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All human beings are born equal ...

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 February, 2012, 12:00am

What is discrimination?

Discrimination takes place when people prejudge a certain group of people and treat them differently. This is called prejudice.

Most of the time, prejudice comes from a sense of ignorance, the mentality that the majority must come first, or an unwillingness to understand minorities.

What is stereotyping?

Stereotyping can also lead to discrimination. According to the United Nations website, stereotyping happens when the image of a group of people is distorted and exaggerated. People then assume that if someone is a member of the group, he will act and think as the image of the group might suggest. Each member of the group thereby loses his individuality. For example, a minority of mainlanders giving birth in Hong Kong does not mean all mothers-to-be on the mainland will do so.

Stereotyping is not part of our natural instinct. We develop our perceptions through observing and learning from our parents, peers and the media.

The following are some of the most common forms of discrimination.

For God's sake

If someone treats you differently, especially in a bad way, based on your religious beliefs, it can be considered religious discrimination.

After the September 11 attacks in the United States in 2001, the word Islamophobia suddenly emerged in Western political vocabulary. Peter Gottschalk, a professor of religion, and his former student Gabriel Greenberg co-wrote a book titled Islamophobia: Making Muslims the Enemy. The duo says Islamophobia is a social anxiety caused by cultural misunderstanding.

During the September 11 attacks, terrorist group al-Qaeda hijacked planes and crashed them into the World Trade Centre as well as the Pentagon. Since then, some people have associated the attacks with ordinary Muslims, especially in America. But the association is questionable because the attacks were carried out by Islamic extremists, not ordinary Muslims.

After September 11, cases of hate crimes against Muslims were seen more frequently in America's newspapers. The New York Times reported the murder of four immigrants, one Middle Eastern and three of Middle Eastern appearance, by an American in Brooklyn and Queens districts. The man later admitted that the killings were motivated by the September 11 attacks and that his target was Arabs. On August 25, 2010, a passenger stabbed a taxi driver after asking him if he was a Muslim, CNN reported.

You can't do that, you're a woman

Hong Kong's Sex Discrimination Ordinance came into force in 1995. It protects people from being discriminated against for their gender, marital status or pregnancy. Sexual harassment is also covered by the ordinance.

For employment, the ordinance ensures equal job opportunities regardless of gender. For example, if a man wants to become a teacher, his chance will be the same as a woman's. This applies to a woman who would like to be a police officer or a firefighter.

But there are exceptions when a job may only be suitable for a particular gender. For instance, female soldiers' involvement in combat has always been a topic of debate. Many highly regarded female soldiers have taken on different roles in the military. But for combat roles, some still argue that the physical limitations of women can be a constraint. Australia announced the admission of female soldiers to combat roles last September. But in America, combat is still banned for female soldiers, even though some of them have long been serving on the front line as medics and logistics officers.

The local ordinance also helps maintain equality between genders in the workplace. In May 2010, a teacher from the Hong Kong Chinese Women's Club Fung Yiu King Memorial Secondary School sued her school for mandating dresses and skirts as the dress code for female teachers. The teacher said the dress code was unfair as it did not apply to male teachers; they were allowed to wear anything except jeans and T-shirts. The teacher later won an apology from the school, the South China Morning Post reported.

Skin colour

Racial discrimination takes place when someone holds a prejudice against other people for their race. This includes the ethnic origin, skin colour and nationality of the person.

Article 1 of the Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice, published on November 27, 1978 by Unesco, the United Nations cultural organisation, states that 'all human beings belong to a single species' and, therefore, all races should be treated equally. No race is superior or inferior to any other.

But the concept of racial equality has not always been around. The Holocaust in Europe is one example. After the Nazi party came to power in Germany in 1933, the party deemed Jews an 'alien threat'. The Nazis called for the eradication of Jewish people living in Europe. Although the death toll cannot be confirmed, as many as six million Jews were estimated killed during the genocide, an article on the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's website states.

Another modern-day example is racial segregation in South Africa, implemented from 1948 to 1994. 'Apartheid' legislation divided South Africans according to their skin colour. Access to education, transport, medical services and even beaches were based on one's skin colour.

In Hong Kong, we have an anti-discrimination law in place since July 10, 2009. It is called the Race Discrimination Ordinance.

Other forms of discrimination

Sexual orientation

This includes discrimination against people who are homosexual, bisexual or transsexual. Sexual orientation discrimination has caused bullying in America's high schools and universities. Tyler Clementi from Rutgers University, for example, committed suicide after he was filmed kissing another male student. Some countries still consider homosexuality as illegal and some impose the death penalty.

Disability

In Hong Kong, the Disability Discrimination Ordinance protects people with physical disabilities, Aids, intellectual disabilities and mental illnesses from discrimination.

Family status

Hong Kong's Family Status Discrimination Ordinance was passed in 1997. It states that no one should be discriminated against because of their family status.

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