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What is discrimination?

What is discrimination?


All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. This is a principle stated in article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, as well as the International Convention on the Rights of the Child of 1989. Still, this principle of equality is often not respected throughout the world.

Although significant progress has been made over the years, our societies are still plagued by discrimination, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and inequality. Every day, millions of men and women are discriminated against on the basis of their ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, etc. Considered different by some, they are deprived of fundamental rights.

When an individual is treated differently because of his difference compared to another individual, it is a discrimination. Discrimination can take place at school, in the street, at home, in sports, at work, on the internet...

Today, hateful or discriminating speeches are multiplying on social networks. To prevent the spread of these words and prevent their propagation, it is necessary to deconstruct the stereotypes and prejudices that are at their origin. All educational actors must now accompany young people in the fight against discrimination.

This course brings together various resources and suggestions for educational use.

The fight against discrimination can be anchored in the following subject areas: moral and civic education, history, sports...

It accompanies another online course that you can offer to young people, for individual consultation or in preparation for cooperative work: "Fighting against discrimination, it can be learned!"


Three areas are being questioned in parallel:

  • What is discrimination? What does history teach us?
  • What about the fight against discrimination in the world? Are we all equal?
  • Can we say everything on digital social networks?

    I- Identifying discrimination - some definitions

    What is discrimination?

    To discriminate, etymologically in Latin, means "to separate, divide, distinguish."

    In France, legally, "discrimination is any distinction made between natural persons on the basis of their origin, gender, family status, pregnancy, physical appearance, surname, state of health, disability, genetic characteristics, morals, sexual orientation, age, political opinions, trade union activities, membership or non-membership, real or assumed, of a particular ethnic group, nation, race or religion. Discrimination may also affect a legal entity."

    → Article 225-1 of the Penal Code

    In other words, it is the unfair or unequal treatment of people because of who they are or what they believe. Discrimination affects everyone, with women and ethnic or sexual minorities being the most affected.

    Discrimination can take many forms:

    • Direct discrimination: is treating one person less favourably than another is, has been or would be treated in a comparable situation, because of a characteristic that is protected by law. This is the case, for example, if a person is refused a job because of their skin color. 
    • Indirect discrimination: is a practice, criterion, measure or policy that is neutral on the surface but actually disadvantages members of a protected group. For example, if pets are not allowed in a coffee shop, that means that a visually impaired person with a service dog cannot go there either.
    • Systemic discrimination: stems from the recognition of the existence of socio-economic imbalances or inequalities that are historically present in our societies. Discriminations are thus constituted by the processes that produce and reproduce unequal social places according to the belonging to a "social class", "a sex" or "an origin", this belonging can be real or supposed. For example, the control of facies, identity control based on physical characteristics associated with the origin of the person, whether real or supposed.

    The right not to be discriminated against on the basis of race, ethnic origin or skin color is enshrined in Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

    It is also enshrined in other international human rights instruments, such as the European Convention on Human Rights (article 14) and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (article 5).

    To discriminate against a person is to "distinguish him or her from others", most often in a negative way. French law recognizes some twenty criteria for discrimination, such as age, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, etc.

    These resources can facilitate the appropriation of the main ideas and messages defining discrimination. They can be used together or separately by choosing one of the narratives that you feel is most appropriate for your audience.