Rights-based approaches to tackling discrimination and horizontal inequality

Working and discussion papers
December 2003
Tammie O'Neil and Laure-Hélène Piron

In many societies there is a strong dimension of horizontal inequality, meaning gaps in well-being between clearly defined groups (for example, along lines of gender or ethnicity). Frequently, lack of respect for equal rights and difficulties in claiming entitlements, in particular for social groups subject to legal, political, social or cultural discrimination, is a major factor underlying poverty, associated with high levels of inequality and contributing to economic and social exclusion. Discrimination reflects socially-constructed identities and interests which, depending on the situation, operate along lines of gender, religion, class, ethnicity, nationality, age and other dimensions.

This background paper to an ODI workshop on 'Addressing Inequality in Middle-Income Countries' reviews:

  • the importance of human rights for equality and social inclusion;
  • the extent and nature of discrimination, and its contribution in explaining inequalities in income, assets, health, education, and so on;
  • the processes by which discrimination takes place and the extent to which states combat direct and indirect discrimination, in law and practice;
  • the potential contribution of ‘rights-based approaches’ by governments, civil society and international donors in combating discrimination and the inequalities it creates.

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