Equal rights and discrimination

Maasai_women_recognize_USAID_literacy_program_(6595765855)_Commons_USGPublicDomainConstitutions reflect the social and political character of nations and frame their legal and political systems. Constitutional guarantees can be used to demand greater equity in the delivery of and access to basic services, to challenge discriminatory legislation and practices, and to change social norms. Equal rights lay the foundation for equal life chances for all.

Based on 37 international conventions, the WORLD Policy Analysis Center developed a framework of rights and protections, and analyzed the constitutions of all 193 UN member states to identify and compare the existence and quality of protections across civil and political rights, economic and social rights, and protection against discrimination across the life course.

The Center analyzes rights and protections across 12 social categories:

  1. Sex / Gender
  2. Race / Ethnicity
  3. Religion
  4. Language
  5. Sexual orientation
  6. National origin
  7. Citizenship
  8. Disability (physical, intellectual, mental health condition, etc.)
  9. Parents’ marital status
  10. Social position
  11. Age
  12. Prisoner status

As the fundamental building blocks of a nation’s government and laws, constitutions shape the rules that governments and societies must follow. Considering the profound and long-lasting detrimental effects that inequities and discrimination have on people’s life chances and well-being, we investigated whether governments include provisions in their constitutions to promote equal rights and protect individuals from discrimination. The resulting maps present data on constitutional rights and protections worldwide, drawing on a thorough analysis of constitutional texts and amendments from 191 UN member states that allows a detailed comparison of constitutional rights to non-discrimination and equality for the first time.

Topics covered include:

Equity and Non-Discrimination

Social and Economic Rights

  • Positive action towards particular groups to address histories of discrimination or marginalization*

Civil and Political Rights

  • Rights to vote, hold political office, and others*
  • Eligibility conditions to vote or hold political office*
  • Freedom of religion, expression, association, movement, entering and exiting marriage, and others*
  • Positive action or quotas for particular groups to address histories of disadvantage or marginalization*

*Note: Data for starred sub-topics is forthcoming.

As the fundamental building blocks of a nation’s government and laws, constitutions shape the rules that governments and societies must follow. Countries have agreed on the fundamental importance of equal rights for children and adults alike through numerous conventions and declarations, including: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) (1948); the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1965); the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) (1966); the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) (1966); the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) (1979); the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief (1981); the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities (1992); and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) (2006). For example, Article 1 of UDHR declares “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” and Article 7 states all people “are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law.”

The importance of equal rights and opportunities for all children has achieved nearly universal international consensus – the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) (1989), a powerful statement of these rights, has been ratified by 190 UN member states. Article 2 of CRC requires that “States Parties shall respect and ensure the rights set forth in the present Convention to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child’s or his or her parent’s or legal guardian’s race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status.”