2.4.4 Inequalities by Racial, Ethnic, Religious and Other Cultural Characteristics

Facts/messages: Cultural diversity and its implications for inequality are a difficult issue to address, for several reasons. To begin with, the underlying differences may vary between: racial (e.g. Afro-descendant populations in Latin America or white minorities in Africa), ethnic (e.g. distinct ethnic groups in many African countries, Roma in several Eastern European countries), religious (e.g. Christian minorities in the Middle East, Muslim minorities in the Philippines or the North-South divide in Nigeria), linguistic characteristics (e.g. linguistic division in Canada), or those based on citizenship (e.g. Rumanian citizens in Moldova). In India, there is the added dimension of castes. In some cases, the situation may be characterized in terms of minorities within more homogeneous majority population (e.g. religious minorities, Amerindian populations in Latin America, Montagnards in Vietnam, white minorities in some African countries, Indians in some countries of the Pacific). In other cases, the country is made up of distinct groups of comparable magnitude, which may be few (e.g. Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda) or many (e.g. multiple ethnic groups in Papua New Guinea). These groups may or may not exhibit major disparities, inequities and/or conflict. This range of possibilities makes it difficult to provide general guidelines on how to analyse inequalities between groups. In addition, many countries do not collect information that would allow for the identification of such inequalities – exactly to avoid inflaming latent conflicts between groups – so that insisting on this kind of analysis in the PSA may raise sensitivities with the government. The analysis of minorities may be perceived as polarizing if these minorities are over-privileged, rather than under-privileged. In other cases, such as the indigenous populations in Latin America, the dividing lines between groups are blurred, making it difficult to analyze differentials, whereas in some countries indigenous populations live predominantly in conflict zones. Data collection on nomadic and semi-nomadic groups of the population also poses particular challenges. Given all of these challenges, UNFPA Country Offices need to exercise their own judgment to decide to what extent such analyses are politically convenient and feasible.

As a rule, the PSA should ask the following questions:

  • Is the population of the country heterogeneous in racial, ethnic, religious or linguistic characteristocs or in terms of nationality?
  • If so, does this heterogeneity translate into systematic inequalities, inequities or discrimination against certain groups, either by the state or by dominant economic or political groups?
  • If so, does the latter display characteristics of systematic discrimination or marginalization of certain minority groups, of social and economic disparities between two or three major socio-cultural groups, or of a complex pattern of inequalities between a multiplicity of groups?
  • Does the government recognize these disparities and can they be discussed?
  • Depending on these characteristics, what is the best way to analyze the inequalities and what data are available to this end?

Whenever possible, draw attention to the existence of these groups and outline their demographic, economic, political, and cultural specificities and requirements, as well as the political and legal contexts they are part of, in so far as these factors impede their access to health and education. The use of the culture lens (see Chapter II.2) in this analysis will allow an appreciation of the interconnected realities. Outline the access and exercise of rights, and highlight strategic allies in the programming work that are needed to address the identified gap in gender equality and / or rights.

Methodology: Obtain population and sexual and reproductive heath (SRH) indicators from censuses and specialized surveys (DHS, poverty surveys and others), complementing the analysis with qualitative studies, to the extent that these are available, and that show the dimensions and characteristics of discrimination or disparity in those areas directly related with issues of population, gender and SRH. This also means to identify gaps of interventions and to generate appropriate indicators to promote cultural diversity. Analyze the extent of community mobilization and participation of different sectors in national development plans. To the extent possible, analyze indicators on the incidence of poverty and poverty gap, Gini index, political empowerment, educational attainment and health and survival. If censuses or surveys do not identify the relevant socio-cultural groups, it may be possible to use proxies, e.g. by using language as a criterion (if this information is available) or by using a geographic approximation, in those cases where particular groups are concentrated in a few easily identified districts. The variation in the definitions of “indigenous” could pose a problem in collecting data. Within the context of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, it was decided not to adopt any formal definition of the term, and self-identification had been stressed. Collecting statistics based on indigenous languages was considered useful, but languages do not give a complete picture of the indigenous population, especially as languages are lost following urbanization, discrimination and other factors. Another problem may be that the surveys containing the ethnic identification are not the same as the ones that contain the variables whose inequality one would like to assess (e.g. access to SRH).

According to a review of census questions regarding ethnic and cultural groups in the 2000 census round, about two thirds of the 147 census questionnaires reviewed had at least one such question, with “ethnic group” being the most common category and “ancestry”, “tribe”, “caste” or “religion” the least common. Africa and Europe had the lowest frequency of these kinds of questions, whereas they were most common in Oceania and the Americas. Ethnic inequality studies have been carried out on survey data in some countries, e.g. the 2004 Vietnam Household Living Standards Survey and the 2002 National Socioeconomic Survey of Indonesia (Susenas). DHS surveys have been used to study premarital fertility differentials among a wide variety of ethnic groups in Africa.

Primary Sources:

  • National Population Censuses;
  • Household and poverty surveys;
  • DHS surveys and qualitative studies.

Secondary Sources:

  • ECLAC. Social Panorama. Social Panorama 2006 has a chapter on this issue and potentially useful information about social cohesion;
  • Minority Rights Group International. State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples. Available at: http://www.minorityrights.org;
  • Following a recommendation of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), an International Expert Workshop on Data Collection and Disaggregation for Indigenous Peoples was convened from 19-21 January 2004, in New York, with 36 experts from the UN system and other intergovernmental organizations, Governments, indigenous organizations and academia attended. The discussions and recommendations of this workshop may be useful for the analysis of data on indigenous people.