Business Community Development Social

Ending Discrimination Critical to Attaining SDGs: UN Agencies

President of 75th Session of the UN General Assembly Volken Bozlar

Joyce Mukucha

As the United Nations (UN) agencies, Member States and other intentional institutions join the rest of the global community in observing and celebrating Zero Discrimination Day yesterday where they have called upon everyone to create global solidarity to end all forms of discrimination and reduce inequalities so as to attain Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and make the planet better for all.

Zero Discrimination Day is observed annually by many countries across the globe on March 1 to promote equality in practice and before the law. The purpose of the day is to eradicate inequalities in income, age, sex, health status, colour, race, occupation, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity and gender.

The United Nations first observed the Zero Discrimination Day on March 1, 2014 after UNAIDS launched its Zero Discrimination Campaign on World AIDS Day to combat discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS.

According to a report on the UN’s official website, this day was first observed in 2014 and was launched by UNAIDS executive director Michel Sidibe on February 27 of that year and was inaugurated at a UN event which was conducted in Beijing.

On Zero Discrimination Day, the right of everyone to live a full and productive life and living it with dignity is celebrated. The day also highlights how people can become informed about and promote inclusion, compassion, peace, and, above all, a movement for change.

This year’s commemorations are dedicated to taking action to end the inequalities surrounding income, sex, age, health status, occupation, disability, sexual orientation, drug use, gender identity, race, class, ethnicity, and religion that continue to persist around the world.

Sending a message to mark Zero Discrimination Day, the President of the 75th Session of the General Assembly Volken Bozlar said everyone has a responsibility to call out discrimination whenever it is seen.

“On Zero Discrimination Day, I hope you will join me in re-committing to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.

“They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of Brotherhood.” We are called to amplify the voices of those who have experienced discrimination, uphold the dignity of each individual, and to advocate and legislate for a more equal, just, and safer world for all,” he said.

He highlighted that despite the efforts made long back aimed at creating an equal world for everyone, disparities were still prevailing in different parts of the world and called upon all Member States to meaningfully engage with those most vulnerable people.

Women, he indicated, continue to suffer from disproportionate burden of unpaid care, labour market segregation and gender pay gap and girls facing the grave risk of never returning to school in the middle of a gender digital divide.

“75 years ago, at a time of great distrust, world leaders chose the path to unity over division.Coming together in recognition that there is strength in diversity, they created a multilateral system underpinned by the fundamental principles of equality and non-discrimination. Yet today, discrimination continues to exist.

“We are living in an era of deepening inequalities, with 235 million people expected to require humanitarian assistance this year.”

Following that the world is living in unprecedented times posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, Bozlar stressed the need to ensure that pandemic response and recovery plans are grounded in rights-based approaches that meet the needs of those who are lagging behind.

“For those furthest behind, life has become even harder due to climate change, conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic.In a world where millions of people lack access to essential healthcare services and vulnerable groups continue to experience much poorer health outcomes, we must need to prioritize the equal and fair distribution of vaccines for all,”said Bozlar.

UNAIDS has highlighted the urgent need to take action to end the inequalities surrounding income, sex, age, health status, occupation, disability, sexual orientation, drug use, gender identity, race, class, ethnicity and religion that continue to persist around the world.

“This Zero Discrimination Day join us in raising awareness about the inequalities that prevent people from living a full and productive life and demanding that governments fulfil their commitments and obligations to end all forms of discrimination,” said UNAIDS.

It stated that confronting inequalities and ending discrimination is critical to ending the menace of AIDS.

“Recognizing the equal worth and dignity of every person is not only an ethical imperative and an obligation arising from international human rights instruments but is also central to aspirations for ending AIDS,” said UNAIDS.

UNAIDS also reflected that if discrimination continue to exist, then the world is off track from delivering on the shared commitment to end AIDS by 2030.

“The world is off track from delivering on the shared commitment to end AIDS by 2030 not because of a lack of knowledge, capability or means to beat AIDS, but because of structural inequalities that obstruct proven solutions in HIV prevention and treatment.

“For example, recent research shows that gay men and other men who have sex with men are twice as likely to acquire HIV if they live in a country with punitive approaches to sexual orientation than if they live in a country with supportive legislation. The reason for this is not a lack of knowledge or capability or means to beat AIDS, but because of structural inequalities that hinder HIV prevention and treatment.”

The report in the UNAIDS website, also revealed that recent research shows that gay men and other men who have intercourse with men are twice as likely to acquire HIV if they are living in a country with punitive approaches to sexual orientation than if they are living in one with supportive legislation.

The UNAIDS report mentions that inequality is growing for more than 70% of the global population indicating that Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the situation particularly on vulnerable and marginalised groups failing to access the vaccine.

“This is not only exacerbating the risk of division but also hampering economic and social development. Unfortunately, the inequalities worldwide have been deepened due to COVID-19, which is hitting the most vulnerable people the hardest.

“Even vaccines against COVID-19 are becoming available, there is great inequality in accessing them. The report then states that many intellectuals have equated this to vaccine apartheid.”

According to UNAIDS, fighting discrimination against women is very important to beat HIV/ AIDS.

Tackling inequality, said UNAIDS, is not a new commitment following that in 2015, all countries pledged to reduce inequality within and between countries as part of the SDGs yet the results are still invisible.

Therefore, the organisation stressed the need to fulfil the promise to tackle inequality will save millions of lives and benefit society as a whole.

“Countries committed to confront discrimination in all its forms. But it is not yet one that the world has delivered on. As well as being core to ending AIDS, tackling inequality will also advance the human rights of people who are living with HIV, make societies better prepared to beat COVID-19 and other pandemics and support economic recovery and stability.

“But to achieve dignity for all, political, economic and social policies need to protect the rights of everyone and pay attention to the needs of disadvantaged and marginalized communities.”

Additionally, UNAIDS emphasised that ending inequality requires transformative change indicating that greater efforts are needed to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger and there is a need to invest more in health, education, social protection and decent job.

Governments were urged to promote inclusive social and economic growth.

“They must eliminate discriminatory laws, policies and practices in order to ensure equal opportunity and reduce inequalities. But we can all play our part by calling out discrimination where we see it, by setting an example or by advocating to change the law. We all have a role to play in ending discrimination and so reducing inequalities.

“We cannot achieve sustainable development and make the planet better for all if people are excluded from the chance of a better life. In today’s world, we are all interconnected. Global inequality affects us all, no matter who we are or where we are from.”

In his message to mark the Zero Discrimination Day, the UN Secretary General Antonio Guteress also pointed out that inequalities works against human development and for everyone, consequences people suffer its consequences.

“Discrimination, abuse and lack of access to justice define inequality for many. Particularly indigenous people, migrants, refugees and minorities of all kinds. Such inequalities are a direct assault on human rights,” he said.

Other organisations and movements and individuals who celebrated Zero Discrimination Day highlighted that intellectual property rights rules should be waived during emergencies such as the Covid-19 pandemic.

Some stated that social protection systems including benefits, unemployment benefits and basic income grants should be expanded.

About the author

Byron Adonis Mutingwende