But, what can we do… and how? Addressing root causes of poverty through social inclusion

In global policy, there has been growing recognition of the connections between social inclusion, governance and building more peaceful and stable societies, with specific emphasis on gender equality. Evaluations of donor interventions, however, show that they have had trouble addressing the connections between social inclusion and fragility. A recent review of donor efforts found that programmes could do more to enable conflict-affected women as active agents in post-conflict and statebuilding processes. Moreover, donors have not been able to successfully contribute towards transformative gender programming because they fail to adequately address gender norms that perpetuate social exclusion and powerlessness.

Events such as the Dutch Knowledge Platform Security & Rule of Law (KPSRL) annual event that enable donors and development actors to come together in a space to discuss and challenge ideas can help bridge the power and knowledge divide. But first and foremost, we must do a stocktaking of our legitimacy to be able to represent the voices of the excluded. And we must keep asking ourselves this. We must recognize power imbalances between donors, INGOs, governments, and citizens and that the existing power structures now are not the natural state of things. Whatever we do as donors and development organizations, however we address development, we have to ask whose voices we are representing and empowering.

We are in a position of privilege; it’s not only about managing programmes and funding, but also using our privilege to change the way we talk about issues. For example, programmes promoting democratic dialogues in countries, especially in fragile settings, must realize that the status quo should not be our entry point for change: we must be visionary, talk about (male-dominated) power, and about social exclusion. Political processes where excluded people, like women and girls, are given a space to use their voice and to tell their governments what they need is the most powerful tool of any anti-poverty initiative. Further, at the end of the day, it is a human rights issue of those groups realizing they do have a voice and they can use it to enact real change.

The United Nations marks October 17 the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, which recognizes that poverty and the deprivation of human rights continues due to problematic, multidimensional issues including (but not limited to) the lack of political power. Addressing poverty will not work if we don’t address structural, institutional challenges; we must think and work politically. We have to ask who is getting what? Why aren’t people getting what they’re entitled to get? How are decisions being made? CARE believes that inequality is one of the drivers of poverty, and understanding inequality and social exclusion in context are necessary for any anti-poverty interventions. Thus, thinking about excluded groups should not be an ‘add-on’ to anti-poverty interventions, but rather the starting point for talking about the root causes of poverty.

So, what can you do? Well, start with recognizing your own privilege and acting upon it: recognize the limits of your own legitimacy, challenge the debate, expand your sphere of influence, and persuade those with power.

And, what can your organization do? This policy brief by CARE Netherlands’ Every Voice Counts programme makes recommendations toward donors and INGOs for supporting the inclusion of women and girls in local governance processes in fragile and conflict-affected contexts.

By Lori Cajegas and Katie Whipkey, CARE Nederland

This blog was inspired by the report by Rose Pinnington, Nynke Douma, and Katie Whipkey titled ‘Social Inclusion in Fragile & Conflict-affected Contexts: Pathways towards the inclusion of women & girls in governance process’. The accompanying case studies in Burundi and Rwanda are also available. The study was funded by CARE Nederland through a grant by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.