The Social Inclusion Index
In its third year, AQ’s Social Inclusion Index continues to track rights, access to markets and education, and political participation in the region. While countries such as Chile and Uruguay consistently rank high, strong GDP growth in Peru moved it up one spot to sixth place. This year’s index also looks at disability rights and access to justice.
Social inclusion is more than the reduction of poverty and inequality. It is about opportunity and voice and comprises political accountability, political, civil and human rights, and access to public and private goods, all issues that contribute to an individual’s capacity for a safe, productive life as a fully integrated member of the society, the economy and the political system—without regard to race, ethnicity, gender, physical or mental disability, or sexual orientation. Americas Quarterly identified 21 variables that make up social inclusion, measuring access to markets, social services, formal jobs, popular attitudes toward the government and personal empowerment, and participation in civil society—by race/ethnicity and gender—as well as political, civil, women’s and LGBT rights. This year AQ also examines and ranks countries along two new measures, disability rights and access to justice. Below is a country-by-country scorecard of how the region measures up when it comes to social inclusion.
|Percent GDP Growth (2003-2013)|
|Percent GDP Spent on Social Programs|
|Enrollment in Secondary School/Gender|
|Enrollment in Secondary School/Race|
|Civil Society Participation/ Gender|
|Civil Society Participation /Race|
|Financial Inclusion/ Gender|
|Percent Living on More than $4 per Day/Gender|
|Percent Living on More than $4 per Day/Race|
|Personal Empowerment/ Gender|
|Personal Empowerment/ Race|
|Gov’t. Responsiveness/ Gender|
|Gov’t. Responsiveness/ Race|
|Access to Adequate Housing/Gender|
|Access to Adequate Housing /Race|
|Access to Formal Job/Gender|
|Access to Formal Job/Race|
Including race/ethnicity in census questionnaires, focusing on increasing secondary school enrollment of Afro and Indigenous students, passing women’s quota laws, improving legal protections for women’s economic opportunities, and expanding formal employment are all relatively easy steps countries can take to improve social inclusion.
In this issue, we have included a set of recommendations for policy changes based on our analysis of this year’s Social Inclusion Index and the past three years of the index. Improving social inclusion is not easy. Patterns of political, economic and social exclusion are based on structural inefficiencies that are difficult to change in the short term. Lack of institutionalization, exclusionary laws, and a legacy of attitudes concerning race and gender, (affecting even victims’ sense of empowerment) are additional hurdles.
Nevertheless, whether it is in the collection or availability of data related to social well-being, or within the laws and policies across several indicators, there are a number of clear, identifiable areas in which it is reasonable to expect change, and that governments can address directly.
First, national governments should work to improve national censuses. This includes using—if it is a survey—a statistically valid sampling methodology that will provide an accurate rendering of the country’s population, demographics, and economic and social conditions. A number of countries this year relied on a limited sample frame for their census surveys, including Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia (though for reasons of conflict), and Nicaragua. Using a stratified, national random sample would ensure a more accurate portrayal of the population.
Similarly, countries such as Argentina, Costa Rica, Colombia, El Salvador, and Honduras need to include questions that measure race and ethnicity in their censuses. While these are socially and politically fraught issues—both historically and today—only by having policy and popular access to these realities can social inclusion be effectively addressed. Along those lines, if Panama were to participate in The World Bank SEDLAC project, it could dramatically improve its overall score—given its impressive rates of economic growth. The World Bank provides technical assistance for census data collection methods, and the Inter-American Development Bank is working with countries to ensure that race and ethnic measures are included.
Second, in a number of countries, scores on women’s rights indicate areas in need of improvement. Brazil could improve its score with a greater effort to increase the presence of women in political power, beyond existing quota laws, and through changes in its restrictions on reproductive rights. In Chile, quota laws are only now under discussion, and the country has one of the most restrictive regimes in the region for reproductive rights, prohibiting abortion even in the case of rape, incest or the health of the mother.
Colombia is another country—one of the few—without national quota laws for congressional party lists. And despite improving last year’s score on women’s rights, Colombia still ranks low compared to other countries. It could increase its score by making the top ranks of politics more accessible to women, by improving abortion laws, and by providing assistance for working families with children.
