Is equality a human right

Human rights: equality

In addition to control of violence and freedom, equality of people is a basic idea of ​​democracy. This page is about the equality of persons, which guarantees equality in a state.

learning goals

At the bottom of this page you can:


  1. recognize the importance of equality.
  2. explain why the concept of freedom and that of equality sometimes rival each other.
  3. recognize that not everyone in our society is equal.

Importance of equality

Equality is a cornerstone of democracy and many democratic principles are based on it. For example, equality before the law, freedom of religion and freedom of expression.

The concept of equal rights is generally derived from Articles 1 and 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 and states that all people are born free and equal in dignity and rights. In addition to the definitions from Article 1, Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights also extends equality by explicitly forbidding inequality based on gender, ethnicity, skin color, language, religion, opinion, nation, social status, property or other reasons.

Equal rights in no way mean that all people have to be the same, i.e. have the same religion, opinion or the same wages. Diversity is expressly desired in modern democracies. But equality means that nobody because of of a different religion, opinion or higher wage is treated differently from the rest of society. So regardless of these factors, everyone should have the same options.

In everyday language usage, equality is usually understood to mean equality between men and women. This is of course an important aspect of equality. Nevertheless, it is of great importance that the term is not only reduced to the gender aspect.

The opposite of equality is discrimination. Discrimination can occur based on any of the factors listed in Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Discrimination occurs against the democratic principle of equal rights.

Discrimination is the systematic disadvantage of people based on various characteristics. These include, for example:

  • gender
  • Ethnicity
  • Skin color
  • language
  • religion
  • opinion
  • nationality
  • Income etc.

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Equality in the state

The principle of equality is the core element of democratic states. Such is the first human rights declaration that Virginia Bills of Rights, based on the guiding principle that all people are equal and can defend themselves against elites who disregard this right to equality. Even in functioning democracies, however, it is not always guaranteed that everyone has equal rights. Sometimes laws in a country directly prevent equality. In other cases, the state is not directly responsible for inequality.

Children of wealthier parents, for example, are more likely to earn better themselves than children of parents who are less well paid. This is not regulated by law, but rather a result of the fact that children of wealthy parents are more likely to complete a higher education. This pays off later in higher wages.
Another example is that women who are equally well qualified for a job as men, i.e. who have the same qualifications, often receive lower wages in Switzerland too. This although the equality of men and women is regulated by law.

Such questions of equality are often difficult to solve in democracies as well. The problem is that government intervention in favor of one group could also curtail the freedoms of other groups. For example, a state cannot deprive richer parents of their property so that they only have as much as poorer parents. After all, the right to property, including money, is enshrined in the constitution. Certain countries, especially the Scandinavian countries, solve the problem in such a way that people with higher incomes and wealth have to pay much higher taxes than those with lower incomes. First, this partially offsets income disparities. Second, government revenue from taxes can be used to give those who have fewer opportunities better opportunities.

Are the people always right?

The rights and laws reflect the values ​​that prevail in a society. If the values ​​of a society change, so can the rights and laws. In a democracy, the laws are constantly being changed and adapted to take account of new social circumstances. Although modern democracies arose from the guiding principle of freedom and equality, these freedoms and the principle of equality initially only applied to a little less than half of the people in most countries. In particular, women did not have the same rights as men. In the past, women were not allowed to vote and in many cases were also not allowed to own property. With the social changes in the 20th century and the struggles of the women's movement, which led to women having the same rights, these inequalities between men and women were slowly reduced. For example, women's suffrage was introduced in Germany in 1918, and a year later in Austria too. Full suffrage was in effect in Great Britain from 1928 and in Turkey from 1931. In Switzerland it was not until 1971 that women were also allowed to vote and vote at the national level. The canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden only introduced this right at cantonal level in 1990. Why did it take so long in Switzerland?

In 1959, when women's suffrage was already a matter of course in the rest of Europe, there was a referendum which decided whether women in Switzerland were allowed to vote and vote or not. Since women did not have the right to vote at that time, only men were allowed to vote. With a clear majority of 67%, they decided against equal rights for women. It was not until 1971, after a long political struggle, that women's suffrage was made possible through a referendum. In 1990, the canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden even had to be forced by a federal court decision to introduce this right at cantonal level.

Finally, let yourself go through what you have read and try to answer the following questions:

  • On what characteristics can people be discriminated against? How so?
  • Why is it sometimes difficult in a state to promote freedom and equality at the same time? Can you give examples?
  • Are everyone equal in our society?