On March 1, the world celebrated Zero Discrimination Day (ZDD). COVID-19 has made discrimination and inequities in health and well-being more apparent. As we ease into a more endemic stage of the pandemic, it’s critical to look at what we’ve learned about discrimination and what we can do about it.

Zero Discrimination Day celebrated the right of everyone to live a full and productive life with dignity. It highlighted the urgent need to act upon ending inequalities ranging from sexual orientation to race to gender and to health status.


Sex, Sexual Orientation, and Gender Discrimination

By definition, sex discrimination involves treating someone unfavorably because of that person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or pregnancy.

What we’ve learned:

The Global Health Council’s research revealed that women shouldered more of the burdens of child/elder care, widespread employment discrimination, and gender-based violence. Job losses, reduced working hours, work-life balance pressures, and spikes in domestic violence, were some of the proven sexual discrimination effects of the coronavirus crisis.

“Never forget that it only takes a political, economic, or religious crisis for women’s rights to be called into question. These rights can never be taken for granted. You must remain vigilant throughout your life.” 

Simone de Beauvoir

What we can do:

The Global Health Council provides a Health for All Advocacy Toolkit  to kick-start personal initiatives. It offers key information and tools to advocate, hold policy-makers accountable, and build a movement to support health for all.

Susan O’Connor, expert speaker in the recent NWI ZDD webinar, further recommends:


Clinical Care

  • Unconscious gender bias training for healthcare professionals
  • Certified Wellness Coaches supporting patients within multi-disciplinary team


Wellness Coaching

  • Virtual and group coaching
  • Trust-based coaching relationship with unconditional positive regard
  • Workshops to build skills and health education


Community Programs

  • Equal access to care meets people where they are
  • Preventive care screening and diagnosis
  • Peer-to-peer support advancing individual wellness goals


Race/Ethnicity/Class/Health Discrimination

Racial discrimination can be described as any act that treats people in a different manner. Race can mean color, nationality, ethnic or national origin.

What we’ve learned:

COVID-19 raised awareness about the close association between race, poverty, and health. These interconnected factors increased vulnerability and exacerbated health challenges, particularly for racial/ethnic minorities.

Research has shown that high poverty rates and racial discrimination led to many disparities in COVID-19-related health outcomes. These were  specifically due to greater pre-existing health challenges, reduced access to healthcare, lower-quality housing, and unequal reliance on employment in high-risk occupations.

“We see large health inequities across race and ethnic groups not because of a single shock to the system (COVID-19) but because of the very nature of the system itself …. There is an entrenched hierarchy in which racism leads not only to differential wealth, but also differential power, prestige, and freedom…”

— Dr. Cary Gross

What can we do?

Advice from Dr. Anita Mwalui, expert speaker in the recent NWI ZDD webinar(link), further recommends:

  • Joining forces with communities for health equity
  • Opening up the conversation both at home and at work
  • Staying informed through local government websites
  • Making it a priority and joining in creating the movement
  • Taking a comprehensive, scholarly look at the complex relationship between racism and health with new evidence, analysis, and narratives on the topic.

For pre-existing and ongoing health challenges related to discrimination, Dr. Andrew Parsons, expert speaker in the recent NWI ZDD webinar highlighted the lack of awareness in organizations on the impact of health and ability.  He further recommends raising awareness and developing a greater understanding while remembering that one size does not fit all:

  • In the workplace with HR and leadership
  • In communities through healthcare institutions
  • Personally, by asking individuals about any concerns with sensitivity


Age Discrimination/Ageism

Ageism refers to the stereotypes (how we think), prejudice (how we feel) and discrimination (how we act) toward others or oneself based on age.

What we’ve learned:

We’ve all learned that the coronavirus is particularly dangerous for older people and that disease severity increases with age. COVID-19 disproportionately affected older people’s lives and ageism has worsened those effects.

“The COVID-19 pandemic starkly revealed widespread ageism and age discrimination against older persons.”

Claudia Mahler

In the workplace, evidence suggests the pandemic led to increased age discrimination. Reports in the US and UK revealed that older workers were the most impacted age group through furloughs, reduced hours or pay, and job loss.

What can we do?

My recommendations as an expert speaker in the recent NWI ZDD webinar, include reducing ageism by creating:

  • Policies and laws that address discrimination and inequality based on age
  • Educational activities that enhance empathy, dispel misconceptions about different age groups, and reduce prejudice
  • Intergenerational interventions to help reduce stereotypes, encourage social participation, and foster a sense of belonging


So what?

We are all looking for the silver linings to the COVID-19 pandemic. Raised awareness about all types of discrimination and its effect on health is one of them. Zero Discrimination Day was created to highlight how we can all become informed about and promote inclusion, compassion, peace, and a movement for change. Today, we are all interconnected, so global inequality affects us all.

Help us create a global movement of solidarity to confront inequalities, stop discrimination, and end many health challenges. Only with an inclusive approach to multicultural humility and competency will we all be able to overcome this “other” global pandemic called discrimination.


Additional Resources

ZDD Webinar On-Demand for NWI Members

Health for All Advocacy Toolkit

Gender mainstreaming for health managers: a practical approach. Facilitator’s guide. WHO

Frequently asked questions on health and sexual diversity: an introduction to key concepts: WHO

Racism in healthcare: What you need to know

UN Global report on ageism

COVID and Longer Lives: Combating ageism and creating solutions

VIDEO: Breaking down barriers thanks to the Disability Discrimination Act

VIDEO: Disability Discrimination