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Discrimination: Encountering a psycho-social outlook

Published : Friday, 15 March, 2019 at 12:00 AM  Count : 263

Avik Gangopadhyay

Avik Gangopadhyay

The United Nations called on countries to examine discriminatory provisions in their laws and policies and make positive changes to ensure equality, inclusion and protection on Zero Discrimination Day, March 1, 2019: "Laws must protect, not cause harm. All countries must carefully examine their laws and policies in order to ensure equality and protection for all people, without exception." The day recalls the equal dignity and worth of every person, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But the ground reality is calling for action to change discriminatory laws and practices, which are a significant barrier for access to education and healthy psychological ambience.

The places of discrimination are easily identifiable. In spite of the presence of the "equal opportunity acts" in so many countries discrimination occurs in the broad public life such as accommodation, clubs, education, employment, goods and services, land sales and transfers, local government, sports, or in the workplace. Discrimination can take on a variety of forms, both direct and indirect, and can happen in any environment. With a few very rare exceptions, employers are prohibited from specifying an age preference in job advertisements. All employees, regardless of age, must receive the same benefits. But age discrimination in apprenticeship or internship programs or opportunities is visible. Employers are required to reasonably accommodate the religious beliefs of their employees as long as doing so will not have an excessively negative effect on the employer. It is illegal for businesses to discriminate against employees based on their religious customs. Hostile work environments exist when harassment or discrimination prevents or interferes with an employee's ability to perform his or her job duties or creates an offensive environment for an employee or group of employees.

Do men and women of the same qualifications, responsibility, skill level, and position receive equal pay? Employers are forbidden from discriminating on the basis of gender and from lowering one gender's salary simply to equalize the pay between genders.In the workplace, employment discrimination can occur even before a person works for an organization or company.

Even today we find at random stating or suggesting a preference for certain candidates in a job advertisement that is unrelated to a prospective employee's qualifications or ability to perform the expected duties, or excluding certain potential employees during recruitment for reasons unrelated to their ability to perform the expected duties, or denying certain employees compensation or benefits, paying a different salary to an equally qualified candidate in the same position, discriminating when assigning disability or maternity leave, or when providing retirement options, denying or disrupting the use of company facilities, discriminatory treatment when issuing promotions or layoffs.

There is a valid reason to treat harassment as a ploy of discrimination. Harassment is actually a form of discrimination. This includes unwelcome behaviour from a co-worker, manager, client, or another individual in the workplace based on race, colour, caste, religion, gender, nationality, age, disability, genetic information, or any other legally protected personal traits. People are bullied, ridiculed, treated unfavourably and because of personal characteristics, which are usually protected by the law.

Even today attitude holds firm against laws: direct age discrimination happens when someone is treated unfavourably because of their age and indirect age discrimination happens when a requirement, condition or practice is imposed that disadvantages a person or group because of their age, and is not reasonable. Verbal abuse for 'carer status' holders doesn't go unheard when someone who has total or substantial responsibility for ongoing care and support of another person. The dependent person may be a child, a partner, a parent, a relative or a friend. As most people will experience some kind of disability at some time in their lives, still disability discrimination prevents people from participating in community life and enjoying other human rights. It is against the law to discriminate against one because of sexual orientation, gender identity or lawful sexual activity, or what people assume these to be, or even one's marital status, but social restlessness is palpable in these matters.

Marital status is whether one is, or is not, single, married, divorced, widowed, separated, a domestic partner or in a de facto relationship. 'Domestic partner' refers to all couples, regardless of their sex and sexual orientation. In a close society do we remember these?

Isn't it stupidous to discriminate because of physical features like one's height, weight, size, shape or another bodily characteristic? Even facial features, hair and birthmarks are not beyond critical study. Political belief or activity is another sphere where one takes another blow: if one has, or does not have, a lawful political belief, is, or is not, a member of a political party, takes part in, or refuses to take part in, political action determine the outcome in appointments and in socialising.

Racial discrimination is one of the most common types of discrimination reported globally. Race includes colour, descent or ancestry, nationality or ethnic background, or any characteristics associated with a particular race.

We forget that the indigenous rights are also protected under anti-discrimination laws. We don't remember that religious belief is about having, or not having, a religious belief or view. We react too much to religious activities, which are where one takes part, chooses not to take part or refuses to take part in a religious activity. In most of the developing countries, although men can experience sex discrimination, women are more likely to be discriminated against because of their sex. This is because of the much nourished fixation that women are more likely to care for children or other family members, and they may become pregnant or need to breastfeed a child. Until very recent, it was possible to be convicted of certain sexual and public morality offences. Although these laws no longer exist, a new attribute to the equal opportunity act has come into effect across the nations making it unlawful to discriminate against a person on the basis of an expunged homosexual conviction.

In many countries, courts have the power to strike down laws that are discriminatory. But what about attitudes?  Is social awareness an enough an attitude to combat these? Only in 2018 we find at least 20 countries imposed travel restrictions of some form against people living with HIV, around 29 countries reported that they require the consent of a woman's husband or partner to access sexual and reproductive health services, 59 countries reported mandatory HIV testing for marriage, work or residence permits or for certain groups of people in the law, regulations or policies, 17 countries criminalized transgender people, 45 countries had laws that impose the need for parental consent for adolescents and young people below 18 years to access HIV testing services, 33 countries imposed the death penalty for drug offences in law and same-sex sexual relations were criminalized in at least 67 countries and territories worldwide. This can be done if individuals or organizations affected take legal action and wins the case for change, creating a strong gusto in favour in the social media.

Avik Gangopadhyay is an author, educationist and columnist, writes from Kolkata, India

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