Non-discrimination and equality are key human rights principles.
Discrimination is the unfair or prejudicial treatment of people and groups due to skin colour, national or social origin, gender, age, sexual orientation or other grounds. It is legally defined as “any distinction, exclusion or restriction which has the purpose or effect of reducing or negating the recognition, the enjoyment or the exercise of a right on an equal basis with others” (UN doc. A/67/270, para. 29).
Discrimination comes in many forms, often on the basis of colour, national or social origin, gender, age or sexual orientation – to name a few. Discrimination can be ‘direct’ such as when laws, policies or actions unfairly favour one person or group over another, or it can be more hidden and ‘indirect’, such as when laws, policies or actions seem neutral at first sight, but in practice have the effect of excluding certain people.
The aim of human rights law – and therefore the duty of government – is to ensure that everyone can equally enjoy adequate water and sanitation services. Since this is not the case today, governments need to prioritise service improvements for certain areas or for those persons that are left behind or are most likely to face exclusion. Equality therefore does not imply treating everyone equally, but treating everyone in such a way that equality will be reached. This is also known as affirmative action (see UN doc as above).