By Anna Mdee, CPAN Research fellow
In the quest to reach zero poverty it will be necessary to reduce the social, economic and institutional discrimination that some groups face in their everyday lives. Even the act of giving a group a label may be discriminatory itself. When we label people as having disabilities we are already defining them with that label.
Discrimination can take many forms and work across many different levels. It may be expressed in the attitudes and expectations that people hold towards those that they see as belonging to a different group. Such attitudes over time may become reinforced and inequality becomes part of the structure of society. For example, entrenched social beliefs about the roles of men and women in society have led to women being underrepresented in politics and more excluded from educational and labour market opportunities. The shape of discrimination is different in every context, but more recently we have seen a range of international agreements (with the SDGs representing an aggregation of such agreements) that state the aim of reducing discrimination and inequality for groups who are seen as excluded.
In CPAN we are working on a rigorous review of anti-discrimination and affirmative action policies to try and map out what evidence exists on how to reduce discrimination. Whilst there are many small development projects that are rights-based or anti-discriminatory in their design, we are interested in legislation, programmes and policies which operate at the national level and in doing so seek transformative change across society. We focus on political participation, education and labour markets in the review.
Our initial findings suggest that many countries have adopted international conventions, for example on the rights of women, of children and of people with disabilities, but there is very little evidence that shows how such policies have been implemented. There is some evidence that the number of women and other under-represented groups in politics and education can be increased through targeting, special support and quotas. However, it is not clear from the reviewed evidence that this has yet led to transformation in the conditions that structure the how discrimination arises.
We are also surprised at the lack of evidence of the reduction of discrimination as a result of the actions of civil society. Given all the attention on policy advocacy in recent years, we might have expected to see more robust evidence of transformational change for discriminated against groups. There is evidence of such advocacy changing or influencing policy, but there is little evidence of effective policy implementation in many countries.