Tag Archives discrimination

Anti-discrimination legislation: findings from a parliamentary investigation and some recommendations

Despite myriad legal provisions in place in the Netherlands to prevent discrimination, it remains a serious issue, permeating all societal sectors and informing government actions and policies, as the recent childcare allowance scandal has shown. Between 2020 and 2022, ISS Rector Ruard Ganzevoort in his capacity as a member of the Dutch Senate chaired a parliamentary committee of inquiry that examined the effectiveness of anti-discrimination legislation. In this blog article, he discusses some of the key findings of the investigation and names six factors that can be considered when seeking to ensure that existing laws effectively prevent discrimination.

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

Why is it that discrimination is rampant, even when strong anti-discrimination laws are in place? And not just discrimination by individuals or organizations, but also by government institutions? In the Netherlands, a country often priding itself on its strong (although at least partly imagined) history of tolerance and equality, this has come to the public attention with the childcare allowance scandal, where substantial indications of systemic or institutional discrimination in our social welfare system and our tax system surfaced.

As a member of the Dutch Senate, a position I held until last June, I chaired a parliamentary committee of inquiry on the effectiveness of anti-discrimination legislation. The question the Senate wanted to address is why our legislation seems unable to curb this widespread and systemic discrimination. The first article in the Dutch Constitution explicitly bans discrimination on any ground. We also have specific laws against discrimination on more specific grounds. We have implemented a system for complaints and local institutions to address individual cases. In short, we have extensive policies against discrimination. And yet… discrimination not only persists despite our legislation and policies but sometimes because of them. And it is highly detrimental to our citizens.

The committee looked specifically at discrimination in the domains of 1) the labour market, 2) education, 3) social security, and 4) the police — four domains with a different degree of governmental influence. In each domain, we selected specific issues in discrimination that would help us understand the dynamics so that we can improve the legislative process. In the domain of social security, we looked at two issues: first, the role of algorithms in detecting unlawful use of social support and, second, the fact that certain groups tend to avoid the social security system, even if they are entitled to receive support.

The results of the inquiry were published in June last year and can be viewed here (full report in Dutch) and here (summary in English). Below, I briefly discuss two key findings from the report: that algorithms carry a discriminatory risk, and that people do not access social security provisions available to them in part because the government seems to mistrust eligible persons.


Algorithms can discriminate and pose a risk

The analysis of our investigation highlighted the discriminatory risk of algorithms, especially when prejudice and bias are incorporated into the risk profiles and data sets. Moreover, even relevant and / or seemingly neutral information can contribute to the discriminatory use of profiles and data. A combination of postal codes, IP addresses, and phone numbers for example can indicate ethnicity or nationality and thereby can result in indirect discrimination.


Government distrust may explain failure to access social security provisions

Regarding the non-use of social security provisions, the complexity of the system and the fact that the government seems to mistrust those who need support were found to be important factors. This regards especially those with fewer social-economic resources and people with structural or temporarily impaired capabilities. Although these criteria are hard to define in law, the outcome can be seen as discriminatory.


Six factors to consider for more effective legislation

Analyzing cases from these four domains, the investigation yielded six crucial factors that are not only relevant for the effectiveness of legislation (although that was the focus of the analysis), but also for policies in organizations. In those cases, the word ‘government’ can be exchanged for ‘leadership’.

  1. First, trust. Does the government trust or mistrusts its citizens? The fundamental attitude should be that people by and large can be trusted and that in varying degrees they need support. If the government displays fundamental mistrust, this will likely result in discriminatory laws and policies.


  1. Second, attention. Does the government display continuous attention for discriminatory processes and outcomes, and does it listen specifically to what people need and experience? Lack of attention puts systems above people and easily results in discriminatory laws and policies.


  1. Third, norms and language. Do new laws explicitly refer to antidiscrimination principles and make them concrete? And are implicit norms inclusive enough or do they favor certain groups? Vague and implicit norms can easily result in discriminatory laws and policies.


