New global alliance to promote face equality and stamp out discrimination

06 November 2018

A new coalition of campaigning organisations, Face Equality International, has been launched to campaign for 'face equality' globally. 

Face Equality International is a unique alliance of charities and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) which want to see the campaign for ‘face equality’ become a global movement. 

The group is the brainchild of James Partridge, the founder and former CEO of the UK charity Changing Faces. It brings together organisations from the UK, the United States, Canada, Taiwan, The Netherlands, and South Africa with the shared mission of creating a world in which people with disfigurements are fully accepted and valued as equal citizens. 

James Partridge OBE, whose face was severely burned in a car accident when he was 18, said that disfigurement is a neglected global human rights issue: “Wherever they live in the world, people with disfigurements — whether from cleft lips and palates, birthmarks, burns, acid violence, facial paralysis like Bell’s palsy, skin conditions such as psoriasis and vitiligo or after facial cancer — have to deal with many psychological, social and economic challenges in living confident, successful lives in the 21st century.

“All the founding NGOs know from their members that having a facial difference can mean someone is isolated and friendless, facing bullying, ridicule and staring in public, low expectations in school, problems getting work and harassment in the workplace, abuse on social media and stereotyping in the media. 

“Much more evidence of these experiences needs to be collected and brought to public attention — as was done by the UK charity Changing Faces in its 2017 survey of 800 adults. The roots of the stigma of disfigurement lie deep in the unconscious beliefs of global culture about ‘looking perfect’ being a passport to success, about how scars and asymmetry are associated with villainy, and about the power of modern surgery. The stigma can be self-imposed too with low expectations and lack of ambition leading to a resignation that this is how things will always be.”

Face Equality International will challenge such unfairness and discrimination by mobilising NGOs around the world and sharing the lessons of how to advocate for face equality effectively — such as awareness-raising initiatives with teachers, culture and business people, and ripostes to everyday incidents of facial prejudice in the media. 

The alliance will also campaign for people with disfigurements around the world to be properly protected by law from facial discrimination however it is experienced — in workplaces, on social media, in schools or public places.

The founders hope the alliance will attract and mobilise many NGOs and charities to join the campaign for a global culture in which everyone with a facial difference is valued in their societies for the unique contribution that they can make and is treated equally and with high expectations like everyone else.

Face Equality International comprises the Sunshine Welfare Foundation in Taiwan, Smile Train, the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors and FACES in the US, AboutFace in Canada, the European Cleft Organisation in the Netherlands, the Smile Foundation in South Africa and Changing Faces in the UK.