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What does “discrimination” mean?

Discrimination should be defined as one person, or a group of persons, being treated less favourably than another on the grounds of racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation (direct discrimination), or where an apparently neutral provision is liable to disadvantage a group of persons on the same grounds of discrimination, unless objectively justified (indirect discrimination).

In other words, discrimination means treating people differently, negatively or adversely without a good reason. As used in human rights laws, discrimination means making a distinction between certain individuals or groups based on a prohibited ground. The idea behind it is that people should not be placed at a disadvantage simply because of their racial and ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation. That is called discrimination and is against the law.

If a job advertisement or a public notice says “no disabled people need apply” or “foreigners not allowed,” the meaning is clear – and discriminatory. Similarly, if people are called insulting names because of their colour or their age or because of some physical or mental disability, we all know that such behaviour is discriminatory and degrading. Acts of this kind are easy to spot. An example of indirect discrimination is requiring all people who apply for a certain job to pass an English test, even though English is not necessary for the job. This test might exclude more people whose first language is not English.

But discrimination can be much more subtle, and harder to stop. Discrimination has, over time, evolved to include unequal treatment that results from the operation of rules or policies that are not themselves apparently discriminatory in intention (indirect discrimination). When someone does not get the service they want or the job they think they deserve, there may be a discriminatory reason. What has to be shown is whether a person’s race, sex or age etc. was a factor in the denial of the service or the job, or whether it was done only for other, valid reasons. Sometimes, the only way to tell whether there is discrimination is by looking at the effects on groups of people. If people who use wheelchairs cannot get near the service counter, then it is obvious that they are not being well served. Or if people over 50 are almost never hired for a particular job, we can ask whether there is a good reason for this, or whether it is just someone’s prejudice against older workers.

Harassment is any unwanted physical or verbal conduct that offends or humiliates others. Such conduct can interfere with your ability to do a job or obtain a service. Harassment is a type of discrimination. Harassment shall be deemed to be a form of discrimination when unwanted conduct related to any of the grounds takes place with the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person and of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. Harassment can consist of a single incident or several incidents over a period of time. It can take many forms, such as: threats, intimidation, or verbal abuse; unwelcome remarks or jokes about subjects like your ethnicity, religion, disability or age; displaying racist or other offensive pictures or posters.

16. November 2010 13:07, Združenie žien Slovenska