Thinking about forgotten issues in the debates on poverty
By Dileni Gunewardena
Countries in Asia, notably, India and China, that grew rapidly in the last decade also experienced rising inequality. The same was true of Sri Lanka, which however, grew more slowly.
|The plantation community in Sri Lanka could well be described as a historically excluded group, given the enclave nature of their existence. However, in recent times, external factors have led to the disintegration of the enclave, and more and more members of the plantation community are migrating — both locally and overseas
Growing economies tend to generate inequality as they move from being traditional, homogeneous agricultural rural economies to being modern, heterogeneous, industrial, urban economies.
As people move into disparate occupations, so does their remuneration differ — giving rise to higher inequality. This view of inequality has been recently termed vertical inequality to distinguish it from horizontal inequality, a term introduced by Frances Stewart at Oxford University in 2002, which is a more pernicious type of inequality whose main feature is that it exists between (culturally defined) groups.
Inequality between groups
Inequality between groups is pernicious because individual identity flows in part from group membership; group-based disparities solely due to intrinsic characteristics such as caste, race or gender would be held to be abominable.
Among other things, groups may have low or no mobility, i.e. it is not possible — or very difficult — to change groups; if you are discriminated against because you are a woman or belong to a particular caste or ethnicity, it would be impossible in the first case, and very difficult in the latter cases to change identity in order to avoid discrimination.
Persistent group inequality can and has led to social instability. On the other hand, as both Stewart, and Ravi Kanbur, an economist based at Cornell University, have argued, when horizontal inequality is prevalent, policy actions to address group inequalities may be more effective than policy actions that address inequalities at the individual level.
Horizontal inequality matters
So, horizontal inequality matters, and this is one of the themes that will be taken up at a conference on to celebrate 10 years of existence of the Centre for Poverty Analysis that will be held in Colombo on 30 June and 1 July 2011.
Among the papers that will be discussed in the session on horizontal inequality are two papers on gender, another on social exclusion and its prevalence (or otherwise) among historically excluded groups, a fourth paper on migration as a strategy for moving out of poverty in the estate sector, and a fifth and last paper that examines the links between group inequalities and localised conflict and its influences on development interventions.
One of the papers on gender uses a case study from the village of West Mudunkotuwa in Ratnapura District in Sri Lanka to measure and evaluate medium term impacts on gendered horizontal inequality of a livelihoods project.
The authors, Maneka Savithri Jayasinghe and Rajith W. D. Lakshman argue that in the context of promoting livelihoods, ignoring gender differences in access to and control of both physical and financial resources has resulted in creating greater disparity in improvement of social and economic wellbeing across men and women.
The second paper on gender by Nilakshi de Silva and K.I.H. Sanjeewanie of CEPA presents results from a study that uses survey modules developed by the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) to gather information on dimensions of poverty that are typically “missing” in large scale quantitative surveys.
This study was done in Badulla District and analyses the experience of different groups, focusing on gender, employment quality and psychological well-being.
The multiple dimensions of poverty and social exclusion is the focus of the paper by Saibal Kar which is based on a study which gathers information on a large number of dimensions of deprivation for both historically excluded and non-excluded groups in 50 villages in a district in West Bengal, India.
The plantation community in Sri Lanka could well be described as a historically excluded group, given the enclave nature of their existence.
However, in recent times, external factors have led to the disintegration of the enclave, and more and more members of the plantation community are migrating — both locally and overseas. A paper by R.M.K.M. Lakmini and Jeevika Weerahewa examines the impact of remittances on the expenditure behaviour of migrant households.
The second in-house presentation in this session which looks at the group inequalities and localised conflicts, comes closest to the classical Stewartian definition of horizontal inequalities.
Azra Abdul Cader presents findings from a study done in collaboration with the Oxford University Centre for Research on Inequality, Human Security and Ethnicity (CRISE) in the Eastern and North Western parts of Sri Lanka which highlight the interconnections between group-based inequalities, potential for conflict and development programming.
In the face of these group-based inequalities, what types of interventions would be most successful? What should governments pay heed to? That is what a participant at the conference would find out.