to highlight the importance of science ethics and human rights.
A major challenge
On the occasion of one of the four major international conferences held in Cartagena (Colombia) during the year to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, coordinated by SHS, Pierre Sané, the seventh head of the programme since its creation, spoke of how today, throughout the world, “the major challenge is the realization of the right proclaimed in Article 28 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which stipulates that ‘Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized’”.
Basically, the main focus of UNESCO’s Social and Human Sciences Sector is to make it possible to exercise that right.