Our “Stop the Stigma!” project focuses on the tenth United Nations Sustainable Development Goal: Reduced Inequalities. Inequality seems to be everywhere. It is undeniably present in our global village as a whole, in Canada, in Kelowna, and even in our school communities. Inequality comes in many forms. A variety of factors such as, but certainly not limited to, socioeconomic status, race, gender, sexuality, disability, and mental health change the amount of access people have to necessities, opportunities and support, presenting significant social inequalities. These factors also influence the amount of discrimination that people face. According to the UN website, “1 in 5 people have experienced discrimination on at least one of the grounds prohibited under international human rights law” proving that unequal treatment is a tragically common occurrence worldwide. Furthermore, people who already face unjust circumstances and discrimination due to being in a minority or a group considered lesser by society, are often also stigmatized, which presents them with even more inequality. This perpetuates a harmful cycle: a group is seen as inferior and so faces social inequality and discrimination, this often causes financial or class inequality, which then leads to stereotypes and stigma because these groups are seen as poorer, and that stigma creates more inequality and further systematic discrimination due to the beliefs of the population and lawmakers. This means, to try and reduce inequality as a whole, stigma must be addressed.
To reduce stigma, and by extension inequality, people must first see themselves and others as equals regardless of their circumstances. Psychiatry.org explains that “stigma often comes from lack of understanding or fear”. So, that is exactly what our project aims to fix. We hope to expose our peers to information about the reality of being unhoused through true and engaging stories. The goal of this is to increase understanding of homelessness and reduce the fear that many of us are brought up with. If we can accustom people to the truth about being unhoused we can hopefully improve the treatment of unhoused individuals by the public and break the cycle of stigma. Our project aims to humanize a stigmatized group in our community and beyond to increase empathy.
Another important goal of our project is to reduce self-stigma, which is what happens when groups facing discrimination internalize the stigma they receive from the public. When public stigma is so strong it is easy for a vulnerable individual to start believing it and feeling ashamed or guilty. This has a clear connection to inequality because when a group or individual believes they deserve their circumstances and are not worthy of help, they stop trying to improve their situation and sink deeper into disparity. Our Stop the Stigma project strives to show the inherently horrible unfairness of homelessness and remind all those who are experiencing it that they deserve respect and happiness, no matter what society tells them. This will also contribute to breaking the cycle of stigma and if we can reduce stigma we can make a positive impact on goal ten by reducing inequality.