Zero Discrimination Day focuses on the right of people to live their lives without being prejudiced in any way
By Pierre Bremond – Discriminations of all sorts continue to undermine efforts to achieve a world that is more just and equitable. Millions of people around the world face stigma and open, official discrimination, based on who they are or what they do.
74 nations worldwide have laws punishing lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people with prison sentences, torture, the death penalty or forced labour. In thirteen of these countries, homosexuality is punishable by the death penalty. In Egypt, the government is preparing a bill criminalizing atheism – thousands of people could be fined or jailed simply because they do not believe in God!
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Even in the most progressive societies discrimination is pervasive. It may be an individual phenomenon, sometimes prohibited by law (for example: refusing to treat an HIV-positive person) or a systemic phenomenon – e.g. putting obstacles to hiring racialized people; excluding qualified women from professional fields traditionally ‘reserved’ for men; targeting people over 50 in the event of downsizing; discriminating against people at work due to their disability, illness or pregnancy; etc.
Stigma and discrimination in healthcare
Discrimination in accessing health care services or in health care settings is also rampant. Even though some regions have laws prohibiting discrimination (for example, article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union recognizes the right to be free from discrimination), they are not immune to it, particularly among the most marginalized and stigmatized populations.
These people are often discriminated against on more than one ground – a phenomenon called ‘multiple discrimination’ where different factors intersect and become negatively reinforcing. They usually have to face discrimination on the basis of their age, sex, race or ethnicity, health status, disability or vulnerability to ill health, sexual orientation or gender identity, nationality, asylum or migration status, or criminal record.
Discrimination takes many forms. It is often manifested when individuals or groups are denied access to health care services otherwise accessible to others. It may also occur through the denial of services that are needed by certain groups only, such as women. Specific individuals or groups can also be subjected to physical or verbal abuse or violence, involuntary treatment, breaches of the principles of confidentiality and autonomous decision-making.
Discrimination against a person based on their illness or situation is also a concern. According to one study, addiction is the most stigmatizing condition compared to other mental health disorders. In this study, the majority of respondents were more accepting of discriminatory practices towards substance abusers, more sceptical about the effectiveness of treatments, and more likely to oppose the implementation of policies aimed at helping them. Another study pointed out that people with substance use disorders are considered by a majority, including health care personnel, to be “unpredictable and dangerous” and “responsible for what happens to them”.
Addressing discrimination in health care settings or in access to services is necessary to the achievement of many of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development goals, ensuring that ‘no one is left behind’. Yet it is not enough to declare that “no one should be discriminated against” – it is important to act. When it comes to health care, every government should institutionalize multidimensional equality in their health system: by considering dissuasive sanctions in cases of discrimination; offering training to health professionals; encouraging positive action for people at risk of multiple discrimination (e.g. through the implementation of mobile outreach programmes targeting different ethnic communities).
The goal of zero discrimination should not be the goal of a world day among many others. It is an indispensable commitment for a sustainable human development.