Third, access to formal jobs remains a problem in countries such as Ecuador and Mexico. A 2013 World Bank report revealed that the greatest gains in poverty reduction in Latin America have come from job growth, making it all the more important that countries with vast discrepancies in access to formal jobs by race and ethnicity direct their attention to these populations. In Ecuador, only 41 percent of the Indigenous or Afro-descendant population has access to a formal job, compared to 54.9 percent of their European-descendant fellow citizens. In Guatemala the difference is a stark 17.4 percent and 43.6 percent. Just ahead of Guatemala is Paraguay, in which only 24 percent of Paraguayans of Indigenous or Afro descent have formal jobs, compared to 47.1 percent of the majority.
Fourth, education remains underfunded and often distant for too many school-age children, regardless of race or ethnicity. Brazil this year made significant improvements in secondary school enrollment of Indigenous and Afro-descendent school-age children.In El Salvador, overall rates of participation were 43 percent—reflecting in large part the low national spending on education (3.2 percent of its GDP).
Even in Uruguay, which performed well across almost all variables, the government may want to consider increasing the percentage of GDP spent on education (2.9 percent), which is significantly lower than other high-scoring countries such as the U.S., Chile, Argentina, Costa Rica, and Brazil.
Fifth, the slow pace of financial inclusion in several countries remains surprising. Given the growth of mobile and e-banking, the expansion of microcredit, and the increasing use of banks for financial and social transfers, helping women to get banked in many countries, especially Peru and Bolivia with relatively strong banking and microcredit sectors, should be easy.
Sixth, in LGBT rights, Honduras and Panama tied for the lowest scores. In these countries, as well as countries like Costa Rica and the U.S., which all score close to the top in other rights—such as political, civil and women’s rights—simple steps can be taken to improve the full inclusion and participation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender populations. That includes recognizing same-sex relationships, legalizing same-sex marriages, giving same-sex couples the right to adopt children, allowing homosexuals to serve in the military, bolstering protection against LGBT discrimination, and passing legislation on gender identity protection.
Last, this year, thanks to the suggestions and advice of our readers, we added two new indices: one concerning disability rights, and the other access to justice. Several recommendations based on those measures are in order.
Our measure of access to justice draws from the World Justice Project Rule of Law Index 2014, and uses the project’s results for access and affordability of the civil court system, lack of discrimination in the civil and criminal justice systems, and timely and effective adjudication and enforcement, among the total of 10 measures. Not surprisingly, many of the countries leading in the category of access to justice were the same as the leaders in the overall index: Uruguay, Chile and the United States. The lower performing countries in the access to justice index—Mexico and Bolivia—also scored poorly in the overall Social Inclusion Index. In Bolivia, for example, 75 percent of detainees are held for 18 to 36 months in pretrial detention, and 70 percent of detainees cannot afford legal fees.
Venezuela came in last in the access to justice rankings, but was not included in the overall index because of doubts over the quality of some of its other data.
Unfortunately, Costa Rica, Honduras and Paraguay did not have published figures to include in this measure.
This year we also looked at disability rights. Our measure looks at three variables of whether a country tracks its disabled population through a national census, has a law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with physical and mental disabilities, and whether the country has signed and ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) treaty. The results within the composite index point to some specific steps governments can take to ensure that those with physical and/or mental disabilities do not suffer and can participate in the political and economic system. All of the 18 countries included in the index have signed and ratified the CRPD except for the U.S., which only signed the convention; and Venezuela, which neither signed nor ratified the convention.
Every country included some information on its census about those with disabilities, but we gave an extra point to those who used the Washington Group (wg) Short Set of Questions on Disability in their censuses: Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and the United States. The wg have been designed to better represent disabled populations.
Finally, every country had some law protecting the physically and mentally disabled from discrimination, with the exceptions of Uruguay and Guatemala, which ranked second to last after Venezuela on our disability rights index and, interestingly, were our top scoring and lowest scoring countries, respectively, on the overall Social Inclusion Index.
This may be due in part to the scaling of our index. Scoring countries based on laws and treaties is helpful as a benchmarking exercise, yet it is much harder to quantify the nuances of disability protection. For example, Paraguay ranks at the top of our disability rights index, but closer analysis indicates that the law is not effectively enforced, infrastructure for the disabled is almost non-existent, and quotas for disabled persons in the public sector workforce are not met.
For the U.S and Venezuela, easy improvements of this indicator could be achieved by ratifying the CRPD (Venezuela must sign it first, of course). In addition, Uruguay and Guatemala should establish laws to protect the disabled.