March 1 is Zero Discrimination Day, an annual worldwide event that promotes diversity and recognises that everyone counts. Organisations like the United Nations actively promote the day with various activities to celebrate everyone’s right to live a full life with dignity regardless of age, gender, sexuality, nationality, ethnicity, skin colour, height, weight, profession, education, and beliefs. While many countries have laws against discrimination, it’s still a problem in all layers of society in every country in the world. Many countries have and still use discrimination as a way of governing.
The UN first celebrated Zero Discrimination Day on March 1, 2014, after the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), launched its Zero Discrimination Campaign on World AIDS Day in December 2013. The UN has recognised that discrimination remains widespread – gender, nationality, age, ethnic origin, sexual orientation or religion can all unfortunately be the basis for some form of discrimination. The international body has noted that in only four out of 10 countries worldwide do equal numbers of girls and boys attend secondary school and 75 countries have laws that criminalise same-sex sexual relations.
According to then UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, when the most marginalised and vulnerable face discrimination and abuse, all are diminished. Discrimination in health-care settings also continues to be widely reported, the UN noted and it has stressed that 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.
Discrimination has many forms, from racial or religious discrimination to discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation or age, and to bullying at school or at work. In only three out of 10 countries worldwide do equal numbers of girls and boys attend upper secondary school, and people living with disabilities are nearly three times more likely to be denied health care than other people. UNAIDS has also emphasised that everyone has the right to be treated with respect, to live free from discrimination, coercion, and abuse. Zero discrimination is an integral part of UNAIDS’ vision and has highlighted too that the right to health is a fundamental human right that includes access to affordable, timely, and quality health-care services for all, yet discrimination remains widespread in health-care settings, creating a serious barrier to access to HIV services.
Data from 50 countries from the People Living with HIV Stigma Index show that one in eight people living with HIV report being denied health care. Around 60 per cent of European Union/European Economic Area countries report that stigma and discrimination among health-care professionals remains a barrier to the provision of adequate HIV prevention services for men who have sex with men and people who inject drugs. Zero Discrimination Day is an opportunity to highlight how everyone can be part of the transformation and take a stand for a fair and just society. Everyone will have experienced discrimination of some kind during their lives; however, non-discrimination is a human right. Equally, States and individuals have a legal obligation not to discriminate.
UNAIDS leads and inspires the world to achieve its shared vision of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths. UNAIDS unites the efforts of 11 UN organisations – the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR); United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF); World Food Programme (WFP); United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA); United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC); UN Women; International Labour Organisation (ILO); United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO); World Health Organisation (WHO) and the World Bank – and works closely with global and national partners towards ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals. The symbol for Zero Discrimination Day is the butterfly, widely used by people to share their stories and photos as a way to end discrimination and work towards positive transformation.