Minorities: non-literates, indigenous peoples, lower castes


Minorities come in all sizes and social advantage or disadvantage but if you start from the point of view of Human Rights you are concerned with the disadvantaged, the discriminated-against. Within one social group, there may be minorities of the disabled, the elderly, homosexuals. Even the position of women can be understood better if you think of them as a minority.

Ask yourself how you gained or lost in the throw of the Genetic Dice when you were conceived. If Prince Charles of England is a double six (white, male, healthy, university education, born into a rich family, good prospects), what do you score?

Try to identify the people who have done a lot with their lives although they are part of a minority: people like Nelson Mandela, Franklin Rooselvelt, Aung San Suu Kyi – and other people you know yourself.


Many organisations see teaching literacy to groups as a way of empowering them. Through literacy, it is hoped, groups can have a greater control over legal contracts, learn more about staying healthy – greater control over their own lives.

Operation Upgrade in South Africa works for social change through the development of strong literacy skills. They train educators to develop literacy lessons based on the real needs of learners, so that local issues such as AIDS, child abuse or the shortage of water, are incorporated into the programme. "Good Health Begins at home: A guide for literacy tutors" (36 pp in Zulu and English) is their manual linking literacy and health

Eenet sees education in the widest sense as one of the ways to change poverty. 

Indigenous Peoples

Indigenous peoples have been subject to different waves of incoming groups and nations – usually with better weapons. This has happened in the Americas, Australia, Botswana, the Phillipines and many other countries.

The First Nations of Canada – Inuit and Indian – have had much of their culture go through near-distruction – from invasion and loss of territory, imported disease, alcohol and the overwhelming weight of American culture. Gradually they are finding ways back. See their website.

An Invitation from the Rapporteur to the Commission on Human Rights to contribute information for his second report on the human rights of indigenous peoples (118kb PDF)

Minority Races and Lower Castes

Human Rights Watch follows issues by continent and country from the after-effects of the genocide in Rwanda to abuses of asylum seekers in Europe. Here is an adapted extract from one of their discussion papers:

“In much of Asia, parts of Africa, and in the South Asian diaspora, racism comes with caste. Caste means that your value is detirmined by the fanily into which you are born. If your family is traditionally priestly then you are superior to anyone born into a family that traditionally are sweepers. Groups are defined and excluded simply because of their descent.

Over 250 million people worldwide suffer under a hidden apartheid of segregation, modern-day slavery, and other extreme forms of discrimination because they were born into a marginalized caste.

Despite formal protections in law, discriminatory treatment remains endemic.Discriminatory norms continue to be reinforced by governments.

Caste discrimination imposes enormous obstacles to the enjoyment of civil and political rights and the realization of economic, social, and cultural rights”

Read the whole text



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nicolien 2015
Nicolien Wassenaar
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