End Discrimination. Promote Peace.

What is Zero Discrimination Day?

March 1st is globally recognized as Zero Discrimination Day. First observed in 2014, the day came about as a result of UNAIDS’ Zero Discrimination Campaign to highlight the necessity of eliminating stigma and discriminatory policies in order to save lives of those living with HIV/AIDS. Zero Discrimination Day seeks to address and take action against widespread, multi-faceted discrimination. Deeply embedded in societal frameworks across the world, discriminatory practices shape provisions and laws that further enable various inequalities, which manifests across society by way of income, sexuality, drug use, occupation, disability, health status,  gender identity, ethnicity, race, class, and religion.

Focusing on Discrimination in Young Key Affected Populations

In order to reduce inequality, recognition of existing discrimination is crucial. Discrimination stems from stigma, which is formed from societal attitudes surrounding ‘deviant’ behaviors. Stigma creates negative stereotypes that leads to reactionary response — behaviors toward those socially deviant members of society, otherwise known as discrimination. Discrimination is intriniscally linked to structural inequalities, impacting the effort to combat AIDS and impeding other global battles for equality. In an effort to underscore the detrimental impact of discriminatory practices, UNAIDS noted, “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.” 

Unfortunately, discrimination has only expanded already rampant global inequality. Youth RISE has seen this in our own work with young people who use drugs and other young key affected populations. Youths engaging in risky behaviors will often reject seeking health treatment due to factors such as stigma and policies surrounding consent to treatment. People living with HIV also face significant roadblocks to treatment, including being denied general health services and others related to sexual reproductive health, unaffordable services and fear of accessing services due to discrimination. This further emphasizes the need for rejecting stigma and removing age barriers, but it is also one of the fundamental reasons educating young people about harm reduction is so necessary. Discrimination based in sexuality and gender identity are also major barriers to treatment. According to UNAIDS, 17 countries still criminalize transgender people and 69 criminalize same-sex sexual relations. Furthermore, at least 68 countries have laws in place that criminalize HIV non-disclosure, exposure or transmission.

COVID-19’s Role in Discrimination

The COVID-19 pandemic has also intensified the experience of inequality by populations around the world. Domestic violence against womxn is on the rise. In the United States, multiple acts of violence and assault have been committed against Asian Americans fueled by racial prejudice and the pandemic. Disparities in vaccinations worldwide have also been seen, with vaccine distribution to wealthier nations well ahead of others and increased cost of vaccines in various countries, such as South Africa and Uganda as opposed to countries across the European Union. The pandemic has also further increased inequality throughout the global workforce, with laborers losing $3.7 trillion in earnings since the beginning of the pandemic, while the world’s billionaires have gained $3.9 trillion in the same time period.

Stand With Us This Zero Discrimination Day

Youth RISE is committed to ending the harsh discrimination and stigma young key affected populations around the world face. We stand in solidarity with those facing discrimination and will continue to work tirelessly to fight against massive discrimination and criminalization of people who use drugs. Each and every one of us is deserving of love, dignity, and respect and has a right as a human to stand as equals. 

We recognize and stand with UNAIDS and their goals, including but not limited to repealing discriminatory and criminalizing legislation aimed at marginalized populations, repealing laws that discriminate against womxn and creating comprehensive policies to fight gender discrimination – free, public universal health care should be a right, including integrated community facilitate services, and expanding social protection programs. As Youth RISE, we support targeting approaches aimed at marginalized populations ostrasized due to drug use, prior experience in the carceral system, sex work as an occupation, and urge implementation of anti-discriminatory practices to be far reaching in order to best curb inequality around the globe. 

What can you do to help eliminate discrimination?

Ending discrimination will require a global effort. Take part in local actions throughout your community. Listen to lived experiences of those from various marginalized populations. Vocalize the need for anti-discriminatory policies. Create a petition or contact your local government official. It’s fundamental to educate yourself to most effectively spread the word. 

Raise up voices from disadvantaged communities to provide insights and direct experience with inequalities they face. If you’re part of an organization, form a campaign or set up an anti-discrimination training. Discrimination pervades every social institution, from the economy, to educational institutions to religion, politics and family. We must dedicate ourselves to promote peace and end the harmful practices set forth by eliminating the discrimination that exists. This is by no means an easy task, but it is possible.

Written by our USA International Working Group member, Kelly Ebert.