Journalism and gender equality

13. What is positive discrimination? /

Positive discrimination, affirmative action, de-discrimination or measures to redress inequalities is a policy, measure or law which aims to favour, through preferential treatment, a category of persons who are usually subject to discrimination because of their social, ethnic or religious origin, gender, age or disability. Thus, by means of an unequal and temporary arrangement, positive discrimination aims to re-establish equal opportunities. It can help very disadvantaged populations, but generally does not solve the problem at the root of inequality or discrimination.

A social lift for equal opportunities

This notion originated in the United States with “affirmative action”. It was created not only in favour of descendants of slaves but also for all citizens who were victims of any kind of discrimination. Launched by President Kennedy and established in 1961 to encourage employers to take positive measures for the employment and treatment of African-American employees. However, it should be noted that Donald Trump has had many of the guidelines put in place to promote minorities overturned.

 This label covers, wherever it applies, a series of preferential measures with a threefold objective: catching up between unequal groups, combating discrimination, promoting “diversity”,

It can also be found in the form of

  • creation of  recruitment or  university enrolment quotas.
  • tax measures that favour the hiring of certain disadvantaged categories

Grandes Écoles in the age of positive discrimination

In France, for example, from 2001 onwards, the Institut d’Etudes Politiques (IEP) in Paris was one of the first institutions to set up an affirmative action programme. A special admission procedure for high school students from a Priority Education Zone has been introduced; they are exempt from entrance examinations and are recruited on the basis of a dossier and an interview. They then benefit from the normal IEP student training, which enables them to occupy positions in the senior civil service. The socialist minister Najat Vallaud Belkakacem (under François Hollande) benefited from this special procedure.

Catching up between unequal groups

 “You can’t give back freedom to a man who for years has been shackled by chains, bring him up to the starting line of a race and believe that you have been completely fair.” US President Lyndon Johnson’s famous metaphor reveals the spirit of the first positive discrimination measures, as it enabled more ethnic minority students to attend universities.

Positive discrimination does not seek to combat poverty, but to reduce the gap between different groups. The chosen strategy is to create social, economic or political elites among those seeking to be integrated into global society, who are then expected to play a leading role in the overall progress of the group. The effort therefore focuses on the middle and upper classes who are to be helped to reach the social positions they would “normally” occupy in the absence of discrimination.

 In South Africa, the African National Congress (ANC) came to power in 1994. Faced with a catastrophic economic and social situation, they decided to tackle the inequalities and injustices inherited from apartheid. The main measure adopted by the government is the “Employment Equity” law. It aims to give more space in the labour market to categories of South Africans, including women and the disabled, who are victims of discrimination. This text has been used almost exclusively in favour of black South Africans.

Dissolving the stereotypes of some and the feeling of illegitimacy.

Positive discrimination, which appeared as a one-off and temporary derogation from the principle of equal treatment, led to the quota policy.

Quotas in favour of women”, for example, are said to better represent the category of “women“, who are today seen as under-represented in certain circles of society, particularly in the senior civil service and in the sphere of politics.

In Tanzania: While the Constitution provided for equal rights for men and women in terms of political participation in the governance of the country, this equality did not materialise naturally in the National Assembly. A quota system in the form of reserved seats was gradually introduced from 1985 onwards. The goal was to move from an initial 10% quota to a 50% quota for women by 2015. These seats are filled by both elected women and women nominated by the parties themselves when the number of women elected is insufficient.

There is positive action as well as positive discrimination. In the private sector in Madagascar, and in other countries, for example, a percentage of apprenticeship and work places will be reserved for women, or women will be allowed to retire earlier than men.

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