Sex (gender) discrimination exists in numerous forms, in law or in practice, in virtually all countries. Violence against women is a common form of gender discrimination,10 and includes sexual harassment and assault of women and girls. According to Human Rights Watch, Papua New Guinea is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a woman, with an estimated 70 percent of women experiencing rape or assault in their lifetime. Other forms of violence against women, including child marriage and female genital mutilation, continue despite laws prohibiting them. Criminal law in numerous countries is biased against women and girls in the way it defines and prosecutes rape. Personal status laws governing marriage, separation and divorce, child custody, and inheritance overtly discriminate against women in a long list of countries (Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and dozens of others). And discriminatory nationality laws in 27 states mean that women cannot pass on their nationality to a foreign husband or to their children.
Women in many countries are subject to discriminatory restrictions in respect of dress codes. For example, in Indonesia, in 2014, there were 279 discriminatory local regulations targeting women and girls; many of these related to dress requirements, with mandatory hijab also imposed on Christian girls in some areas. On the other hand, in some secular states, including Belgium and France, women are prohibited from wearing a full face veil in public places, and in Turkey women are not allowed to wear the hijab in universities. Finally, gender discrimination in employment is found in almost every country, to varying degrees. In Iran, employment of women is restricted in coffee shops, certain restaurants, and other public spaces; in Sudan, women are not permitted to work in certain positions in the oil industry. The gender pay gap persists, although it is falling in most of the OECD countries.
Discrimination based on race, ethnicity, colour of skin, and similar characteristics is pervasive, and most ethnic minorities in the world today suffer various forms of discrimination and exclusion. Institutionalized discrimination against Haitians in the Dominic Republic keeps persons of Haitian descent from registering their children as citizens, shutting the children out of schooling and health care. People of African descent are discriminated against on the basis of their skin color throughout South America, as well as in Egypt and Sudan, while Roma remain to date the most disadvantaged and systematically excluded minority throughout Europe. In the occupied West Bank, Israel continues its discriminatory and punitive demolitions of Palestinian homes: building permits are difficult or impossible for Palestinians to obtain in East Jerusalem or in the 61 percent of the West Bank under exclusive Israeli control (Area C), whereas a separate planning process readily grants Jewish settlers new construction permits in those areas.
Discrimination on the basis of certain characteristics analogous to race – caste, clan, tribe, and culture – persists in many countries today. Caste-based discrimination of tribal communities is a continuing problem in India and Nepal. Clan-based discrimination against internally displaced persons defines life in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu, perpetrated by government forces, allied militia, and private individuals including camp managers. Discrimination against indigenous groups is also a type of racial discrimination and is widespread. 27 percent of Australia’s prison population consists of indigenous Australians, who account for only 3 percent of its general population. Indigenous Australians are more likely to face stigma and discrimination in employment and access to goods and services. Ethnic profiling is a widespread pattern of racial discrimination, and is employed by police in many countries, including Germany, France, the United States, and the United Kingdom.
Discrimination of the basis of religion is on the increase in many regions today. In the Middle East, sectarian divisions propel violence and war. Abuses by Shia militias of Sunnis in Iraq have bred the rise and spread of what is now Daesh. In Europe, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are arguably getting stronger. In many predominantly Muslim states, Christian minorities experience discrimination, as do minority Muslim sects such as the Ahmadiya in Indonesia and Pakistan. As ethnic minority members often have a religion that is different from that of the majority, the map of discrimination patterns features numerous cases of ethno-religious discrimination. One of the most worrying examples is China’s crackdown on Uighurs in Xinjiang, where discriminatory policies include prohibitions on wearing beards and veils, restrictions on fasting, and overt discrimination with respect to religious education. Massive discrimination against Muslim Rohingya, especially after the 1982 discriminatory nationality law, including through disenfranchising them for the November 2015 national election, is today’s most serious human rights issue in Myanmar.
Discrimination on the basis of language often takes place in the course of nation building projects, in newly independent states. For example, in Latvia after independence (1991), discriminatory policies affected the over 40 percent strong Russian speaking community, most of whose members were not fluent Latvian speakers. While language distinctions in recruitment are often justified by the nature of the job and fluency in a certain language can be an essential job requirement, the discriminatory legislation required Latvian language fluency for jobs in which it was clearly unnecessary, e.g. for cleaners in public sector institutions.
Discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity is also pervasive. At present, over 90 states continue to criminalize same sex relationships between consenting adults. In recent years, the gains of the LGBT communities in the West have been offset by increasing discrimination and persecution of LGBT persons in the rest of the world. In Russia, in June 2013, a law prohibiting “propaganda” of homosexuality was adopted. The law uses the pretext of protecting children to ban any work in support of LGBT equality, and to demonize LGBT people and activists. In Armenia, Belarus, Bolivia, Brazil, Georgia, and dozens of other states, violence and discrimination against LGBT persons are deeply entrenched and enjoy impunity. For instance, in Bolivia, in 2014, the Ombudsman’s Office reported that those responsible for the deaths of 55 LGBT persons since 2004 had not been brought to justice. In Guyana, Kenya, Malaysia, and Ukraine, transgender persons face arbitrary arrest, physical and sexual assault, imprisonment, discriminatory denial of health care and employment, and other abuses.