Zero Discrimination Day and Gender Equality

“Viruses such as HIV or COVID-19 do not differentiate between people, but societies do.” – UNAIDS.

On March 1, we celebrate Zero Discrimination Day. This year’s theme is a continuation of 2020, which challenges the prejudices against women and girls as well as calls for equal rights, opportunities, and treatment.

What is Zero Discrimination Day?

The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) was first launched in 1996. The program intends to mobilize a global response to the AIDS/HIV pandemic. As part of these efforts, UNAIDS created Zero Discrimination Day in 2014. The day is celebrated annually on March 1 by UNAIDS and other international organizations.

UNAIDS intends Zero Discrimination Day to shine a light on all forms of discrimination after the combined experience at the UN highlighted the same point—the struggle to beat discrimination is the same, no matter what form it takes.

This year, Zero Discrimination Day is about challenging the discrimination women and girls face, continuing to raise awareness, and promoting gender equality and empowerment.

Worldwide, AIDS remains the biggest killer of women aged 15–49 years. While accessing healthcare is a basic human right, discrimination in healthcare settings can prevent people from seeking the help they need. The stigma surrounding HIV is usually based on fear or ignorance, but it creates a barrier to accessing treatment. Feelings of guilt and shame can prevent people from getting tested to find out their HIV status. It can also stop them from taking the treatment, which is often free.  

Executive Director of UNAIDS, Winnie Byanyima states that beating AIDS can only be achieved “when we take on the social and economic injustices that perpetuate it and spur more scientific innovations to address the real needs of women and girls and people living with and vulnerable to HIV.” Ending AIDS by 2030 means ensuring that women and girls have equal access to education, healthcare, and employment. This means challenging society’s view of others based on their sexual orientation, recreational habits, ethnicity, gender, or socioeconomic status. 

That’s why zero discrimination, women’s rights, and human rights are all intertwined with the struggle to beat AIDS.

The acknowledgment of women’s rights is a sentiment echoed by Hilary Clinton at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China in 1995, “Women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights”. Rather than be considered just “women’s issues”, the statement combines women’s struggles with that of all human rights.

Zero Discrimination and Its Importance for Gender Equality

Discrimination is prevalent around the world, denying basic rights like food, shelter, employment, and equal opportunities. Some are more at risk than others, and despite best efforts to reach gender equality, globally women and girls remain disadvantaged. 

In childhood, discrimination disproportionally affects girls and robs them of their chances in life. Additionally, aside from the much-reported ‘gender wage gap’, another obvious example of gender inequality is found in parliament. Worldwide, women are still significantly underrepresented in positions in power. Meaning they do not have control over key decisions that affect their lives. According to UN Women, gender equality in the highest positions of power will not be reached for another 130 years.

We must challenge the underlying prejudices that serve to disadvantage women and girls.

Discrimination does not just affect the individual, it affects everyone. Whereas celebrating diversity benefits us all. Individuals and organizations can help by addressing the root causes of discrimination head-on. Zero Discrimination Day means making noise and speaking up, allowing everyone to lead a full and productive life.

Kristen Rive-Thomson


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