Exclusion by Social Group: Changes in the world since 2008

April 26, 2019 news

This year, V-Dem collected data on a completely new set of survey questions on exclusion. The questions examine the extent to which exclusion strikes different groups in society. This post looks into exclusion by social group.


Figure 1. Changes in exclusion by social group from 2008 to 2018.

Social group refers to groups within a country that are differentiated by caste, ethnicity, language, race, region, religion, migration status or some combination thereof. Social group identities do not exist in isolation. They are a product of varying legal frameworks, social interactions and relationships, as well as norms and customs. The strength of social groups varies across countries and through time.

V-Dem’s Exclusion by Social Group index picks up changes around the world – both positive and negative. Figure 1 above visualizes the changes occurring in the past 10 years. Countries above the line recorded improvements (exclusion levels decline) from 2008 to 2018. The opposite is true for the countries below the diagonal line. The removal of dictators did not only lead to a change in regime but also brought about positive change with regards to exclusion of social groups in The Gambia and Tunisia. At the same time, continued instability and conflict has further worsened the situation for social groups in Yemen and Syria. 


Exclusion by Social Group vs. Other Groups


Figure 2. Substantial and significant changes in countries with regards to exclusion by social group indicators

V-Dem collected data on levels of exclusion of four main groups – social group, gender, socio-economic group and urban-rural location. Figure 2 above, depicts the number of countries that made substantial and significant declines and advances by every indicator in the Exclusion by Social Group Index. There are particularly pronounced declines in two of the indicators that make up the index: Exclusion in the distribution of power by social group, and exclusion from equal access to civil liberties by social group.

As seen in figure 2, there are also declines to a smaller extent with respect to exclusion from equal access to state jobs and public services. As will be shown below, these types of exclusion are experienced in different forms and combinations around the world.


The Example of the Alevis Minority in Turkey

Figure 1 above shows that exclusion by social group has become substantially worse since 2008. This affects for example, the Alevis – a marginalized group living among the Sunni Muslim majority in Turkey. They are heterodox Muslims who make up between ten to twenty percent of the Turkish population. They have been marginalized based on their religious beliefs under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s regime. While Erdoğan initially promised to strengthen the rights of this minority group in 2007, the opposite happened. Despite criticism from the European Commission of Human Rights (ECHR), Erdoğan and his government refuse to recognize Cemevis as the official places of worship for the Alevis. According to the government, Muslims should only have one place of worship – the mosque. While there are no official policies of excluding the Alevis, they also face discrimination in the workplace, in state institutions.[1]

While this example in Turkey looks at exclusion of a certain social group based on their religion, exclusion of social groups is a more general phenomenon. 


Progress in Tunisia

Figure 1 above shows that exclusion by social group has declined and the situation getter better since 2008. Tunisia has experienced momentous changes since the then President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali was ousted during the Arab Spring movement in January 2011. Since then, different social groups have achieved greater representation in the country. Citizens now enjoy unprecedented political rights and civil liberties. Multiple political parties have been able to organize themselves into different parties and run for elections with minimum obstacles. In 2014, for example, the centrist and secular Nidaa Tounes party won the parliamentary elections, unseating the Islamist Ennahda Party who were previously in power since 2011.

However, there are still improvements left to be made as Figure 1 also shows. Tunisia’s score on the exclusion of social groups is still far from the best. For example, exclusion of certain religious groups persists in the Tunisia. Islam is recognized as the official state religion and constitution requires that the president be Muslim. This is an important hurdle that Tunisia needs to overcome in order to maintain its progress in the area of exclusion of social groups. 


The Future

These country cases exemplify how social identity and social exclusion is a product of the interaction of various forces within societies. There are multiple layers in which exclusion is observed and experienced - from unofficial practices to exclusion that is legitimized by states through laws. With V-Dem data on these issues easily available, it is increasingly possible to be conscious and keep track of how exclusion of certain social groups may form and develop over time. Hence work can and should be done towards preventing such situations from transpiring or worsening. 


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