Stigma and discrimination


Stigma refers to neg­a­tive stereo­types or assump­tions about peo­ple. When stigma trans­lates into actions that exclude, dis­en­fran­chise, or harm peo­ple is called dis­crim­i­na­tion. For exam­ple, the stigma that peo­ple who inject drugs are unre­li­able could trans­late to the dis­crim­i­na­tory action of unjus­ti­fy­ing ter­mi­nat­ing their employ­ment. Many types of stigma are rooted in and prop­a­gated by cul­tural and social norms, like rigid gen­der norms and stereo­types. Dis­crim­i­na­tion can be cod­i­fied into laws and poli­cies, like the crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion of sex work and the LGBTQIA+ com­mu­nity. Together, stigma and dis­crim­i­na­tion may lead to vio­lence, humil­i­a­tion, trauma, denial of life-sav­ing care, social ostraci­sa­tion, and incar­cer­a­tion, among other con­se­quences.

Key pop­u­la­tions are espe­cially affected by stigma and dis­crim­i­na­tion. The expec­ta­tion of dis­crim­i­na­tion can be a deter­rent for peo­ple seek­ing HIV infor­ma­tion or test­ing, engag­ing with sup­port groups or sys­tems, and shar­ing sen­si­tive but cru­cial infor­ma­tion with health­care providers. Even those able to access and afford sup­port may face stigma and dis­crim­i­na­tion, since key pop­u­la­tions are often refused care or so poorly treated that they never return.

Com­mu­nity-based inter­ven­tions are also ham­pered by these obsta­cles. In crim­i­nalised set­tings, for exam­ple, it can be dif­fi­cult to find trust­wor­thy, con­fi­den­tial resources or engage peo­ple who expect their human rights will be vio­lated. But key pop­u­la­tion lead­er­ship is cru­cial to rights-based responses to stigma and dis­crim­i­na­tion–not only do they vary dras­ti­cally by com­mu­nity, they also man­i­fest in lived expe­ri­ences and require care­fully tai­lored responses.


2022 Resolution on Violence Against Women Migrant Workers

2021 Global AIDS Strategy 2021-2026

2021 Political declaration on HIV and AIDS

2021 CSW Report on women and HIV/AIDS

2020 Resolution on violence against women migrant workers

2019 Political declaration of the HLM on UHC

2018 HRC Resolution on human rights in the context of HIV and AIDS

2017 Resolution on international cooperation to address and counter the world drug problem

2016 Outcome Document of the Session on the World Drug Problem

2016 Resolution on Women, the Girl Child and HIV and AIDS

2012 Resolution on women in development

2011 Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS

2010 HRC Resolution on the elimination of discrimination against women

2009 ECOSOC Resolution on UNAIDS

Expert precedents

2022 OHCHR Annual Report on Human Rights and HIV/AIDS

2021 Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to health

2019 OHCHR Annual report on human rights and HIV

1999 General Recommendation No.24 on women and health


2022 WHO Consolidated Guidelines on HIV, Viral Hepatitis and STI Prevention, Diagnosis, Treatment and Care for Key Populations

2021 WHO Consolidated Guidelines on HIV Prevention, Testing, Treatment, Service Delivery and Monitoring

2016 Prevention Gap Report