Human Rights and Gender Equality III

Divided Societies

Social inclusion aims for broad prosperity. For fighting discrimination, for equal protection under the laws, for enabling everybody to meet basic needs. And for social mobility to ensure that a child born in any part of the country in any part of the income distribution to any class or ethnicity or race has a chance. And through hard work, education, always a bit of luck mixed in, to achieve a good standard of living, and economic success in society. Of course, none of our societies achieves uniform equality. And nobody would want that. People differ by luck, tastes, work effort, and, naturally, this would show up in variations in economic outcomes and wealth.

People expect such differences to an extent, but societies, of course, can have differences far beyond anything that would emerge from normal differences between individuals and luck and circumstance and, for whatever reason, when inequalities are very, very large ethics and human rights would tell us that governments have some responsibility to look after those left behind. And many would think that helping to narrow the big gaps is part of our moral or ethical responsibility. We’ve already looked at the actual situation and how varied it is around the world.731


We’ve looked at this map of the Gini Coefficient. Remembering that the Gini Coefficient is a measure of income inequality that varies between zero and one. Zero would be a society where everyone has exactly the same income. One would be a society where everybody but one has zero income and one person has all the income that is complete inequality and the Gini varies between those ranges, of course. And what we saw is really some notable and important systematic differences across regions of the world in the extent of inequality, and therefore in the extent of social inclusion or exclusion. On the whole, the Americas, as I noted earlier, with the notable exception of Canada, the Americas is a relatively unequal part of the world. Western Europe is a relatively equal part of the world. Northern Europe, especially the Scandinavian countries, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark or the Nordic countries, I should say. Those countries Iceland included are among the most equal places in the world and the Scandinavian countries, specifically of Norway, Sweden and Denmark are right at the top of the list of indicators of social inclusion and at the bottom of the list with the lowest value of the Gini Coefficient. When we look at this map, we should think history, because standing behind this is a long history, a legacy, that has led to certain kind of inequality that I want to focus on for a few minutes. This is inequality across groups rather than inequality of individuals alone or inequality of households alone. The inequality that we see varying across the world in this map of the Gini Coefficient reflects the fact that whole groups within society, defined according to race or, in some places, according to ethnicity or linguistic group, or tribe have very different life chances from other groups in the same society. And so, the map, while also reflecting normal variation across individual households, also reflects the interaction of different groups within society. Take the case of the Western hemisphere with, again, Canada being a notable exception, for a reason that will become clear in just a moment. The Americas were, from the time of the first arrival of human beings to the Americas, probably around 13,000 years before the present, or thereabouts. To the year, and we can date it to October 12, 1492, the arrival of Columbus in the island of Hispaniola. The Americans by and large had almost no contact with the old world population. Maybe there was a tiny bit of contact in very short period. When Icelanders arrived in the coast of Canada and the northeast of the United States for a brief sojourn but without long term settlement.

732The only long term settlement from that long period of 13,000 years before the present to the arrival of Columbus in October 1492 was by Americans, whom we now call Native Americans, that arrived fairly early on in migration from Asia after the last Glacial Period. And then settled throughout the Americas and the Caribbean in and, and established civilizations that developed completely independently of what was taking place in Asia, in Europe, and in Africa, until that connection was made once again with the arrival of the Europeans. The Europeans arrived with two huge advantages. One is they had more powerful weapons. The second is they had pathogens that to had developed the Old World to which the conquerors came already immune or protected. And those pathogens spread throughout the unprotected Native American populations leading to massive, massive set of epidemics and a massive dying off of Native American populations. Well, you know the history, the Americas became a kind of conquest society where European conquerors, and especially the Spanish Conquistadoras came and conquered a large part of the Americas, and generally ruled, and often ruled violently, over the indigenous populations. They added one more crucial element to the history of the Americas starting in the sixteenth century, and that was to bring in African slave labor, especially to the tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas, such as the Caribbean, the American South, northeast of Brazil. Not to Canada.

That’s one of the reasons why Canada is different. It never had a large slave population brought into Canada. And what emerged, of course, was a very complicated society of groups. A small European, dominant group, which ruled by force and power and the backing of empire, empires in Europe. A an indigenous population that was often broken by disease, by poverty, by forced labor. Essentially a kind of slavery or serfdom that was imposed in many places. And by the horrific institution of slavery itself based on the importation of African slaves into the Americas. And over time that three categories became more complicated of course, through a mixing of the three populations. So mulatto, or so called mixed populations of African slaves, European conquerors, indigenous populations, and so forth also developed across many societies. From the sixteenth century onward, those groups had completely different situations in their society, politically, socially and economically. And vast inequalities of wealth developed often with this small European population own, owning all of the, the good land in the country with the native inhabitants pushed, pushed, pushed into smaller and smaller land areas deprived of traditional land holdings. All of this is to say that the history of the Americas was a violent and conflictual one that created an extensive inequality, rather shocking by the standards of many, many other parts of the world. And that legacy of inequality continued past the sixteenth century, seventeenth century, eighteenth century, until the present day.

