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March 1st is Zero Discrimination Day – a day when the UN and partner agencies around the world celebrate the right of everyone to live a full and productive life - and live it with dignity.

According to the official website:

“Zero Discrimination Day highlights how people can become informed about and promote inclusion, compassion, peace and, above all, a movement for change. Zero Discrimination Day is helping to create a global movement of solidarity to end all forms of discrimination”

It is closely tied to some of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 to help improve the lives of everyone across the planet. The symbol for the day is a butterfly, chosen because it represents transformation which is what the day is about – transforming the world into a fairer and more tolerant place.

History of the day

Zero Discrimination Day was first celebrated on March 1, 2014, and was launched by UNAIDS Executive Director, Michel Sidibé, on 27 February of that year with a major event in Beijing. A lot of the focus for the day is aimed at ending the discrimination that many people living with AIDS face on a daily basis. Whilst advances in the treatment of AIDS has meant that it is now no longer the death warrant it once was in the West, it is still a major problem in many under-developed nations with 38.4 million people living with HIV globally in 2021. Every year, 1.5 million people become infected with the disease according to 2021 figures.

However, Zero Discrimination Day also focuses on different areas where there is other discrimination too. In 2020, the focus was on discrimination against women and girls, and in 2019 and 2022, a light was shone on the laws that countries have that continue to allow discrimination between people.

In 2023, the theme is “Save lives: decriminalise” since many areas of the world still have laws which criminalise aspects surrounding sexuality and HIV/AIDS. In the world today:

  • 134 countries explicitly criminalise or otherwise prosecute HIV exposure, non-disclosure or transmission
  • 20 countries criminalise and/or prosecute transgender persons
  • 153 countries criminalise at least one aspect of sex work; and 67 countries now criminalise consensual same-sex sexual activity
  • 48 countries still place restrictions on entry into their territory for people living with HIV
  • 53 countries report that they require mandatory HIV testing, for example for marriage certificates or for performing certain professions
  • 106 countries require parental consent for adolescents to access HIV testing

Zero Discrimination Day and early years

When thinking the relevance of the day to early years, you may want to steer away from AIDS/HIV, but a good place to start would be to focus on celebrating the diversity of people and the backgrounds they come from. You could start by thinking about the different types of families that children can come from, remembering that there are many. Sociologists have identified a number of types of family and household set ups that include:

  • Nuclear family – one man, one woman and their children
  • Single parent families
  • Same sex families
  • Extended families – where grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins may all live in the same household
  • Reconstituted or blended families – where at least one parent may have children from another marriage (sometimes called step-families)
  • Foster families
  • Adopted families
  • Kinship families where children are looked after by aunts, uncles, siblings or grandparents
  • Special guardians looking after children
  • Refugees who may be fostered
  • Compound families – where there may be 3 parents living in the same household, either by divorce or in polygamous societies
  • Communes
  • Religious communities
  • Children living in care homes

There will be more, as each family is unique, and this is why it is important to make sure that children understand the diverse nature of families in the UK and the world today and that each family unit is valid and accepted just as it is.

Another important thing to remember when talking about families is to understand that even the subject can be traumatic for some children, especially if they have been taken into care, are refugees or have lost a parent through bereavement and/or family breakdowns. Children may not be able to express how they feel in these situations, but talking about families may be a trigger for some challenging behaviours in some children as they struggle to come to terms with these emotions. What is needed is patience and understanding here, and a recognition on the part of the early years practitioner that these problems exist and are real for these children.

How to celebrate Zero Discrimination Day in your setting

Obviously, you will need to make sure that any information you give to the children about this day is age appropriate. There are 2 main issues that our youngest children need to understand about tolerance in pre-school:

  1. That tolerance of different races, religions and sexualities is promoted in the UK (it’s one of the British Values after all). This can be done in an age appropriate way by talking about relationships which are based on love, whether that is between a man/woman, 2 women or 2 men, or even a single parent/foster parent and their child. The emphasis should be on the fact that the people love each other and want to be together. Younger children are much more accepting of all kinds of relationships than many adults, and early years practitioners need to be mindful of unconscious bias that can be introduced which can reinforce stereotypes or generalisations.
  2. That children can see the families that they grow up in, represented in the world around them. This means that children hear stories and see images of families that are diverse, multicultural and represent our wider society. One family set up should not be favoured over and above others as this can create problems in the minds of children if they feel they are not from a family set up that is accepted.

So, in celebrating Zero Discrimination Day, think about how you can:

 

  • Celebrate diversity by celebrating all the wonderful people in your children’s life, whether parents, carers, family or friends
  • Talk about it – read some storytime books about diversity – see here for a list of pre-school appropriate books including “My Mums Love Me” by Anna Membrino and “My Daddies!” by Gareth Peters.
  • Participate in campaigns via the website or through local awareness groups
  • Make a display of the different families that make up your setting
  • Use the butterfly motif in your arts and crafts work – you could incorporate the PRIDE rainbow too

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