In Focus: Inequality of Political Access

I talk about conflict risk-factors quite a lot, because addressing them is the basis of Proactive Peace Work. So I thought it was about time that I explored these risk-factor types in more depth. In my research, I refer to 5 key types of risk-factor. Over the next few weeks, I’ll discuss all of them, but this post will focus on one— inequality of political access.

Before I go on, if you haven’t come across it already, then reading this post will give you a bit of an introduction to the idea of risk-factors more broadly. Basically though, they are the things which increase a communities vulnerability to violent-conflict. They don’t directly spark violence, but they’re the dry kindling, that so easily catches alight.

I call them risk-factor ‘types’, because they’re not taxonomic categories, but a guide, pointing towards the sorts of things we ought to consider. They overlap with each other. This isn’t very surprising really, because our lives don’t usually divide up neatly into different parts. Importantly though, this overlap isn’t a problem, because the point of understanding risk-factor types, is that we reflect on the things which may be making our communities vulnerable to violent-conflcit. There’s no problem with thinking of the same thing twice.

In my PhD I’ve found that, in peace and conflict studies, there is a lot written about what conflict risk-factors are. Yet there is little written about what people are doing to address them. Of course, people do address them, all the time (you probably have yourself at some point), but it often seems too ‘small’ or ‘insignificant’ to get much attention. In coining the term Proactive Peace, I’m trying to get these ‘small’ actions, the attention (and support, research and funding) that they deserve.

So, for this post, I’ll focus on the risk-factor type Inequality of Political Access. It refers to anything which disadvantages a groups ability to engage in the governance and change mechanisms of their society.

What this emphasises, is that it’s the process that is significant. The problem isn’t that someone’s political party lost the election, or that things didn’t go their way. The risk-factor is the sense that the system was somehow unfair. That they didn’t get the opportunity that other people did. This could be direct: such as if a particular group isn’t allowed to vote, or if the location of an election means a group is effectively excluded. Or it could be less direct: such as participation in change processes requiring communication in a language that not everyone is fluent in. Maybe change mechanisms are corrupt, or too inefficient to be effective. Perhaps people don’t have the information or knowledge they feel they need to participate. Maybe people don’t trust governance processes, or perhaps there aren’t any opportunities to engage in governance or change at all.

And there’s no perfect community— these inequalities exist everywhere. But the things limiting political access in New Zealand will be different to the things limiting political access in South Africa, and it will be different again in Brazil. There will be differences between urban and rural communities, and so too is it different in 2022 to how it will be in 2052. Our communities are different across time, place and culture, so the things that limit political access are different across time, place and culture as well. And when the manifestation of risk-factors is different, it follows that the Proactive Peace Work undertaken to address these issues will need to be different too.

Which is why Proactive Peace is community-based. Who could have a better idea of the things limiting political access in a community than the people who live there? If you reflect on your own community, you will probably realise that you have a good idea of what things are limiting political access…especially if you are the one who is excluded! (and if you’re interested in doing this in some depth, you might like this post here).

And it is when we know what our local risk-factors are that we start to pay attention to what our Proactive Peace Work is (or could be!). Proactive Peace Work will be just as varied as risk-factors, but for example, could be things like: campaigning for universal suffrage; getting a language recognised as official; getting people registered to vote; a court case to hold a corrupt official to account; or starting a more inclusive media outlet.

There are probably as many different ways of ensuring equal political access as there have been human communities. What we have in common though, is our need to be able to participate. If we’re making that happen, then we’re doing peace work.

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  1. Pingback: So what are risk-factors? | Proactive Peace

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