March 1 every year is Zero Discrimination Day. It is a worldwide United Nations day, set aside to highlight the right of everyone to be free from discrimination and for the promotion and recognition of the fact that everyone counts and deserves rights and dignity.
The UN first celebrated Zero Discrimination Day on March 1, 2014, after UNAIDS, a UN programme on human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, (AIDS) launched its Zero Discrimination Campaign on World AIDS Day in December 2013.
The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS, UNAID on this day, seeks to enthrone a society where “No one should ever be discriminated against because of their age, sex, gender, identity, sexual orientation, disability, race, ethnicity, language, health (including HIV) status, geographical location, economic status or migrant status, or for any other reason.”
It also notes that “discrimination continues to undermine efforts to achieve a more just and equitable world,” and that “Many people face discrimination every day based on who they are or what they do.”
Ending discrimination challenges us all to action. It requires everyone taking a stand for a fair and just society. While it is still a long road for Nigeria, many countries of the world where equality, fairness and human rights define relations have well-spelt out laws against discrimination in the different variations they manifest.
Unlike in those societies, stigmatisation and discrimination are still heavy crosses HIV and AIDS patients carry in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa.
In the global society where the West has moved beyond the realm of human rights into those of animals, it is worrisome that there are still no meaningful attention to the discrimination women, the girl child and people with disability go through daily in Nigeria.
In the 21st Century Nigeria, ancestral practices, cultures and traditions still raise human rights concerns. Certain ancestral practices, no matter how obnoxious and repugnant are still accorded sacredness even as they intensely challenge civilisation, enlightenment and humanness.
In the South-east and parts of South-south, women and the girl child still do not have right of inheritance to their father or family’s property; wives still go through dehumanising widowhood practices of which the least is shaving of hair and one year mourning period for their husbands.
In January 31, 1974, American President Richard Nixon signed the Child Abuse and Prevention Treatment Act, which they know as CAPTA into law in the United States. In 2003, which is 29 years behind, President Olusegun Obasanjo signed the Child Rights Act into law, which adopts and domesticates the International Convention on the Rights of the Child. Nothing speaks more eloquently about the disregard our society has for the rights of its own children than the fact that 15 years after the Child Rights Act, only 24 out the 36 states of the federation have adopted it, with some of the states doing so just last year. The worst tragedy is the lack of enforcement will in both the federal and states that have localised the Act.
This has left a very thin line between the post Child Rights Act Nigeria and 15 years down-the-line in terms of the well-being of the Nigerian child. In the North especially, the girl child still comes out short in terms of opportunity for education.
In Nigeria, however, no demographic spectrum comes under heavier institutional, traditional and policy discriminations than the physically challenged among us. In all engagements, governments, policy makers and all drivers of our society live in denial of the fact that those living with disabilities exist among us. Employment policies in both the public and private sectors do not spare a thought for them. Also obvious is the fact that our public buildings and facilities are usually stuctured in manners that leave no one in doubt that they are off-limits to this group of Nigerians.
Nigeria has a Disability Rights Bill in the National Assembly. The bill is becoming a relic having lasted about nine years in the legislative chambers of the Nigerian parliament and spanning across two different governments. The bill seeks to reverse the policy and institutional discriminations against people living with disability in the country.
It compels government to make available social amenties to people living with disabilities; compel governments to figure in these special people in their policies, make the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture embark on creation of national awareness for people living with disabilites and change the structural pattern that ensures that public buildings and all other facilities are not accessible to people living with disabilities. The bill has left a permanent fixture in the nation’s law making process all these years largely because it pales in significance in the lawmakers’ roster.
As the UN observes this day, “discrimination will not disappear without actively addressing the ignorance, practices and beliefs that fuel it”, we urge the government to move faster the process of legitimising the rights of persons living with one form of disability or the other.
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