  1. Fourth, simplicity. Do our laws and policies provide transparent, consistent, and integrated criteria and regulations to citizens and institutions, including educators and social services? The complexity of our laws and policies makes it difficult for citizens to claim the support they need, to execute their rights and to file complaints where needed. It also yields space for bias and prejudice and can therefore result in discriminatory laws and policies.


  1. Fifth, leadership and accountability. Does the government explicitly make institutions and organizations responsible to curb discrimination and to arrange accountability structures? And do our policies provide for the necessary skills and professional space to use and account for discretionary power and hardship clauses? Failure to do so, especially in situations of unclear norms or conflicting political demands, may result in discriminatory laws and policies.


  1. Sixth, clear and effective complaint procedures. Are the possibilities for citizens to complain about certain decisions clear, accessible, and effective? It is not enough to have procedures in place, if people cannot realistically use them. Moreover, this should not be the only safeguard because then only the well-resourced citizens are able to use them which actually increases the risk of discriminatory laws and policies.


Trust, attention, norms, simplicity, leadership and accountability, and clear procedures. Obviously, these principles for legislation and policies are not a foolproof remedy for discrimination. They are, however, an important instrument in addressing the systemic and institutional dimensions of discrimination. They clarify how our legislative processes and organizational policies can willingly or unwillingly result in discrimination, and they show what we can do to reduce that. In the end, of course, they turn out to be just principles for good laws and good policies for all our citizens.

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

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About the author:

Ruard Ganzevoort is rector at the International Institute of Social Studies in The Hague

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Fighting racism and decolonizing humanitarian studies: toward mindful scholarship

Addressing racism and decolonizing humanitarian studies is urgent, and as scholars we need to step up our efforts. Partnerships between scholars and conflict-affected communities are as unequal as ever, and the disparities between humanitarian studies in the global North and global South remain large. Dorothea Hilhorst here introduces the importance of localization in humanitarian studies that will be discussed in an upcoming workshop on 20 August, highlighting the need for equal partnerships and meaningful participation, as well as continuous debate to move beyond quick fixes in addressing structural and persistent inequalities.

Scholars taking notes during a lecture
Credit: IHSA

Triggered by recent renewed attention to racism and worldwide protests urging change, the lid placed on racism in the humanitarian aid sector has been blown off. Last year’s international meeting of ALNAP concluded that inequality and discrimination in the humanitarian aid sector are a reality, and threatens its core foundation, namely the principle of humanity that views all people in equal terms. Recent weeks have seen many excellent blogs about racism in the sector and how resorting to arguments centring on capacities often obscure racist practices.

Yet racism in humanitarian studies is rarely mentioned. As scholars, we are ready to lay bare the fault lines in the humanitarian sector, but what about our own practices? It is time to address racism and decolonize humanitarian studies, too!

Turning our gaze inward

Anthony Giddens spoke of the double hermeneutic between social science and society, which co-shape each other’s understanding of the world and adopt each other’s vocabulary. In the relatively small and applied community of humanitarian studies, the double hermeneutic between academia and the field is more than discursive. Humanitarian studies can be seen to mimic many of the characteristics of its subject of research. Problems with humanitarian action are thus likely reproduced in the scholarly community that focuses on humanitarianism.

Racism-related problems with humanitarian studies can be grouped in two clusters:

First, the organization of humanitarian studies leads to a field dominated by scholars from the Global North. While scholars critically follow attempts of the sector to localize aid in an attempt to reduce racism through increasing ownership of aid processes, humanitarian studies itself may be criticized for being centred in the Global North. Adjacent domains of disaster studies and refugee studies[i] have faced similar critiques.

Research and educational institutes are mainly found in the global North, and rarely in the Global South where most humanitarian crises occur. The picture is less skewed with regards to disasters related to natural hazards, where we find many leading institutes in the Global South. However, faculties and courses dealing with humanitarianism in the Global South are scarce (see the global directory of the International Humanitarian Studies Associations for exceptions). Reasons include the dire lack of attention to higher education in donor programmes focusing on conflict-affected countries, making it almost impossible to find funding for such programmes[ii]. In 2016, at the World Humanitarian Summit, participants drafted a set of ethical commitments called for, among other things, more space for scholars and communities from crisis-affected countries (IHSA, 2016). Three years later, signatories admitted to a lack of progress which they largely attributed to structural disincentives for collaboration in their universities.

