KINGSTON, 29 February 2016—On 1 March, people around the world will be joining together to celebrate Zero Discrimination Day. This year’s theme is Stand Out and encourages everyone to stand for fair and just societies.
Discrimination remains widespread—gender, nationality, age, ethnic origin, sexual orientation or religion can all unfortunately be the basis for some form of discrimination. In only four out of 10 countries worldwide do equal numbers of girls and boys attend secondary school. Seventy-five countries—including 11 in the English-speaking Caribbean—have laws that criminalize same-sex sexual relations.
The People Living with HIV Stigma Index measures and detects changing trends in relation to stigma and discrimination experienced by people living with HIV. The findings from studies done in three Caribbean countries demonstrate that many people living with HIV still contend with prejudice. One in three Belize respondents (38%) has had to change their place of residence because of their HIV status. In the Dominican Republic 8% said they had been denied health services, including dental care, because they are HIV positive. In Jamaica one in ten (11%) reported frequently experiencing verbal harassment.
“When the most marginalized and vulnerable face discrimination and abuse, all of us are diminished,” said United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. “The United Nations is strongly committed to upholding human rights and dignity for all.”
Addressing discrimination in healthcare settings
Discrimination in health-care settings also continues to be widely reported. Imagine a young woman newly diagnosed with HIV being told by her doctor that she must be sterilized, a sex worker facing violence or abuse from a nurse, a disabled person denied access to proper advice about their sexual health, a gay man frightened of disclosing his sexuality to medical staff or a transgender person attempting suicide after being turned away from a clinic.
Recent stigma and discrimination studies by the University of the West Indies and the Health Policy Project in four Caribbean countries found that at least one of every five healthcare workers reported observing a co-worker being unwilling to care for a patient living with HIV. About one in ten respondents said they would prefer not to provide services to men who have sex with men and sex workers. The Pan Caribbean Partnership Against HIV/AIDS (PANCAP) is leading a regional initiative to reduce stigma and discrimination in health facilities by measuring stigma levels among medical and non-medical health workers, supporting the development and implementation of consistent interventions and monitoring progress over time.
Health-care settings should be considered as safe and caring environments, however, such cases are happening too frequently throughout the world. Any obstacles that inhibit access to health-care facilities, including to testing, treatment and care services, must be removed. Access to health must be open to everyone. UNAIDS is partnering with the World Health Organization’s Global Health Workforce Alliance to develop a plan for action to end discrimination in health-care settings.
The way forward
“On Zero Discrimination Day, stand out and stand together for the right to live free from stigma and discrimination,” said Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS. “By celebrating diversity, we can transform the future.”
On this year’s Zero Discrimination Day, people are being urged to value and embrace diversity and recognize the diverse set of talents and skills that each person brings—talents that enrich society and strengthen communities. Welcoming diversity in all its forms reinforces social cohesion and brings valuable benefits to societies around the world.
People can show their support for #zerodiscrimination through drawings, pictures, audio and video. Contributions can be posted on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to illustrate personal stories about overcoming discrimination. Several artists, designers and illustrators have created original pieces providing their interpretation of zero discrimination—see @unaidsglobal on Instagram.