Areas of Advice

  • No categories

The Advice Archive


To discriminate is to make a distinction between people on the basis of class or category without regard to individual merit. Examples include social, racial, religious, sexual, disability, ethnic and age-related discrimination. Some distinctions between people which are based just on individual merit (such as personal appearance) may be inappropriate (or even illegal) in some situations, but they are not discriminatory.

Examples of discrimination within countries include: apartheid in South Africa; institutionalized racial segregation in the USA from the Civil War through the 1960s; the “Jewish problem” in Nazi Germany; and reeducation camps in some communist countries.

Many governments have attempted to control discrimination through civil rights legislation, equal opportunity laws and institutionalised policies of affirmative action (called reverse discrimination by its opponents, and is illegal in many forms as being simply another form of discrimination by another name).

Even in western, secular countries, governments practice discrimination. For example, governments may provide better treatment to citizens than to non-citizens. Unemployed citizens may receive welfare benefits funded by taxpayers, while unemployed non-citizens may be denied such benefits. Governments often have the power to forcefully expel non-citizens but cannot expel citizens. Discrimination based on citizenship status is not generally considered illegal.

Religious Discrimination

Today, Muslims widely face job related discrimination in the West, particularly in the United States of America, following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Since that attack, the EEOC has received more than 800 charge filings nationwide, alleging backlash discrimination by individuals who are or who are perceived to be Muslim, Arabic, Middle Eastern, South Asian or Sikh. The two most common issues alleged are harassment and discharge.

Another example of discrimination against Muslims is occurring in a different hemisphere. Leaders of France, Austria, Germany and the Vatican have openly declared that Turkey is unqualified to be a full member of the institution because of its “religious and ethnic differences”. Some people consider this to be a very significant case of religious discrimination on an international level. However, Denmark is considered the biggest discriminator against Muslims (the largest minority in Denmark) by not allowing Muslims to own burial grounds, which leads Muslims to send the bodies of their deceased family members for traditional burial in other countries.

Currently, non-Muslims are discriminated against in the few remaining Islamic theocratic states. Jews and Christians have historically had fewer rights than Muslim citizens in Muslim states; non-Muslims monotheists have been consigned to the status of dhimmis in some cases. Marxist states have discriminated against all religions at some time or another. This continues in North Korea, China and Vietnam, and many former Soviet republics.

The Kingdom of Jordan forbids Jews from becoming citizens, although people of any other group are allowed to do so (law No. 6, sect. 3, of April 3, 1954; restated in law no. 7, sect. 2, of April 1, 1963). Saudi Arabia forbids non-Muslims from practising their religion in public, and clergy may not enter the country to lead ceremonies of other faiths. Christians asking Muslims to convert to Christianity have been persecuted and arrested; Muslims who have converted to Christianity have been executed as apostates. Fictional tales of Jews committing diabolic crimes are published by the state. The article on discrimination against non-Muslims in Saudi Arabia on Wikipedia discusses this subject in more depth.

The State of Israel has often been accused of discrimination against Palestinians; this topic is discussed in the article on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Christian and Muslim Arab citizens of Israel are not entitled to the same rights as their Jewish counterparts. Segregation is most evident in the school system, where Jewish children and Arab children go to seperate schools, with the latter receiving much less funding. The result is fewer teachers and an inferior level of education. Other than that, only Druze Arabs are allowed to join the military, while Christians and Muslims are not.

Some others claim that non-religious people (atheists, agnostics, etc.) are subject to the most widespread religious discrimination. During his 1988 Presidential campaign, George H.W. Bush stated that atheists should not be considered patriots or citizens.

Religious students may be said to be discriminated in schools both publicly and privately. For example, names of clubs have been changed due to claims by administrative staff that some part of the name or the symbolism it represents may offend other students, parents, or teachers.

Age Discrimination

Age Discrimination is discrimination against a person or group on the grounds of age. Although theoretically the word can refer to the discrimination against any age group, age discrimination usually comes in one of two forms: discrimination against youth, and discrimination against the elderly.

In many countries, companies more or less openly refuse to hire people above a certain age despite the increasing lifespans and average age of the population. The reasons for this range from vague feelings that younger people are more “dynamic” and create a positive image for the company, to more concrete concerns about regulations granting older employees higher salaries or other benefits without these expenses being fully justified by an older employees’ greater experience.

Some underage teenagers consider that they’re victims of age discrimination on the grounds that they should be treated more respectfully by adults and not as second-class citizens. Some complain that social stratification in age groups causes outsiders to incorrectly stereotype and generalize the group, for instance that all adolescents are equally immature, violent or rebellious, listen to rock or rap music and do drugs. Some have organized groups against age discrimination.

Gender Discrimination

Gender discrimination is any action that grants or denies opportunities, privileges, or rewards to a person just on the basis of their sex.

The United Nations has concluded that women often experience a “glass ceiling” and that there are no societies in which women enjoy the same opportunities as men. The term ‘glass ceiling’ describes the process by which women are barred from promotion by means of an invisible barrier. In the USA, the Glass Ceiling Commission has stated that between 95 and 97 per cent of senior managers in the country’s biggest corporations are men.

Socially, sexual differences have been used to justify societies in which one sex or the other has been restricted to significantly inferior and secondary roles. While there are non-physical differences between men and women, there is little agreement as to what those differences are.

Legislation to promote gender equality is generally complex and varied, with a wide divergence between different countries. The principal legislation in the UK is found in the Equal Pay Act of 1970 (which provides for equal pay for comparable work) and the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975, which makes discrimination against women or men (including discrimination on the grounds of marital status) illegal in the working situation. The 2003 amendments to this Act extended protection from discrimination on the grounds of gender identity also.

Sexual Orientation Discrimination

Sexual orientation discrimination is discrimination against individuals, couples or groups based on sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation. Predominantly, this involves the discrimination of a person who has a same-sex sexual orientation, whether or not they identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual. Sexual minorities are often seen as undesirable or immoral by one or more social groups and, thus, discrimination against them is frequently codified into law. As acceptability of sexual orientation varies greatly from society to society, the degree to which discrimination is sanctioned by society also varies greatly. Discrimination based on sexual orientation is often exacerbated by frustration or anger brought about societal changes that seem threatening to some members of society. In particular, changing gender roles and the increased equality afforded women in most societies is perceived as a threat to traditional patriarchal roles. Similarly, sexual minorities can also be viewed as a threat to gender roles that favor male power in a traditional social structure.

During the last century, as a result of greater acceptance and visibility of sexual minorities in most developed countries, discrimination based on sexual orientation is increasingly seen as unjust and, in more and more nations and localities, has been rendered illegal. The Republic of South Africa is the first nation on earth to embed freedom from discrimination based on sexual orientation into its constitution. In the United States, 17 states have banned discrimination based on sexual orientation with most laws focusing on freedom from discrimination in the work place, housing and public accommodations. Most of these states exempt religious institutions from these anti-discrimination clauses, and several exempt small businesses. Historically, conservative religious leaders and organizations have been at the forefront of fighting legislation to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. Increasingly, however, progressive religious leaders have joined with gay rights and human rights activists in seeking to overturn laws that sanction this form of discrimination.

See Also

  • Sex Discrimination Act 1975
  • Equal Pay Act 1970

External links