Moreover, relations between northern and southern institutions rarely attain the nature of equal partnership[iii]. The best many southern universities can usually hope for is to become a poorly paid partner that has no say in the agenda of the research and whose role is limited to data gathering. The possibility of co-authoring may not even be mentioned. I have followed closely how a gender and development institute in DRC, built around four women PhD holders, could easily find work as a sub-contractor for research, but once they developed their own agenda and proposals, donors were not interested and preferred to rely on Northern NGOs or UN agencies.

The picture becomes even direr when we take into account ethics dumping, when risks are offloaded on local researchers. Many universities in the north have adopted restrictive measures and don’t allow researchers to work in ‘red zones’. These researchers then rely on remote research and use local researchers to collect the data. One scholar told me at a conference how frustrated he was that his university did not allow him to enter a conflict area. He took residence at the border where he could regularly meet his research assistants, who gathered his data at their own risk. His frustration concerned his own impossibility to engage with the research, not the fate of these assistants! He had not considered involving the researchers in the analysis or inviting them as co-authors.

Second, methodologies and the ethics of relating to the research participants whose lives we study are problematic. Humanitarian studies is seen to be extractive, blighted by 1) a culture of direct data gathering through fieldwork and interviews at the expense of secondary data, leading to overly bothering crisis-affected communities with research; 2) a lack of feedback opportunities to communities, who see researchers come and go to obtain data and rarely, if ever, hear from them again; and 3) the assumption that participatory methods are not possible in conflict-affected areas because it is feared that social tensions will be reproduced in the research process. It is also assumed that people facing precarity and risks may have no interest in deep participation in research.

Deep participation does not mean quick and dirty participation in data gathering, such as participation in focus-group discussions where researchers can quickly move in and out of the lives of communities. Meaningful interactive research involves partners and participants as much as possible in every stage of the research[iv]. There have, however, been positive examples of participatory research in crisis-affected areas[v], and it is time that we build on these experiences and advance this work.

Thus, racism and decolonization debates have implications for methodology. Pailey critically noted that ‘the problem with the 21st-century “scholarly decolonial turn” is that it remains largely detached from the day-to-day dilemmas of people in formerly colonised spaces and places’. Similarly, Tilley[vi] argued that decolonization means ‘doing research differently’ – equally and collaboratively.

Of course, there are also reasons for caution with participatory methods that may be more pronounced in humanitarian crises. First, social realities are, in many ways, influenced by (governance) processes happening elsewhere, beyond immediate observation. Second, participatory methods may be prone to identifying outcomes that reflect the biases of the research facilitators (facipulator effects) and/or political elites participating in the process. Third, participatory processes risk feeding into existing tensions and creating harm. Research in crisis-affected areas may entail more risks and tends to be more politicized compared with other research.

It is therefore important to build on positive experiences while maintaining a critical dialogue on the possibilities of participatory research in humanitarian studies. As scholars, we need to work hard to break down the disincentives, to work towards equal partnerships, and to develop more participatory methodologies that treat conflict-affected communities as competent and reflexive agents that can participate in all aspects of the research process.

The environments of humanitarian studies are highly politicized and complex, and there are no quick fixes for our collaborations and methodologies. Thus, while stepping up our efforts, we also need to rely on the core of the academe: continuous debate and critically reflection on how we can enhance partnership for ethical research in humanitarian studies.

Inspired? Join the IHSA/NCSH webinar on Thursday 20 August, 11-12 CET.

This blog was written at the start of a 5-year research programme on humanitarian governance, aiming to decolonize humanitarian studies. The project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, project 884139.

[i] Sukarieh, M., & Tannock, S. (2019). Subcontracting Academia: Alienation, Exploitation and Disillusionment in the UK Overseas Syrian Refugee Research Industry. Antipode, 51(2), 664–680.

[ii] In 2016, at the World Humanitarian Summit, participants drafted a set of ethical commitments that called for, among other things, more space for scholars and communities from crisis-affected countries (IHSA, 2016). Three years later, signatories admitted to a lack of progress, which they largely attributed to structural disincentives for collaboration in their universities.

