2017 Democracy and Human Rights, Equality Review

Do Anti-Discrimination Measures Reduce Poverty Among Marginalised Social Groups?

Rachel Marcus, Anna Mdee, Ella Page

Discrimination on grounds of gender, against particular ethnic groups, on grounds of age, caste, disability or religion is a violation of human rights and an important factor contributing to the high rates of poverty among many discriminated-against groups. This report breaks new ground by synthesising evidence from a rigorous review of evidence from low and middle income countries.

The report is based on a review of 470 documents from a systematic search process in databases involving both keyword searches and targeted searches for evidence on the impact of specific laws, policies and programmes. It identifies four key strategies for reducing discrimination: legal change; attitude change; quotas and reservations; and social investment programmes, both broad-based initiatives and programmes targeted at particular groups.

The report was presented during the seminar Marginalized and poor – does targeted anti-discrimination measures work? and is part of the project Evaluating anti-discrimination measures supported by EBA, Save the Children, the UN Children’s Fund, the UN Population Fund and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

Main findings

  • A small sub-set of studies examine how far these measures have resulted in improved economic wellbeing, enhanced access to education, and other developmental impacts.
  • There is evidence that affirmative action measures in higher education and labour markets have benefited significant numbers of the groups targeted economically.
  • Overall the package of education-focused measures had positive impacts on marginalised groups’ enrolment and progression through school.
  • One notable impact of education, particularly secondary education is the promotion of less discriminatory attitudes to gender.
  • There is mixed evidence concerning the distributional impacts of reservations in higher education.

Recommendations (in selection)

  • Promote the realization of rights and inclusive services for all as a primary route to change.
  • Severe discrimination or cumulative poverty-related barriers to education or employment needs targeted financial and practical support and reservations.
  • Strengthen the institutions responsible for combatting discrimination and providing redress against it.
  • Anti-discrimination policies and programmes are most effective in supportive economic and political contexts, with adequate resourcing and with simultaneous campaigns to change attitudes.
  • Review impacts regularly.
  • Donors must be aware that they are intervening in a highly
    political arena.

Rachel Marcus, Research Assosiate, Overseas Development Institute
Anna Mdee, Associate Professor, University of Leeds
Ella Page, Independent consultant