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This book is a product of a research project called ‘voices of youth’ carried out - page 19 / 125





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A Lost Generation: Young People and Conflict in Africa

with different social contexts to produce a wide range of forms of discrimination -- against pastoralists, single mothers, youth, or the mentally ill, as random examples, all operating according to similar principles. This means that there are large numbers of people in the world who suffer several different - mutually reinforcing – forms of discrimination. In fact, hardly any group in the world is completely free from being

targeted by one ‘ideology of superiority’ or another.

In the social exclusion framework, systems of exclusion are said to be composed of five elements:

  • discriminatory attitudes and values

  • historical and cultural circumstances which empower dominant groups

  • when combined together, the above elements (values and sources of power) create the conditions which permit discriminatory actions against subordinate groups

  • the targets of discrimination respond in various ways – they may either resist, accept, deny or even actively participate in their own discrimination, and in the process they often help to perpetuate the system.

  • over time, these actions build up into a systematic pattern of denial of rights and opportunities (an ‘ideology of superiority’)

‘Values’ are hard to pinpoint. However, they can often be seen reflected in people’s everyday behaviour, or by things they say which reflect the assumptions, stereotypes and prejudices they hold. To use examples from the present research, young people are often said to be irresponsible or unreliable; unmarried girls who become pregnant are considered to bring shame on their families, no matter what the circumstances of their pregnancy might have been; ex-combatants may be feared by their family and neighbours in case they become violent and kill again.

Everyone makes value judgements about people from groups other than their own. We should not consider such value judgements as being negative in themselves: they may perform constructive social functions by contributing to our sense of identity. However, they can easily turn into prejudices, and prejudices become dangerous when they are translated into action that discriminates against others, depriving them of their rights, opportunities, or self-respect. For example, believing young people to be irresponsible is one thing (a prejudice), but turning them down for a job on those grounds is a discriminatory action which denies the applicant an income, a position in society, and the self-esteem attached to being employed.

People who discriminate are able to do so because they have the ‘power to act’. People acquire the ‘power to act’ by virtue of having wealth, decision-making authority, physical strength, established consensus (for example, if there is common


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