Author: Lilian Kiefer, June 19 2015 - Discrimination and marginalisation have lasting effects in that they take away human dignity. Discrimination means to be treated in a negatively different way because of certain real or perceived characteristics deemed undesirable. Discrimination causes marginalisation, pushing the people that are discriminated against to the fringes of the mainstream society. Discrimination could be on a socio-cultural, political and legal basis, as follows:

  • Socio-cultural: Discrimination occurs where the social norms and values deem certain characteristics about someone, or some group,  as undesirable and opt to treat them negatively. For example, a societal norm that attaches importance of an individual’s standing due to their wealth only values contributions from wealthy people and disregards ideas of the poor, who may actually have the best ideas. In such cases, the suffering of the wealthy is considered more important than that of the poor.
  • Political: This is where holders of certain political ideals deem other political ideals undesirable or unacceptable, and, therefore, people affiliated to or subscribing to different or undesirable political ideals get treated negatively.
  • Legal: This is where legal provisions disadvantage certain groups. For example, the current constitution protects unfair treatment of women and girls under the ‘Protection of Customary Personal Law’ (article 23), which safeguards certain cultural practices that undermine the dignity of women and girls, such as child marriages under the Customary Marriages Act, whereby a girl who reaches puberty is deemed as old enough to be married.

Marginalised groups get limited or no protection from crimes committed against them. Treating people as lesser humans dehumanises them. Marginalised people are denied of equality which is due to every human being, robbing them of their inherent dignity. The underlying factors behind marginalisation include:

  • Prejudice: making conclusions about people based on preconceived opinions about someone in a similar situation. Oftentimes, prejudice is incorrect.
  • Ignorance: making judgement based on inadequate or lack of understanding and/or in-depth knowledge about a particular group of people.
  • Fear: Being afraid of what you don’t know about a particular group.
  • Opportunism:  (for example, politicians exploiting fear of marginalised groups, in order to draw attention away from their own shortcomings during election campaigns.

Marginalisation also perpetuates abuse by society, often promoted by hate speech. When a particular group is marginalised, society finds it acceptable to abuse them with impunity. In some cases, law enforcers have taken the law into their own hands to victimise the weak in society when they see that the society marginalises them. For example, sex workers are arrested for loitering, and police officers demand sex from them without pay, saying they deserve it. This is a violation because sex workers are human beings who deserve to consent to a sexual activity. 

Marginalisation, inequalities, abuse and other challenges force marginalised people to fear being part of the mainstream society, let alone to effectively and fairly compete for resources. This leads to extreme deprivation, impoverishment and social exclusion. In some instances, society perpetuates exclusion by failing to create opportunities for marginalised people to get involved, for example,  the failure to include sign language or braille in HIV/AIDS education programmes excludes those who cannot use the conventional kind of communication.

This limits their opportunities to access productive activities and leads to extreme poverty and growing inequalities and pulls down the profile of the whole society.

This is the motivation for Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf) to work towards creation of platforms for the extreme poor and marginalised populations of our society to ensure that the voices of the poor people are heard in order to reduce their marginalisation and address inequalities.

In conclusion, it is therefore critical to be conscious of marginalisation in society in order to effectively address the prejudices behind it. It is important to understand that marginalisation of one group affects the welfare of the whole society.  We all have a role to play in making lives of marginalised people better. Marginalisation should not be tolerated, whatever circumstance. It is our calling to end marginalisation.

Lilian Kiefer is executive director of Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf). For feedback, email This article was first published in the Zambia Daily Mail.