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What is discrimination?

Discrimination is the unequal treatment of a person on the basis of one (or more) protected discrimination characteristics without an objective reason. A disadvantage is assumed when the same is treated unequally, but also when persons with unequal conditions are treated equally. A disadvantage can be reflected by the behavior of a person, by a rule or a measure. For discrimination, the result of the unequal treatment is decisive, not the intention or the motive.

According to the General Equal Treatment Act (AGG), the following characteristics are considered worthy of protection:

  • Racist attributions
  • Ethnic origin
  • Gender (also includes trans ­and inter* persons)
  • Religion or belief (also includes non-affiliation to a religion or belief)
  • Disability
  • Age
  • Sexual identity.

For a discrimination-free university, other characteristics are also important to protect, such as social origin, chronic diseases, or family status.


"Let's take as an example a street intersection where traffic comes from all four directions. Like that traffic, discrimination can be multi-directional. When an accident occurs at an intersection, it may have been caused by traffic from any direction - sometimes even traffic from all directions at once. Similarly, if a Black woman is injured at an "intersection," the cause could be both sexist and racial discrimination." Kimberlé Crenshaw

The term intersectionality comes from "intersection" and means "crossroads. Kimberlé Crenshaw, a US law professor, used this image to describe the interaction of several forms of discrimination in one person. She was referring to the resulting experiences that Black women, for example, have who are affected by both racism and sexism. Crucially, this is not a mere addition of experiences of discrimination in one person, but rather the confluence of social inequalities and their interactions creates very specific disadvantages and structural exclusions. Crenshaw illustrated this by looking at U.S. antidiscrimination jurisprudence, which did not recognize discrimination against Black women workers. For practical anti-discrimination work, this means viewing people not just as characterized by a single socially constructed characteristic of discrimination - for example, as a woman - but as potentially multidimensionally disadvantaged - for example, as a health-impaired trans* woman of color. This allows for a better analysis of the situation, promotes understanding of the respective experiences, and can also influence measures to be taken to reduce discrimination.

Forms of discrimination

Direct discrimination

Indirect discrimination

Levels of discrimination

Individual level

Institutional level

Structural level