[iii] Cronin-Furman, K., & Lake, M. (2018). Ethics Abroad: Fieldwork in Fragile and Violent Contexts. PS – Political Science and Politics, 51(3), 607–614. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1049096518000379

[iv] Voorst, R. van and D. Hilhorst (2018) ‘Key Points of Interactive Research: An Ethnographic Approach to Risk’. In A. Olofsson and Jens O. Zinn Researching Risk and Uncertainty. Methodologies, Methods and Research Strategies. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham, pp 53-77

[v] Haar, G. van der, Heijmans, A., & Hilhorst, D. (2013). Interactive research and the construction of knowledge in conflict-affected settings. Disasters, 37(SUPPL.1), 20–35. https://doi.org/10.1111/disa.12010

[vi] Tilley, L. (2017). Resisting Piratic Method by Doing Research Otherwise. Sociology, 51(1), 27–42. https://doi.org/10.1177/0038038516656992

About the author:

Dorothea HilhorstDorothea Hilhorst is Professor of Humanitarian Aid and Reconstruction at the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam. She is a regular author for Bliss. Read all her posts here.

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Do skill building training programs improve labor market outcomes among rural youth in India? by Bhaskar Chakravorty

In India, 54% of the country’s population is below the age of 25 and faces a high rate of unemployment. The government of India is implementing job-linked skill building training programs to improve labour market outcomes among disadvantaged rural youths across India. The study[1] conducted in rural Bihar suggests the outcomes to be short-lived while caste discrimination and low paying job placements play a crucial role in negating the initial returns of the training.    

India is an example of a developing country facing a pressing need to devise strategies to provide regular employment to its youthful population. India is among the youngest nations in the world, and the expected ‘bulge’ in the 15–59 age group over the next decade offers an opportunity but also a challenge. The opportunity stems from the expected global shortage of 56 million young people (15–35 years), and India could potentially serve as a worldwide sourcing hub for skilled manpower (Ministry of Labour and Employment 2014). On the other hand, a failure to provide opportunities to the youth population as they enter the labour market may translate into a ‘demographic disaster’ rather than a dividend.

The twin challenge of creating jobs while at the same time bridging the skill gap is well recognized by the Indian government. Consistent with this policy priority, on September 25th, 2014, the government launched the ‘Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Grameen Kaushal Yojana’ (DDUGKY), a program for training, skill building and job placement intended for rural youth from poor families.

The scheme implements skill development through a public–private partnership mode, whereby registered private sector partners or project implementation agencies (PIA) plan and implement skills training and placement program for participants. The scheme is supposed to train rural youths of the age group 15–35. They are eligible as candidates if they belong to below poverty line (BPL) category or any member of the family is a member of a self-help group (SHG). Depending on the course, the training can be of three, six, nine or twelve months. Training courses offered by the PIA are approved by the National Council for Vocational Training (NCVT) or Sector Skill Councils (SSCs). Post-training, PIAs are required to place a minimum of 70% of trained individuals in jobs which offer regular monthly wages at or above a minimum monthly wage of Rs. 6000. Post-placement financial support of Rs.1000 is provided to the on-job candidates for a duration of two to six months.

The intention of the DDUGKY and other similar skills training programs is to attenuate unemployment and poverty, but this is possible only if social structures do not hinder voluntary participation in the program. If there are differences at the level of program accessibility based on caste, gender or other social markers, either in program participation or in job placement after training, then increasing government spending and augmenting the supply of trained individuals may achieve little towards the final goal of enhancing welfare and equity.

To understand whether skill building programs improve the labour market outcomes and social mobility among disadvantaged youth, the study was conducted with 263 DDUGKY participants of a three-months residential training program and 263 non-participants in mid 2016 in the Darbhanga district of Bihar, India.

The analysis of the findings is based on comparing individuals who had attended a training course sponsored by the scheme (termed “DDUGKY participants”) with individuals who had applied but did not eventually attend the training (termed “non-participants”). Analysis showed that the scheme is very well targeted, and more than 90% of those who attended the training and showed an interest in the scheme belonged to below-poverty-line families. While the NGO appeared to have well-qualified personnel, the bulk of the participants (64.6%) were not satisfied with the training they had received. With regard to employment effects, 42% of the graduates were placed immediately after the training, which translates into a 29% percentage point impact of training on employment.

