Africa: Ahead of Zero Discrimination Day, UN Agency Appeals for Tolerance, Dignity for All

"Zero Discrimination Day," to be marked on 1 March, is a worldwide call to promote and celebrate everyone's right to a full life with dignity - no matter what they look like, where they come from or whom they love, declared the United Nations agency leading the world's HIV/AIDS response, as it kicked off celebrations with a major event in Beijing.

With strong calls for tolerance, unity and compassion, Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), launched Zero Discrimination Day at an event supported by the China Red Ribbon Foundation, Hanergy Holding Group, Chinese Government, civil society and celebrities.

"The AIDS response itself has taught the world tremendous lessons in tolerance and compassion. We know that both the right to health and the right to dignity belong to everyone," Mr. Sidibé told participants at the event, which wrapped up with more than 30 business leaders signing a pledge to eliminate discrimination in the workplace.

"Working together, we can transform ourselves, our communities and our world to reach zero discrimination," he added, in remarks that evoked the symbol for the UNAIDS Zero Discrimination campaign - the butterfly - widely recognized as a sign of transformation.

Working with Nobel Peace Prize winner and UNAIDS Global Advocate for Zero Discrimination Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the agency launched the #zerodiscrimination campaign in December 2013 on World AIDS Day. "People who discriminate narrow the world of others as well as their own," she said. "I believe in a world where everyone can flower and blossom."

Events similar to the Beijing launch are planned in countries around the world for the days leading up to Saturday.

Many international celebrities have joined the call for zero discrimination, recording video messages and taking photographs with the butterfly sign. The personalities include UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassador Annie Lennox, international football star David Luiz, actress and activist Michelle Yeoh and Princess Stephanie of Monaco.

The private sector is also playing an important part in commemorating Zero Discrimination Day in South Africa, where as part of a longstanding partnership with UNAIDS, the Standard Bank is conducting a social media drive around the day. In addition, the almost 3.5 million subscribers of Airtel, the largest mobile telephone service provider in Malawi, will receive a message promoting "zero discrimination" on 1 March.

Elsewhere, in Myanmar, two major football teams in collaboration with the Myanmar National Football League and Federation will make a pledge supporting zero discrimination during a match at the national football stadium in Yangon.

In Minsk, Belarus, an interactive dialogue on promoting zero discrimination in the region will take place with young people; participants will include pop singer Teo. A similar event organized by people living with HIV as well as lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender (LGBT) people will take place in a central park in the city of San Pedro Sula, Honduras.

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