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Equality and non-discrimination are the bedrock principles of human rights law. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states in article 1 that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,” and in article 2 that “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind. […].”

In order to achieve substantive equality, States have an obligation to prioritise individuals and groups particularly vulnerable to exclusion and discrimination. Depending on the circumstances, they may need to adopt targeted positive measures to redress existing discrimination. There are times when historical or deeply engrained discrimination will be so intractable that temporary special measures – often called “affirmative action” or “positive discrimination” – are required. Where barriers exist and persist, leading to the denial of rights to individuals and groups, positive measures are necessary to ensure the equal participation of all and the redistribution of power and resources to groups subordinated by discrimination (CEDAW, 2004).

Participatory processes will not automatically include everyone. When no specific measures are taken, men, majority ethnic groups, the wealthy, higher social status and more educated people and households tend to dominate participatory processes.

Identifying disadvantaged individuals and groups requires deliberate efforts because they are often invisible to policy makers. Processes to identify everyone concerned can be more successful by decentralising processes, by working together with a wide range of local NGOs and the national human rights institutions as well as others who can help identify the most marginalised individuals.

The Equality, Non-discrimination and Inclusion theme is the most recent within RWSN, having been established in 2012, and initially building on WaterAid’s work. Since then, particular strides have been made with respect to the Human Right to Water, (in collaboration with the Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Water and Sanitation).


Expected Outcome


Realising the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water

RWSN members understand and start to implement the guidance set out in the Handbook on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation.

Task force established to enable rural water supply practitioners and professionals to understand how to use the handbook. Develop and disseminate learning materials for the handbook. 

Link relevant sections of handbook with discussions on other RWSN topics.


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