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Hidden effects of discrimination key to continuing economic exclusion

1 September 2003

A new study has highlighted the key role of ethnic, religious or linguistic discrimination in establishing and perpetuating economic exclusion against minorities and indigenous peoples. The causal link between these forms of discrimination and economic exclusion often remains hidden due to insufficient data and lack of understanding by development actors of their role in the process of entrenching poverty. However, this connection has serious implications for development policy aimed at reducing poverty and inequality, a major priority of many current development efforts.

The study by Minority Rights Group International (MRG) states that economic exclusion is just one of many forms of exclusion including lack of social and political opportunity and participation. These different spheres of exclusion overlap and must be understood together when assessing the marginalization of minorities and indigenous peoples. The authors point to discrimination on ethnic, religious or linguistic grounds resulting in limited access to education, health care, housing and land. These social factors are important elements contributing to further economic exclusion, since poor access to education, for example, often results in poor employment opportunities in low paid and unskilled jobs or consistent under-employment within certain groups.

Currently only the impact of gender discrimination is routinely examined in development policy which largely ignores discrimination on ethnic, religious or linguistic grounds. However, according to MRG, in almost every country for which data is available, ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples are more likely to have low incomes, poorer physical living conditions, less valuable assets, and less and poorer access to a range of other services including access to credit. In addition they typically have weaker political representation, lack participation and consultation in policies which directly affect them, and in many circumstances also experience ‘institutionalized and/or legalized discrimination’.

Minority Rights Group International recommends that improvements in data collection and the provision of disaggregated data on the economic, social and political situation of minorities and indigenous peoples are essential to allow policy strategies to be strengthened. The economic and social rights of minorities and indigenous peoples must be promoted in accordance with the principle of non-discrimination, which is one of the most fundamental human rights recognized in international law. Development actors and states should ensure the full participation of minorities and indigenous peoples at every stage of the planning and implementation of policies aimed at sustainable poverty and/or inequality reduction.

Notes for editors

  • The issues paper ‘Economic Exclusion and Discrimination: The Experiences of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples’ by Patricia Justino and Julie Litchfield is available online.