What is discrimination?

Discrimination is all about being treated differently to everyone else because of something about you that someone doesn’t respect. Get info on common reasons for discriminations, signs of discrimination and what you can do about it.

Signs this might be a problem...

  • you’re being made to feel uncomfortable
  • you’re being excluded
  • you’re being threatened
young woman in work clothes sitting on step with head in hands in cityscape

What is discrimination?

Everyone has the right to be treated fairly and respectfully, but when you discriminate, you choose to treat someone differently based on a characteristic about them. If someone is treated badly or unfairly because of that characteristic, it’s known as negative discrimination.
Common reasons that people are discriminated against include
  • their sex or gender
  • if they have any kind of disability
  • their race
  • their age
  • their sexual preferences.
Discrimination is often linked with bullying and harassment (when someone behaves in a way that is intended to disturb or upset another person). It’s actually against the law to be discriminated against in a lot of areas of public life – including in the workplace, education, accommodation, government services, and when accessing goods, services and facilities.

Signs of discrimination

There are many different signs and actions that can indicate discrimination may be taking place. Some examples include:
  • someone saying hurtful things or attacking you repeatedly
  • being made fun of 
  • being excluded or left out
  • being made to feel inferior because of someone’s comments, remarks or actions
  • having a group of people gang up on you
  • being made to do hurtful or inappropriate things
  • being threatened
  • finding yourself having to defend who you are and what you believe against stereotypes and untrue claims. 
Basically if you’re being made to feel uncomfortable, are offended by someone’s comments/actions, and/or feel judged because of particular characteristics, then someone could be discriminating against you.

What to do about if you think you’re being discriminated against

If you do feel like you’re being discriminated against, there are things you can do to address it:
  • Try and take action yourself. Explain to the person involved that their behaviour is offending you or making you uncomfortable. 
  • Keep a diary. Document everything that has happened, including any attempts that you’ve made to address or resolve the situation. 
  • Get informed. Formal processes for handling issues of discrimination can be very different depending on where and when the discrimination has occurred/is occurring. Check out the Australian Human Right’s Commission’s website for information on your rights and your options.
Last reviewed: 16 February, 2014
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