Unia calls for urgent action to fight structural discrimination against people of African origin

21 March 2022
Area of action: All areas of action
Grounds of discrimination: Racism

To mark the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Unia is publishing a report about the discrimination against people of African origin in Belgium (available only in French en Dutch) and is making a series of recommendations. It is in the areas of employment, housing and education that the discriminations and inequalities suffered by this group are most keenly felt. "The contrast between their high level of education and their low level of employment is striking," say Els Keytsman and Patrick Charlier, Directors of Unia.

A troubling position in the labour market

In general, people of foreign origin occupy a less favourable position in the labour market. The report of Unia shows that people of African origin - and people of sub-Saharan origin in particular - also face systemic problems such as a high unemployment rate, a large number of long-term unemployed and integration difficulties. In its statistical analysis, Unia underlines that, even with higher education degrees (Bachelor's, Master's or Doctorate), people of sub-Saharan origin have a harder time finding a job than Belgians or people of other origins. A diploma, therefore, does not guarantee them the same employment opportunities. The employment rate of people of sub-Saharan origin with higher education degrees is close to that of Belgians with a lower secondary education diploma. This is also reflected in their salaries: despite having the same diploma and study subject, they earn less than people of other origins.

"To prevent such discrimination, Unia advocates ‘positive action’. In addition, practical testing and ‘data mining’ remain key to the targeted identification of discrimination. The recent approval of the bill strengthening the powers of social inspectors in this area is a step in the right direction," explain Els Keytsman and Patrick Charlier.

Revisiting our colonial history 

The link between discrimination, inequality and our colonial history is particularly evident in education, where people of African descent are subjected to racism and structural inequalities. This is reflected in academic delays, reorientation and harassment. On the other hand, it is crucial that colonial history and its link to contemporary racism should be an integral part of the school curriculum. A follow-up and evaluation of the recent initiatives should be scheduled now.

Decolonisation must go further still 

The discrimination faced by people of African descent is a long-standing scourge that plagues Belgium. It has recently gained renewed attention in the public debate, both internationally and nationally, with the Black Lives Matter movement and the decolonisation of the public space. Unia is convinced that this decolonisation of public space will benefit the fight against discrimination and racism, including their structural dimensions. These initiatives should also extend to the school curriculum, media images and culture...

"Decolonisation initiatives should be participatory processes par excellence, in which those concerned play an important role.  Let's not forget that we are talking about people and not just statues", conclude Els Keytsman and Patrick Charlier, Directors of Unia.

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