Global challenges, local responses: how the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region fights discrimination

On March 1, Zero Discrimination Day is celebrated around the world to draw attention to the problem of discrimination in all forms and manifestations and to take action to overcome it. It was initiated by UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, and was first observed in 2014. And 10 years later, this day again reminds us of the need for a more just and equitable society where everyone can feel protected and respected regardless of their characteristics and identity.

Zero Discrimination Day is important not only as a moment of awareness of discrimination but also as an opportunity to emphasize the importance of protecting human rights for all without exception. The key message is that everyone, regardless of race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, or other characteristics, has inviolable rights that must be protected and respected. This day helps to mobilize public awareness and strengthen the efforts of citizens, human rights organizations, government agencies, and other stakeholders to combat discrimination and promote human rights. Today, in all regions of the world, various activities, including educational campaigns, seminars, conferences, forums, and rallies, are organized to raise awareness of the problem of discrimination and promote respect for differences. This includes the Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) region.

According to the latest data presented in the REAct Regional Digest for 2023, the issue of discrimination remains one of the most pressing challenges for representatives of vulnerable groups to HIV/AIDS. Based on referrals in all 14 countries in the region where REActors work, the key trends and areas where this offense has been most acute over the past year include:

– Social exclusion and stigmatization: members of vulnerable groups face social exclusion and stigmatization by those around them. They may be rejected by their families, friends, and society at large due to misunderstanding, prejudice, and lack of provable information. 

– Denial of health care: some health care facilities or medical personnel may refuse to provide services to people from the community because of fear of infection, bias, or lack of training on issues such as HIV or viral hepatitis.

– Problems at work: according to national REActors statistics, vulnerable people may also face discrimination in the workplace, including dismissal and denial of benefits or wages.

– Access to education: key populations are sometimes denied access to educational institutions because of their (or a close relative’s) HIV status, which can lead to restrictions on learning and career opportunities.

– Biased public opinion: communities may face biased opinions and myths, for example, about HIV status or the LGBTIQ movement in society, which leads to additional disadvantages and discrimination.

The fight against discrimination requires a comprehensive and systemic approach at different levels of society. According to REAct observations, in the EECA region the main focus should be on:

– Legislation and reforms in the justice system: the adoption of laws and policies that protect rights and prevent discrimination based on any characteristic, including race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, etc. These laws must be effectively implemented and accompanied by training and monitoring measures. As should ensure fair and impartial adjudication of discrimination cases in the courts.

– Education and awareness: conducting educational campaigns and programs that will help raise awareness of discrimination, and develop tolerance and respect for differences. This includes inclusive lessons in schools, training for employers, and events for the public.

– Supporting victims of discrimination: promoting support and protection mechanisms for those who experience discrimination. This can include legal, and psychological support and access to social services and medicine.

– Working with communities and civil society: it is important to create conditions for active participation, such as supporting non-governmental organizations working in the field of human rights.

– Working with employers and businesses: ensuring equal opportunities in the workplace and preventing discrimination in hiring, promotion, and dismissal. This includes educating employers about the principles of equality and fairness and establishing mechanisms for employee complaints and appeals.

On Zero Discrimination Day, human rights advocates actively advocate for effective laws and policies to prevent discrimination and protect the rights of all people, including vulnerable groups. But let us remember that not only on March 1, but every day is an opportunity to draw attention to this issue and promote a society based on equality, justice, and respect for human rights.

Also read:

HIV Criminalization Awareness Day: fighting for justice and understanding

Celebrating LGBTIQ history month in Eastern Europe and Central Asia: a journey of resilience and progress