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What is discrimination?

In Stories that Move you will encounter various forms of discrimination. In everyday life, discrimination has a broad meaning. Even if the law is not broken, someone can feel discriminated against and suffer harm. Students enter the classroom with their own views and ideas about discrimination. You can discuss all of this in the lessons of the Stories that Move toolbox.

What exactly is discrimination and where does it start? In a legal sense, discriminatory acts are clearly defined in the law and punishable. Discrimination is unequal treatment based on characteristics that are irrelevant in the given situation, such as a person’s origin, religion, age, sexual orientation or gender.

“I don’t know if having prejudice precedes discrimination or if it’s the same,” said Medine, a young person who shares her experiences in Stories that Move.

Prejudices and stereotypes are ideas in people’s minds, but discrimination goes further: it is always expressed in an act. The most common form is verbal abuse based on someone’s skin colour, country of origin or sexual orientation, but if you are refused entrance to a bar based on the colour of your skin or if your job application is rejected because of your sexual orientation, you are being discriminated against. There are many examples of unjust and wrongful unequal treatment.

Discrimination may be personal, but it can also be institutional. Face-to-face discrimination usually involves the behaviour or single person or a single group, perhaps a company or a school. Institutional discrimination is unjust or unequal treatment that is ‘built in’ to a social structure.

And you don’t have to belong to a minority group to be discriminated against. As a member of a majority group you may still be verbally abused on account of your origins or sexual orientation, or your age, religion or gender, so anyone may be at the receiving end at one time or another.

Learning about discrimination means understanding better the impact it can have on people’s lives. In this, empathy is important. But it is also about understanding the societal and legal norm: it is against the law to discriminate.

If your learners encounter discrimination in their lives it is important for them to know where they can turn for help or to report an incident.

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