What will it take to build an International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement free from racism, xenophobia and discrimination?

March 2022

Annika Norlin, David Loquercio – ICRC

Amjad Saleem, Brian Diah, Gurvinder Singh – IFRC

In every society, there are people who experience racism and discrimination. Their impact is far-reaching, increasing the risk of interpersonal violence, exacerbating inequalities, creating mental health and psychosocial issues and hampering access to essential services, including during crises. Racism and discrimination lead to people being left out, left behind and left hurt because of what they look like or where they come from.

Racism and discrimination – as experienced by black, indigenous and other people of colour, people of certain castes and other marginalized groups – are colonial in their origins. They have led to deeply ingrained systemic attitudes and power inequalities that are visible in political, economic and social structures. These, in turn, have created intertwined layers of discrimination and oppression that have very tangible consequences for groups and individuals.

The intersection between these dynamics and humanitarianism presents a complex reality – including within and for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (Movement) – and one that warrants investigation. The Council of Delegates workshop on 31 March 2022 aims to do just this.

As members of a global Movement, we cannot ignore the fact that we are the product of our own contexts and environments, and therefore influenced by different attitudes to racism and discrimination. We need to be conscious that our Movement’s history, our Fundamental Principles and our humanitarian work do not make us immune from bias, misperceptions, power imbalances, privilege, racism and discrimination.

Honest debate can reveal hard truths that enable us to collectively understand and acknowledge the issues and challenges we face and the steps we need to take to address them. Power imbalances, privilege, unconscious bias, processes and systems that provide some National Societies with greater resources and a seat at the table can lead to inequitable working practices and relationships. To tackle systemic and structural issues, to address cultural norms and individual bias and fears, we must challenge the system, the funding patterns, the culture and the structures that maintain and perpetuate privilege for some groups and individuals while restricting the rights and privileges of others. We have to be prepared to challenge this by asking: Can people see themselves represented here? Does our organizational culture relate to people’s lived experiences? How do we prioritize the views of local communities and work with them?

The rejection of all forms of discrimination and inequity lies at the heart of our Fundamental Principles and our values. Our principle of impartiality demands that there be no discrimination based on nationality, race, religious beliefs, class or political opinions if we are to properly respect the human being as set out in the principle of humanity. This is crucial if we are to relieve the suffering of people in need. It is equally important to remember that this extends to who we are as much as to whom we serve. Our principle of neutrality does not mean staying silent in the face of racism and violence. It means speaking out and transitioning from a passive stance of not directly engaging in racist or discriminatory behaviour (such as not acknowledging differences and not actively addressing systems of oppression) to dismantling systemic racism.

We need to transform the Movement so that it is characterized by anti-racist, decolonized and decolonizing humanitarian assistance. As a Movement, we need to have the courage to hold this debate and to have the sensitivity to ensure that all sides are considered. The case for anti-racism, diversity, equality and inclusion is a moral one. We need to do better, and not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s the morally right thing to do – to treat people with dignity, respect and humanity.

Over the years, there have been many statutory commitments that have led to strategies, policies and operational plans related to diversity, inclusion and protection, and yet we are still falling short in fostering honest conversations about racism, discrimination and xenophobia. We need to do more to build trust between each other and with local communities and to improve respect for and acceptance of diversity. Any discussion must be followed by acts and long-term actions to nurture understanding and support for better practices within the Movement, enabling all to have their voices heard and respected.

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