However, these gains were short-lived and within two to six months after training, the impact of the scheme on employment was statistically not different from zero. About a third of the placed graduates left their jobs due to caste discrimination and a third exited as the salaries offered were too low to cover their expected living costs. While employment effects were zero, the training did help graduates move from agricultural to non-agricultural positions.

In conclusion, the analysis presented here focused on one training course in one district of rural Bihar. While this study does not paint a very optimistic picture of scheme-induced employment effects nor is it overtly negative about the scheme itself. Indeed, in the current case the positive effects of the scheme appear to have been partially undone by deep-rooted discrimination. It is entirely possible that other courses offered in other parts of the country are able to achieve higher placement rates and that trained graduates are not subject to post-placement discrimination.

Notwithstanding this possibility, what this study highlights is the urgent need for credible analysis of the slew of skills and job training programs that have recently been launched by the government. These should focus not only on initial job placement but also examine employment status after a time lag. Finally, while simply dictating job creation through such skills training courses and demanding 70% placement is unlikely to succeed, the analysis presented here shows that employment effects in the range of about 15% are likely to deliver a nonzero return.

[1] MA Dissertation (2015-16) at International Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Hague, The Netherlands

Image Credit: Atharva Tulsi on Unsplash

About the author:

BhaskarBhaskar Chakravorty is a development professional with more than 13 years of experience working on a range of development issues. At present, he is pursuing a PhD at Warwick Institute for Employment Research (IER) and is a Chancellor’s International Scholar (CIS) at the university. Previously, he completed a MA in Development Studies with specialization in Poverty Studies and Econometric Evaluation of Development Policies from the ISS. He was awarded the prestigious Joint Japan World Bank Graduate Scholarship (JJ/WBGSP) for undertaking the MA program.




Do teachers discriminate in occupational expectations and grading? by Shradha Parashari

Marks assigned by teachers tend to motivate students, have bearing on their career choices, admission to universities and affect students’ self-esteem. Existing literature shows that teachers may hold preconceived stereotypes and implicit biases based on their students’ ethnicity, caste, class, and sex, which influence the grades that the teachers award. Consistent with that, my own research among 120 teachers in 8 private and 11 Indian government schools found evidence of teacher discrimination on the basis of students’ caste and socioeconomic status. 

Marks assigned by teachers tend to motivate and incentivize students (Van Ewijk, 2011). Even basic in-class tests are important for students and in the long term are likely to have a bearing on their career choices (Hanna and Linden, 2012). Lavy (2008) points out that marks given to students by teachers not only determine students’ class ranking and admission to universities, but also act as a reward or punishment that can either boost or lower students’ self-esteem.

With regard to teacher influence on test scores, existing research suggests that teachers hold preconceived stereotypes, implicit biases that affect teachers’ expectations based on students’ ethnicity, socio-economic status, caste, sex and physical attractiveness which may influence the grades that they award. Psychological research shows that teachers may look hard for errors while marking essays or tests of minority students so that the results conform to their expectation. That is called an expectation confirmation bias (Sprietsma, 2012).

Experimental studies in the economics literature confirm this. For example, Hanna and Linden’s (2012) study on India shows that teachers assigned lower marks to low caste students relative to high caste students. Similarly, Sprietsma (2012) shows evidence for Germany of low marks assigned to essays written by students with Turkish names relative to essays by students with German names. Tenenbaum and Ruck (2007) find that US-American teachers hold lower expectations for minority African-American students relative to their Caucasian peers.

Consistent with these findings, my own research in 8 private and 11 government schools among 120 teachers in Delhi found evidence of teacher discrimination in occupational expectations (expectation of career paths of students) and grades awarded on the basis of students’ caste and socioeconomic status. To uncover this discrimination, I utilized a randomized experiment.

The experiment of the study was conducted in three stages. In the first stage, students were randomly selected and invited to write essays on the topic “My future career ambition” in which student’s described their background, occupational paths/career paths and challenges to achieve those career paths. In the second stage, I randomly manipulated students’ caste and socioeconomic status on the set of essays. The last and third stage involved visiting schools and requesting teachers to mark essays on a score of 100 and rate occupational expectations (expectations about student’s career paths) on a score of 5. The findings from my research are in line with existing literature on teacher discrimination in schools.

Discrimination confirmed

I found that teachers discriminate in holding occupational expectations and grading. Teachers assigned lower occupational expectations for essays assigned to low caste and low socio-economic status relative to high caste and high socio-economic status. However, high socio-economic status mitigates the effect of low caste. Consistent with this bias in occupational expectations estimates show a bias in grading which is consistent with Sprietsma’s (2012) findings that lower expectations of teachers against  minority students might further perpetuate discrimination in grading.


Pic 2.png

Figure 1 and 2: Mean teacher’s occupational expectations and Marks

Essays assigned low caste and low socio-economic status characteristics are assigned 3.64 points lower marks relative to essays assigned to high caste and high socio-economic status. Given the ultra-competitive nature of schooling in India and the importance of grades in determining access to higher education, a 3.6 point disadvantage is substantial. There is also a trade-off between caste and socio-economic status. Belonging to high socio-economic status lowers the extent of discrimination faced by low caste students as marking bias falls by 0.8 points for low caste and high socio-economic status students. The research further explains the origin of these results and finds that the discrimination against low caste students arises from a majority number of high caste teachers in the sample and not from the low caste teachers.


Education has the power to transform lives of students who belong to minority classes and castes. However; they may not be able to reap advantage of education if teachers discriminate in occupational expectations and grading. Since discrimination is associated with feelings of inferiority among students and low self-esteem adversely affects their admission to universities, their career choices and their overall development (Hoff and Pandey, 2006), teacher discrimination is a matter of concern. There is an urgent need for proper training mechanisms in schools that address teacher discrimination, requesting teachers to take implicit bias tests, educating teachers about stereotypes and implicit bias that might bias teachers’ expectations against minority students and perpetuate discrimination in grading. Further formulating a policy of standardized objective grading can also aid in minimizing discrimination in grades awarded.

Link to the author’s research paper: https://www.iss.nl/en/news/teacher-discrimination-occupational-expectations-and-grading-shradha-parashari

Casteel, C.A. (1998) ‘Teacher–student Interactions and Race in Integrated Class-rooms’, The Journal of Educational Research 92(2): 115-120.
Ferguson, R.F. (2003) ‘Teachers’ Perceptions and Expectations and the Black-White Test Score Gap’,  Urban Education 38(4): 460-507.
Hanna, R.N. and L.L. Linden (2012) ‘Discrimination in Grading’, American Economic Journal: Economic Policy 4(4): 146-168.
Hoff, K. and P. Pandey (2006) ‘Discrimination, Social Identity, and Durable Inequalities’, American Economic Review 96(2): 206-211.
Lavy, V. (2008) ‘Do Gender Stereotypes Reduce Girls’ Or Boys’ Human Capital Out-comes? Evidence from    a Natural Experiment’, Journal of Public Economics 92(10-11): 2083-2105.
Sprietsma, M. (2012) ‘Discrimination in Grading: Experimental Evidence from Primary School Teachers’,            Empirical Economics 45(1): 523-538.
Tenenbaum, H.R. and M.D. Ruck (2007) ‘Are Teachers’ Expectations Different for Racial Minority than for European American Students? A Meta-Analysis.’, Journal of Educational Psychology 99(2): 253.
Van Ewijk, R. (2011) ‘Same  Work, Lower Grade? Student Ethnicity and Teachers’ Subjective Assessments’, Economics of Education Review 30(5): 1045-1058.

Image Credit: Shradha Parashari

ShradhaAbout the author:

Shradha Parashari is an ISS alumna of the 2017-18  MA batch and a Research Associate at Energy Policy Institute at University of Chicago-India. This blog is concerned with the author’s award-winning research that was conducted under supervision of Professor Arjun Singh Bedi and Professor Matthias Rieger.