Disfigurement is a neglected global human rights issue.

The campaign for ‘face equality’ aims to assert the human rights and improve the life prospects of any person anywhere in the world who has a disfigurement, a facial difference, an unusual-looking, scarred or asymmetrical face.

The campaign for ‘face equality’ was launched in May 2008 by the UK charity/NGO, Changing Faces, with the aim of creating a world in which people who have disfigurements to their face from any cause are accepted and valued as equal citizens, free of prejudice, low expectations and stigma. The campaign has attracted worldwide attention and has strong parallels with those against racism and sexism.

Why is the campaign needed?
Because disfigurement is a neglected global human rights issue. People with disfigurements wherever they live in the world face many challenges and injustices to living confident, successful lives in the 21st century.

The stigma of disfigurement is rooted in three totally false but deeply conditioned and unconscious beliefs which impinge on a person’s self-worth:

  • that facial ‘good looks’ are vital for success in life; without them, failure is sadly inevitable
  • that modern medicine/surgery can remove disfigurements completely
  • that disfigurement is associated with meanness, lack of intelligence, immorality and evil.

All too often, the stigma is also self-imposed with low expectations of success and a lack of aspiration leading to a resignation that this is how things will always be, and consequently unfairness and discrimination go unchallenged. And worse still, people report that authorities who should stand up to prejudice (eg: schools) fail to do so even when alerted to it.

‘Face equality’ means being treated fairly and equally irrespective of your facial appearance.

The aims of the campaign
The campaign for face equality aims to challenge these beliefs and create a global culture and national societies in which everyone with a distinctive facial appearance is valued for the unique contribution that they can make and is treated equally, with high expectations like everyone else.

The campaign calls on

  • individuals to spread the word, to stand out and to support face equality
  • the education system to ensure that all teaching staff are adequately trained to develop a culture and practice of inclusion for people with disfigurements
  • employers to create a culture and practice of face equality for people with disfigurements as employees and customers
  • the media, advertisers and the film industry to positively promote facial diversity, to adopt factual and unbiased portrayals of disfigurement and actively avoid language and imagery that create prejudice
  • politicians and policymakers to ensure that facial prejudice and discrimination are effectively outlawed by improving anti-discrimination law and promoting best practice.

Face Equality International will extend these aims internationally. It will aim – and expect to be judged on its success in achieving this – to add value in two ways currently not possible:

  • by enabling national NGOs and self-help groups to create their own local campaigns based on good practice
  • by creating collaboration on international issues which cannot currently be challenged effectively by organisations working in isolation.

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Photograph courtesy of Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors