Social exclusion

Social exclusion


Tackling exclusion: donor approaches and cross-cutting processes

Page contents

Introduction to tackling social exclusion

Tackling social exclusion requires a multi-faceted approach to policy and action on a number of fronts. If only one aspect is addressed, success will be unlikely because other aspects of exclusion will prevent effective progress. The first priority is a good scoping exercise to identify the dimensions and causes of exclusion (see the pages on ‘causes of exclusion’ in this guide).

Naila Kabeer (2005) argues that a ‘business as usual’ approach to development has so far proved inadequate in addressing the challenges posed by social exclusion for four reasons:

  • Prevalent forms of data collection tend to define the poor in terms of assets or income. The absence of disaggregated data has thus ‘invisibilised’ socially excluded groups.
  • Socially excluded groups are less likely to benefit from economic growth than other sections of the poor because: a) they have limited assets and b) the discrimination they face in markets for labour and commodities makes it harder for them to turn their resources into income.
  • Socially excluded groups are less likely to be able to access ‘normal’ forms of social provisioning. Discriminatory attitudes prevalent in society are often reproduced by state officials responsible for service provision. They are also unlikely to be able to purchase these services privately in the market place.
  • Socially excluded groups are generally less likely to participate in ‘normal’ models of democracy. Particularly where they constitute a minority, there is no incentive for political parties competing for power to take their interests into account since they neither represent enough votes nor are they able to exercise a great deal of influence. They are also unlikely to have the resources needed to compete for political office.

(See: Kabeer, N., 2005, ‘Social Exclusion: Concepts, Findings and Implications for the MDGs’, Paper commissioned as background for the Social Exclusion Policy Paper, Department for International Development (DFID), London, pp.30-31)

Tackling social exclusion therefore requires a long-term strategic response, which addresses the multiple and overlapping disadvantages experienced by excluded groups. Resources on this page consider the various ways in which governments, civil society, donors and international bodies have worked to tackle social exclusion.

Policy instruments

Policy responses to social exclusion have ranged from legislative measures to tackle discrimination at a national level to civil society movements focused on ensuring a voice for the excluded.

Popay, J. et al., 2008, 'Tackling Exclusionary Processes', in Understanding and Tackling Social Exclusion, Final Report to the WHO Commission on Social Determinants of Health from the Social Exclusion Knowledge Network, Part 3
What can be learned from existing policies and actions that aim to address social exclusion? This report section examines state-led policies, strategic initiatives for policy development and coordination, and the roles of civil society and the private sector. Donors need to develop ways of enabling universal systems of social protection and essential services (free at point of use) to be funded in low and middle income countries.
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Piron, L. H. and Curran, Z., 2005, ‘Public Policy Responses to Exclusion: Evidence from Brazil, South Africa and India’, Overseas Development Institute (ODI), London
How have governments in Brazil, South Africa and India sought to address exclusion in those three societies? What lessons can be learnt from their experiences? This paper reviews recent research on policymakers’ responses to exclusion to evaluate the success of various strategies aimed at addressing inequality in developing countries. It argues that, while affirmative action and inclusive politico-legal frameworks contribute to anti-exclusion efforts, coordinated public policy and an equitable political economy are also necessary to ensure successful policy implementation.
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O’Neill, T., Piron, L-H., 2003, ‘Rights-Based Approaches to Tackling Discrimination and Horizontal Inequality’, Overseas Development Institute (ODI), London
How can discrimination and horizontal inequality be combated? Many societies exhibit strong horizontal inequality, meaning gaps in well-being between clearly defined groups (for example, along lines of gender or ethnicity). Frequently, a lack of respect for equal rights and difficulties in claiming entitlements are major factors underlying poverty, contributing to economic and social exclusion. This paper reviews the importance of human rights, the extent, nature and processes of discrimination and how far states combat it. It presents the potential contribution of rights-based approaches by governments, civil society and international donors to combating discrimination and inequalities.
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Stewart, F., Brown, G. K. and Langer, A., 2008, ‘Policies Towards Horizontal Inequalities’, in Stewart, F., (ed.), Horizontal Inequalities and Conflict: Understanding Group Violence in Multiethnic Societies, Palgrave Macmillan
This chapter reviews the range of policies which could contribute to alleviating the impact of horizontal inequalities on conflict likelihood and its recurrence. The relationship between ‘objective His and conflict is complex and mediated by at least two intervening factors – the perceptions of His and the political salience of group identities.
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Stewart, F., Brown, G., and Langer, A., 2007, 'Policies towards Horizontal Inequalities', CRISE Working Paper, no. 42, Queen Elizabeth House, Oxford University
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UNDP, 2009,‘Envisioning Empowerment: A Portfolio of Initiatives for Achieving Inclusion and Development’, United Nations Development Programme
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Donor approaches

There is a growing recognition amongst donors that social exclusion is a key obstacle to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. DFID’s 2005 policy paper on social exclusion emphasises that donors, governments and civil society can play an important role in reducing social exclusion. There is increasing understanding among donors of the need to embed sensitivity to social exclusion in all aspects of their programming, including social analysis, organisational and institutional analysis, planning, implementation, monitoring and reporting.

DFID, 2005, ‘Reducing Poverty by Tackling Social Exclusion: A DFID Policy Paper’, Department for International Development, London
Who is socially excluded and how is social exclusion (SE) related to poverty, conflict and insecurity? How can governments, civil society and donors reduce SE? This paper explores the causes, effects and solutions to SE worldwide. Governments, civil society and donors should tackle the challenges posed by SE. Not only for reasons of equality, but also to reduce poverty, improve the productive capacity of societies and reduce conflict and insecurity.
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Maier C., Schulze B., Sprenger S., 2008, 'Methodfinder Practitioner's Guide: Social Inclusion', German Technical Cooperation (GTZ) Food Security and Rehabilitation Project, Kathmandu 
How can social inclusion be embedded in development programmes? This handbook suggests that social exclusion can best be addressed through integrated approaches and collaborations between different stakeholders to produce interventions at different levels. As a cross-cutting issue, inclusion requires awareness raising and a change of consciousness. It also requires a long-term strategic response.
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Cross-cutting processes

Social policies can enhance or moderate group consciousness and can exacerbate or reduce exclusion. Most states now have legislation to ban overt discrimination. In some countries, governments have introduced targeting through various forms of affirmative action.

Tackling social exclusion at a national level requires a concerted and long-term effort, which addresses issues of legal rights, political representation, economic resources, access to key services and attitudes and perceptions. Measures can range from implementing legal frameworks, which ensure the basic rights of all groups to access the institutions and resources of society, to affirmative action policies (within, for example, employment, education and political representation). Governments may even attempt to identify forms of exclusion at all levels of government action.  Governments must be careful, however, not to confuse inclusion with cultural assimilation; cultural inclusion should mean that excluded and minority group cultures are accorded space and respect by a country’s dominant national culture. In addition, policies must be designed with the specific context in mind, as those which are appropriate to one country may not necessarily fit in another.

Cultural and social psychological factors can also make discrimination particularly hard to eradicate. Challenges to discriminatory beliefs or processes threaten not only existing economic arrangements which benefit those who discriminate, but also their world-view and social identity.

Anti-discrimination legislation

In some contexts, excluded groups can be subject to formal discrimination. In these situations constitutional provisions, laws, regulations and policies either explicitly further discriminatory practices, or fail to provide legal protection of, and redress for, the right to non-discrimination.

Tomasevski, K., 2005, ‘Strengthening Pro-Poor Law: Legal Enforcement of Economic and Social Rights', Human Rights and Poverty Reduction Background Paper, Overseas Development Institute (ODI), London
How can human rights legislation expose and oppose violations of economic and social rights? This paper looks at the key lessons that can be learnt from the relatively recent processes of human rights litigation worldwide. It explores the application of human rights legislation in case studies from all over the world. Importantly, the legal enforcement of human rights can support anti-poverty policies, since the poor are more victimised by violations of rights than the rich.
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Gallardo, G. R., 2004, ‘Anti-Discrimination Legislation and Policies in Mexico’, in Buvinic, M. et al., ‘Social Inclusion and Economic Development in Latin America’, Inter-American Development Bank
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Affirmative action

Affirmative action has taken various forms, which include providing preferred admissions and subsidies for education and employment and providing mandatory political representation for marginalised groups. These programmes have had some success, notably in terms of increasing minority group representation in government employment. However, in India, for example, these policies have not had a significant impact on the poverty of these groups relative to the rest of Indian society. In addition these policies have sometimes been implemented in a context of profound social resistance, and there has been a failure to transform the attitudes and perceptions of the majority of the population. While efforts to increase the political representation of minority groups have had some limited success in altering the priorities of local government, social and cultural norms continue to present a significant barrier to greater equality for excluded groups. Efforts to foster empowerment and inclusion via affirmative action tend to focus on developing legislation and institutions. There should be greater focus on implementation and creating an enabling environment for change that addresses deeper power relations.

Heyer, J. and Jayal, N. G., 2009, ‘Challenge of Positive Discrimination in India’, Centre for Research on Inequality, Human Security and Ethnicity, London
Despite mixed results, India’s positive discrimination (PD) programme ensures a minimum level of inclusiveness for disadvantaged groups and keeps discrimination issues in public view. This paper reviews achievements, political and economic outcomes and challenges of the PD programme.Despite its achievements, the PD programme is insufficient: disadvantaged groups need to build stronger political movements in order to demand more from the majority.
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Dos Santos, S. A., 2006, ‘Who is Black in Brazil? A Timely or a False Question in Brazilian Race Relations in the Era of Affirmative Action?’, Latin American Perspectives, Volume 33, Number 4, pp. 30-48
Who is black in Brazil? This article examines racial discrimination in Brazil. It argues that Brazil’s myth of racial democracy limits realistic discussion of racism and racial identity because it prevents the identification of dysfunctional race relations. The important question with regard to affirmative action is not who is black, but rather what sort of society do Brazilians want to build.
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Cornwall, A. and Edwards, J., 2010, ‘Introduction: Negotiating Empowerment’, IDS Bulletin, Volume 41, Number 2, pp. 1-9
Why are conventional interventions that seek to promote women’s empowerment insufficient? This article highlights the choices, negotiations, narratives, and context of women’s lived experience. It finds that empowerment is a complex process of negotiation rather than a linear sequence of inputs and outcomes. Governments and development agencies need to give more consideration to the structures perpetuating gender inequality. They should invest in creating an enabling environment for women’s empowerment, and should support those who are tackling deeply rooted issues of power impeding transformative change.
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Tadros, M., 2010, ‘Introduction: Quotas – Add Women and Stir?’, IDS Bulletin, Volume 41, Number 5., pp.1-10.
Is women's empowerment directly related to the proportion of women in parliament? Have various forms of quota been successful in transforming gender relations? This article examines different pathways to women's empowerment and the assumptions about gender, power, and politics that underlie quotas. It concludes that the focus on women's representation in parliament is too narrow; gender hierarchies that have remained unchallenged in other key power bases (such as key ministries) must be identified and targeted. Further, women's representation must be viewed in terms of the agendas pursued and their influence.
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There are various strategies aimed at increasing and deepening citizen participation in the political decision-making process and increasing the accountability of governments. These include increasing electoral turnout, informing decision-makers of citizens’ views and bringing citizens and decision-makers together in dialogue on policy issues.

Underlying these strategies is the notion that the creation of new spaces for public participation will enable more direct forms of citizen engagement in policy making.  However, simply creating new spaces for participation does not guarantee greater inclusion or enable the most marginalised sections of the population to articulate their voices and demand accountability. The outcomes of participatory approaches are affected by power relations which can result in inequality. Even within social movements that aim to benefit the poor, uneven power relations can be replicated at the local level, resulting in the exclusion of the most marginalised. These power relations needs to be understood in relation to how spaces of engagement are created, the levels of power within them and the different forms of power across them. It is also essential to consider who participates, on what basis and whose interests they represent.

Cornwall, A., and Coelho, V. S. (eds.), 'Spaces for Change? The Politics of Participation in New Democratic Arenas', Zed Books, London
How can participation offer real prospects for change in the status quo for historically marginalised social groups? This introductory chapter brings together case studies that examine the democratic potential of a diversity of participatory sphere institutions. A gap remains between the legal and technical apparatus that has been created to institutionalise participation and the reality of the effective exclusion of poorer and more marginalised citizens.
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Development Research Centre on Citizenship, Participation and Accountability, 2011, ‘Blurring the Boundaries: Citizen Action Across States and Societies’, Institute of Development Studies, Brighton
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Narayan, D., 2005, ‘Institutional Change and its Impact on the Poor and Excluded’, STEP Working Paper, OECD, Paris / International Labour Office, Geneva
Does democratic decentralisation improve the ability of the previously socially excluded to participate in local governance? This study examines newly created local governance institutions in three states in India. It finds significant variation in the outcomes of decentralisation on participation across states and between different groups. The success of institutional reforms in increasing participation is influenced by how well their designs fit the local context, the extent to which power and resources are actually devolved to local institutions, and the degree of local political mobilisation.
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Castillejo, C., 2009, 'Strengthening Women's Citizenship in the Context of State Building', Fundación para las Relaciones Internacionales y el Diálogo Exterior (FRIDE), Madrid
How can state building strengthen women's citizenship in fragile states? This seminar report explores the opportunities offered by state building processes to enhance women's political participation, rights and ability to hold the state to account. State building strategies must: include strengthening women's citizenship as an explicit aim; engage with the informal institutions that have most influence over women's lives; address economic and social barriers to women's substantive citizenship; and support the participation of women's organisations.
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Haider, H., 2008, 'Participation of Excluded Groups in Local Governance', Helpdesk Research Report, GSDRC, Birmingham
There are various methods of ensuring and allowing the participation of excluded groups in local governance. They fall under two broad categories: 1) promoting the representation of excluded groups in local government, including in leadership positions, and 2) promoting the participation of excluded groups in local meetings to discuss planning, budgeting and development projects. Within these categories, a range of formal and informal mechanisms and strategies have been attempted in various countries. This helpdesk research report focuses on examples from India, Uganda, Indonesia and Bangladesh.
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Other GSDRC guides also include material on participation: