New report finds marginalised groups continue to be left behind, despite Sustainable Development Goals commitment

A new report launched by a group of NGOs has found that caste and other forms of discrimination based on work and descent (DWD) continues to be a barrier to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and occurs in at least 20 countries – often associated with slavery. As part of the annual review of SDGs taking place this year, governments are set to monitor the progress of SDGs for education, decent work, inequality, climate change, as well as for peace, justice and strong institutions.

The report finds that caste remains a significant cause of inequality in modern economies and highlights how development and humanitarian responses often fail to recognise caste-based social exclusion and power inequalities or address the vulnerabilities that result. This is particularly a problem during aid responses to disasters which may, if poorly designed, overlook or fail to meet the needs of the most marginalised caste groups or in some cases make them even more vulnerable.

The report calls for caste-sensitive approaches to achieve the SDG targets under review and is based on evidence from South Asian countries where caste-based disparities are prevalent.

Murali Shanmugavelan, Development Consultant, said:
“While categories such as race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation have rightfully received attention from development communities, caste has been mostly invisible in international development debates. Caste remains a source for physical and sexual violence, poverty and hunger, exploitation, lack of access to drinking water and sanitation, social and economic inequalities and lack of opportunities in urban labour markets. This report shows why caste deserves the same level of policy attention as race, ethnicity and gender, especially when caste is bound with other identities and reinforces barriers and inequalities.”

Nadia Saracini, Senior Inequalities Advisor for Asia and the Middle East, Christian Aid, said:
“The complexities around caste should not be a barrier to action to address caste-based discrimination and social exclusion, which are responsible for some of the worst forms of deprivation and violence. The rights of those affected must be a priority. Agenda 2030 for the Sustainable Development Goals is an important opportunity to better understand this issue and how it is leaving people behind. The meaningful participation and influence of affected people in the delivery of the goals and targets and measures to ensure human rights for all is paramount.

Mr. N. Paul Divakar, Chairperson, The Inclusivity Project said:
“This report sheds light on the issues currently faced by our marginalised communities and suggests actions that states have to take to ensure that no one is left behind. The SDGs provide an ambitious but clear framework to address poverty caused by discrimination based on work and descent including caste. It is highly problematic that these practices, which occur in Asian, African and Latin American countries and affect millions of people, have not been explicitly factored into the setting of the SDGs, its targets or process of implementation. It is necessary to mobilise all support and the political will to ensure SDGs to be implemented in a more inclusive way.”

Mr. Meen Biswakarma, MP, Nepal former Minister Nepal Govt, Chairperson, Asia Parliamentarian’s Forum on Dalit Concerns said:
“This has come at a critical time when the SDGs are gaining momentum at the national, regional and global levels. The SDGs fail to recognise DWD or caste as an important determinant of poverty and under-development. Participation of the excluded communities in decision-making, implementation and monitoring are crucial for ensuring accountability, transparency and inclusion of all in the SDG process. To ensure efficient and effective inclusion, disaggregated data is crucial. Ensuring that targeted policies are implemented by the state for the DWD and other excluded communities with appropriate budget allocation for effective and inclusive implementation of the policies.”


Notes to Editors
1. The attached report was drafted by Nadia Saracini, Senior Inequalities Advisor for Asia and the Middle East, Christian Aid and Murali Shanmugavelan, Development Consultant, on behalf of the Bond Caste and Development Group. It was informed by the research of David Mosse, Professor of Social Anthropology, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

The report makes specific recommendations towards achieving SDGs 4, 8,10,13, and 16. In their delivery of the SDGs more broadly, it also calls on governments to:

  • Prioritise measures to remove the caste-specific barriers to SDG Goals and targets faced by socially excluded groups, based on all available evidence including human rights data. Develop caste-sensitive indicators to monitor progress.
  • Work with Dalit and rights organisations towards compliance with the Draft UN Principles and Guidelines on the Elimination of (Caste) Discrimination based on Work and Descent.
  • Deliver training and campaigns to challenge discriminatory social norms and raise awareness among public and government officials, teachers and media practitioners on caste, gender and other forms of discrimination, and of rights to non-discrimination.
  • Invest in public education and discussions to help change mindsets around damaging social norms; facilitate common spaces for interaction between people of different communities on equal terms and celebrate diversity.
  • Involve Dalit organisations in delivery and review of SDGs, including at subnational level. Enable citizen-led mechanisms to strengthen social accountability, so that Dalits can highlight specific barriers they face and comment on the appropriateness and effectiveness of national policies for delivery of the SDGs.
  • Put in place special mechanisms to address the issues faced by Dalit women
  • Ensure adequate budget allocations and effective mechanisms for utilisation of these funds

The report calls on donors and NGOs working in affected countries to:

  • Take steps to ensure staff are more representative of the diverse communities they serve and are trained on caste, non-discrimination and inclusion; ensure internal policies for non-discrimination and equality of opportunity to address caste issues.
  • Address caste in context analysis; involve Dalits and other marginalised groups in programme design and implementation; monitor the extent to which programmes help address caste-based inequalities and disseminate learning about effective responses.
  • Support Dalit advocacy platforms and their participation in SDG delivery; promote policy changes to address caste and intersecting barriers to rights, equality and the SDGs and support community-level programmes to challenge discrimination and harmful practices.
  • Support and encourage national governments to improve the collection of caste-disaggregated data in ways that are inclusive and appropriate to national contexts.
  • Recognise and advocate rights-based and caste-sensitive approaches as part of rights-based development strategies in any engagement with the private sector, including to address the exploitation of Dalits and other marginalised groups in global value chains.
  • Promote coherent domestic policies to stop caste discrimination wherever it occurs.
  • Deliver inclusive and appropriate humanitarian response working closely with representative community based organisations.

2. The following members of the Bond Caste and Development Group have been instrumental in shaping the report: Village Service Trust, Karuna Trust, Dalit Solidarity Network UK, Minority Rights Group, Christian Aid, Voice of Dalit International and the Village Service Trust
3. Discrimination based on work and descent (DWD) is a term used in international contexts to refer to caste and similar structures. The focus of the report is primarily on South Asia, so we have frequently used the term caste. In some African countries, different forms of DWD occur. These are sometimes referred to as caste and can include systems of slavery. There are different caste or slave groups with distinct titles and cultural identities. DWD/ caste structures are less prevalent in South America, but Brazil’s Quilombolo, the descendants of people who escaped slavery in the colonial era, continue to face DWD. In Japan, the Burakumin (Buraku) people also face DWD.
4. Dalit, a term used mainly in South Asia and its diaspora, is a unifying political category now preferred by many people with various caste identities who are subordinated and excluded in society. However, not all such people actively self-identify as Dalits.
5. Bond is the UK network for organisations working in international development. Bond unites and supports a diverse network of over 400 civil society organisations and allies to help eradicate global poverty, inequality and injustice.
6. For further information or interviews, please contact Maryam Mohsin on 07555 336029 or [email protected]