As the United Nations commemorates Zero Discrimination Day 2021, local activists are calling for cultural shifts, not only to ensure a peaceful T&T but to allow people to better themselves.

Reporting that inequality is growing for more than 70 per cent of the global population, UNAIDS said this is exacerbating the risk of division and hampering economic and social development.

Today, UNAIDS highlights the urgent need to act against inequalities surrounding income, sex, age, health status, occupation, disability, sexual orientation, drug use, gender identity, race, social status, ethnicity and religion that continue to persist globally.

As COVID-19 deals a harsher blow to the most vulnerable in the world, UNAIDS said even as new vaccines become available, there is great inequality in accessing them.

Roman Catholic priest father Christian Perreira said one of the fundamental problems T&T has regarding discrimination is a lack of respect for ourselves. Perreira says that sometimes the only way some people feel good is when they put down others.

“Discrimination reveals more about the person who discriminates than the person who he or she discriminated. I see there is a great desire to validate ourselves over people than our inner-selves,” Perreira said.

One of the keys to addressing discrimination, he said, is for the nation’s leaders to value and respect the people they are called on to lead. To do this, leaders must try to understand the people, which will bring self-respect among them. He said that when the population sees that leaders respect them, it will help to build self-confidence.

Shanice Webb, President of the Trinidad Youth Council, said many migrants suffer discrimination in T&T, especially in the workplace.

Webb said some people felt migrants got special treatment and are taking opportunities away from locals. It results in migrants suffering physical and verbal violence, even in the workplace.

Among locals, Webb said people treat residents of Laventille, Morvant and other crime-riddled communities differently, whether or not they are law-abiding citizens.

She added that too many women felt unsafe, and the only solution offered is for them to change their behaviours.

“There needs to be a shift in culture and mindsets because we as people need to be more tolerant of others. We need to be more inclusive and open minded. We need strong legislation for the protection of different groups to ensure discrimination does not take place. There must also be a way for people who suffer discrimination to get redress.”

Founder of the Rapidfire Kidz Foundation, Kevin Ratiram, said that when people hear discrimination, they often think about ethnicity, religion and gender. While these are common types of discrimination, there are many others.

“Class or economic discrimination is commonplace, sometimes so common that it becomes the norm. Poorer children are denied access to quality education. Poorer people are denied access to quality health care or are exploited in the workplace due to their desperation for employment to survive. And it is so commonplace that no one even notices that it exists,” Ratiram said.

Attorney Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan, who does many of her cases before the Children’s Court, said that laws were useless unless teachings on discrimination formed part of the education.

“I think as a country, zero discrimination is so important because we are so diverse. I always said this as a university lecturer, diversity will bring a lot of production.

“True diversity requires zero discrimination. We have to understand zero discrimination is in our best interest in terms of economy and quality of life,” said the former Congress of the People political leader.

And President of the International Women’s Resource Network Sandrine Isaac-Rattan said her group wants changes in the care for the many women and families on the lower end of the social structure. Isaac-Rattan said it is difficult for them to access social services because the red tape is too heavy and many interventions are needed.

“The government needs to revisit the way it distributes its whole social services agenda. People are frustrated. You cannot have a big PR campaign to say people can get this and that but are unable to access food cards and grants,” she said.