Social exclusion is a form of discrimination whereby certain groups are denied access to rights (such as health or education) and also to opportunities (such as political participation, markets or jobs). In this way, social exclusion is a root cause of poverty – in particular poverty that is deeply entrenched and transferred from one generation to another. Social exclusion can occur within the household, within communities or through public sector systems and services - such as health services, or the legal system. Social exclusion can take place on the basis of race, caste, religion, age, disability, gender, HIV status, migrant status or geography. In many cases, people are affected by multiple discriminations on a number of fronts, such as disabled people from a particular racial group, or women who have HIV. These multiple forms of exclusion are particularly damaging to people’s lives.
Poverty can be a driver as well as a consequence of social exclusion; excluded groups are more likely to be poor, while at the same time poverty compounds the marginalisation of already excluded groups. The poorest and most vulnerable people are often those who have been excluded from the benefits of development by institutions and processes which discriminate against them. It is estimated that over 100 million older people are living in extreme poverty and that 20% of the world’s poorest people are disabled.
Social exclusion restricts people’s access to economic opportunities and limits the availability of human capital. This distortion of markets hinders entrepreneurship and slows economic growth. For example, discrimination against racial groups in Latin America has led to higher levels of unemployment; and gender discrimination has been shown to restrict growth in sub-Saharan Africa.
Social exclusion is a leading cause of conflict and insecurity. Where people are denied a voice in political processes, or feel a sense of inequality and marginalisation in other ways, they are more likely to resort to crime and violence. National poverty reduction strategies often fail to include such analysis, even in countries with heterogeneous populations that have emerged from conflict relatively recently, such as Uganda, Rwanda, Mozambique and Azerbaijan.
Various international conventions have affirmed the rights of different groups to development, including the right to social security, and basic services such as health care, education, and water and sanitation. There is a danger that since progress will be measured on the basis of national averages, the situation for those who are marginalised and excluded will be missed. Ensuring that all people have the opportunity to access vital services often requires concrete and targeted efforts to ensure that the very diverse needs of different groups are understood and addressed.
The realisation of human rights is dependent on the empowerment of all people to take control of their lives, and the ability to make their own informed decisions. This requires living in societies free from power structures which exclude; ensuring that governments and duty bearers fulfil their obligations to promote rights for all groups; and enabling all people to hold their government to account. Institutions which only represent elite groups in society will fail to respond to the needs of the poorest and most marginalised, undermining efforts to improve governance.
Having access to data on disadvantaged groups and how discrimination impacts on access to services, markets or other development initiatives is vital in tackling social exclusion. Data is critical for improving ownership of measures to address barriers faced by excluded groups; and to inform and ground policy decisions. Data systems rarely reflect information on excluded groups, because of narrow or varying definitions of particular groups, as well as difficulties in gathering data. This also hinders civil society's efforts to draw attention to levels of social exclusion and to demand government action.
SDDirect recently documented a programme called Parivartan (meaning change) that aims to prevent rape and domestic violence in New Delhi, India. This case study is part of a an online resource centre for UN Women. Shreya Mitra reports.
SDDirect conducted a social assessment of the General Education Quality Improvement Programme in Ethiopia. Our aims were to understand the factors that exclude children from school, to review and understand the social context for the provision of education services, and to suggest how negative social impact could be reduced. Download full report.
This assessment looked at the extent to which social exclusion and gender inequality affect development programmes in Nigeria.