For almost fifteen years, the Equal Rights Trust has worked to support the adoption of comprehensive equality laws – laws which prohibit all forms of discrimination, on all recognised grounds, in all areas of life regulated by law, which provide the procedural safeguards to enable victims to secure effective remedy, and which require and provide for the adoption of positive action measures.
At the international level, we have sought to build understanding that the adoption of such laws is the only way in which states can discharge their obligations to eliminate all forms of discrimination and deliver their commitments to leave no one behind. Starting with the launch of the Declaration of Principles on Equality in 2008, we have supported the adoption of these principles by UN bodies such as the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, helping to develop a consensus about the need for, and content of, comprehensive equality laws. This consensus is codified in a forthcoming Practical Guide on the Development of Comprehensive Anti-Discrimination Legislation, developed in partnership with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which will, for the first time, set clear standards for states on their obligations and how to meet them.
At the domestic level, we have worked in partnership with equality defenders – activists, advocates, academics, and others using the law to promote equality – supporting them to develop and advocate for the adoption of comprehensive equality laws. From Armenia to the Philippines and from Cabo Verde to Kyrgyzstan, we have supported equality defenders to document discrimination and to evidence the need for equality law reform, to draft legislation and to develop advocacy strategies, to engage with decision-makers and to inform and mobilise the public.
Underpinning all of this work has been our belief that comprehensive equality laws are essential if we are to ensure complete and effective protection from discrimination and that they are – as such – required by international law. Our focus has been on the adoption and implementation of comprehensive equality law as a legal obligation, a necessity and a requirement.
In the process however, we have learned a host of lessons from those with whom we have worked – about the need for collective advocacy, about the benefits of collaboration between those working to combat discrimination and about the societal impacts of equality law reform.
Our latest report, Together for Equality: Why and How a Comprehensive Approach to Tackling Discrimination Works, documents these lessons. It draws on interviews, testimony and case studies provided by equality defenders from across the globe. A compelling picture emerges about the need to act together for equality.
Those whose advocacy efforts has led to the enactment of new laws in the last decade speak powerfully about the importance of collective action and joint advocacy. Equality defenders coming together to advocate for a single, comprehensive equality law have greater resources, a more powerful voice and a better chance to overcome opposition and inertia. Whether in Bolivia or Bosnia and Herzegovina, comprehensive equality laws have been adopted in response to the collective action of dozens – hundreds – of organisations, each focused on addressing discrimination on a particular ground, but each recognising the need for a unified approach.
This message is reiterated by those working today towards the adoption of comprehensive equality laws. These individuals also speak about the wider value and benefits of collaboration. Partners from countries as diverse as Armenia, India and the Philippines speak about how coalition working breaks down siloes and improves understanding among those working on different aspects of discrimination. They explain how the process of establishing coalitions to develop and advocate for comprehensive laws has led to shared expertise and growing understanding that we do not “lead single issue lives”.
Finally, a series of case studies from countries where comprehensive laws have been enacted explore some of the many ways in which these laws are preventing and remedying discrimination. A clear thread emerges about the need for comprehensive equality laws to address systemic and systematic patterns of discrimination. Whether through the work of the Equality Courts in South Africa, the operation of the public sector equality duty in the United Kingdom, or the remarkable progress made by the Council for Equality in Moldova, a consistent pattern emerges of the effectiveness of a legal system which address discrimination holistically, rather than on the basis of specific grounds, or in specific areas of life.
Linking all of these lessons together is an overarching truth: that there is strength in diversity and that the elimination of discrimination requires us to work together for equality.
Together for Equality – brings together testimony from its partners in 16 different countries to explore why and how a comprehensive, collaborative approach to combating discrimination is effective. A discussion event on the report will be held on 1 November – to register click here.