Slavery was eliminated, thank goodness, in the nineteenth century, usually by law in the United States, by, only by war, a violent war fought to end slavery. A very rare exception, because usually slavery was ended peacefully, but not in the United States, where the, the hold of White Southern land owners was so powerful that they resisted with a full force and a very violent war to try to protect slavery. And slavery was only ended in 1865, one of the last places in the world. And only two decades later, later in Brazil, so this is a phenomenon that comes into the twentieth century. And, of course, the descendants of slaves arrive to the twentieth century. And until the end of the twentieth century and into the early twenty-first century, often with massive liabilities of poverty and difficulties of poor health, lack of rights facing massive social discrimination. I emphasize all of this because you look at the dark red of the Americas in the Gini map, and you have to remember the history behind this, of a whole region of the world essentially settled by conquest, and then a long legacy that results from that. So, when we think about the forces of inequality today, we need to keep a broad perspective. This is the holistic approach that I like to emphasize. Inter-generational dynamics plays a huge role. Even when slavery ends, the legacy of slavery continues. Even when the massive brutality against Native Americans in the United States, essentially a genocide, or the brutality against the so-called First Nations in Canada ends by law, the legacy of poverty and poor health in discrimination, in property holdings and so forth continues thereafter. Social discrimination continues. Racial discrimination. Ethic discrimination. Of course, the gender discrimination which I will turn to shortly. Regional differences persist. Sometimes for only geographical physical reasons climate distance, transport, landlockedness, sometimes for the historical reasons of how various regions fell under imperial domination, for example. As a backdrop, there’s also the individual differences. We should not forget that. There will be variations in effort, variations in capacities, variations in luck, which will create a level of inequality in any society. And then finally, public policies shape these inequalities. Does the state meet basic needs? Does the state truly ensure education for all children? Is the educational quality that is accessed by the poor up to the job of providing a base for social mobility, or is the education access by the poor so poor that the poor get stuck in an inter-generational cycle of poverty? All over the world, the indigenous populations, meaning populations that were the first arrivals in a particular location maybe arriving in, in a location even 10, 20, 30,000 years ago and then subsequently facing later migrations like the Native Americans facing the inflow of Europeans after Columbus’s arrival. You see, whether it’s in the U.S. with the Native Americans, Canada with the First Nations, Australia with its Aboriginal population, New Zealand with its Maori population, Malaysia with its Orang Asli population, and the name given to various indigenous tribes, a rather remarkable consistency of major social discrimination, a remarkable extent of poverty social, cultural exclusion. And usually a legacy of rather brutal state policy as well. State policy that uprooted populations, that pushed populations into forest regions or mountain regions or desert regions as enclaves. One of the big mistakes that we make, often by the way in naivete is to see a an indigenous group inhabiting a very fragile environment. For example, an extreme dry region of a country. And you read the tour book and it says that the tradition of such and such tribe is life in this near-desert region. And, very often, that’s a nonsense to say that’s a cultural phenomenon, or a tradition. More typically what’s happened is that that group has faced massive dislocation and displacement and so, maybe this group was in the most fertile lands before, but then when the later waves of migration came and more powerful successor rulers in the region came, these discriminated groups were physically pushed into isolated areas in the forests, in the mountains, in the deserts. And then, to justify that in a naive way the life in those extremely difficult regions is described as the cultural tradition of the group in question. The poverty rates of indigenous populations is very, very high around the world, and it’s not a small part of the overall global extreme poverty. Nobody has a precise count of indigenous populations, but I think it’s probably right to say that it’s around 400 million people, adding up indigenous populations around the world. At least, that’s an estimate that is often given and that means that it’s nearly 6% of the world’s population. And since many of those 400 million live in extreme poverty and abject social exclusion, it’s not a small part of the overall numbers living in extreme poverty. You’re looking here at a graph of the poverty rates in some relatively poor countries in the Americas, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico and Peru. What you can see is that, in each case, the poverty rates among the indigenous populations, are higher than the poverty rates among the non-indigenous. And if one were to show the African-American population’s poverty rates as well, those would be much, much higher too. And, so, this is an example of how the indigenous populations in the Americas face continuing challenges which are long, long legacies of political military and cultural discrimination. And many, many acts of violence. This map of ethno-linguistic groups highlights another point for us. Which is that around the world, there are significant differences in the extent of ethnic diversity. Ethnic diversity sometimes measured along linguistic lines. And a map like this gives an indication of what’s called ethno-linguistic fractionalization. It asks how likely is it that two people selected at random within a population within a country belong to the same ethnic group or the same tribe as it might be called in some contexts. You can see that Africa, for example is just a maze of ethno-linguistic fractionalization. 733And the differences of tribes in Africa, and the fact that when one tribe comes to power, it may discriminate heatedly against others is part of the political and social reality that has made social inclusion so difficult. You see in the Amazon region the high degree of ethno-linguistic fractionalization as well. All of this is to emphasize that when we consider the challenges of social inequality and the application of human rights to those challenges, we will have to address this at several different ways, in several different dimensions. One is a class dimension. What to do to help poor people and especially poor children in poor households to achieve social mobility and the escape from poverty. Another dimension, which I’m going to discuss at greater length, is gender differences. The systematic discrimination against women and against girls in virtually all parts of the world, but here I’ve emphasized the inequalities across groups and how power structures, colonial history, discrimination systematically against indigenous populations has played a role. We need to be aware of that group-level discrimination as well if we’re going to be accurate and effective in overcoming social exclusion and achieving that major killer of inclusive growth that is at the core of sustainable development.

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Pedro Pereira Leite (2015, 23 Abril). Human Rights and Gender Equality III. Global Heritages. Recuperado em 23 de Junho de 2024, de

Pedro Pereira Leite

Researcher and professor. He had his PhD. on museology in 2011, with the title “Muss-amb-ike Homeland: The commitment on musicological process”, that was published in 2011. In 2012 he finishes a Post-PhD Research on "Biographical Glances: The intersubjectivity poetry on museology, at Lusófona University (Lisbon). Presently he is working in his Post PhD. Research about: “Global Heritages" with the aims to build a network on local cognizance and memory manager has a tool to build the will of action in 3 different communities, linked by past communed heritages.” He works at CES. He participates on different Research network, presented papers in national and international conferences, and had published books on research subjects.

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