SAN JOSE, Costa Rica, August 29, 2018—Afro-descendants in Latin America have made important progress in poverty reduction and in gaining recognition and a voice for their agenda, but more needs to be done to remove the structural barriers that prevent their full social and economic inclusion, according to a new World Bank report.
One in four Latin Americans identifies as an Afro-descendant, some 133 million people. The broad majority live in Brazil, with the rest unevenly dispersed across the other countries. They also make up a disproportionately large share of the poor, according to the report Afro-descendants in Latin America: Toward a Framework of Inclusion presented in San Jose Wednesday.
“This report is an important step towards better understanding the conditions in which Afro-descendants live to help foster social inclusion and improve their economic situation across Latin America,” said Costa Rica Vice President and Foreign Minister Epsy Campbell.
Afro-descendants are 2.5 times more likely to be chronically poor than whites or mestizos. In Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Peru, and Uruguay combined, Afro-descendants represent 38 percent of the total population, but about half of all the people living in extreme poverty. In addition, they have fewer years of education, they are more often unemployed, and are vastly underrepresented in both public and private decision-making positions.
“Addressing the causes of structural discrimination will be key to fighting injustice and creating opportunities for all,” said Jorge Familiar, World Bank Vice-President for Latin America and Caribbean. “Eliminating the conditions that limit the full inclusion of Afro-descendants will make Latin American societies more just, egalitarian, and prosperous.”
Despite the ongoing challenges, significant progress was made in recent years, according to the report. The past decade saw a remarkable improvement in the living conditions of many Afro-descendants, who benefitted from the broad reduction in poverty in the region. For example, over 50 percent of Afro-descendant households were lifted out of poverty in Brazil and Uruguay, and more than 20 percent of them in Ecuador and Peru. Afro-descendants also saw greater access to education across the region.
A political class of Afro-descendants emerged and organizations have pushed many countries to include constitutional provisions concerning discrimination, land rights, and recognition of ethno-racial groups. Other countries have ratified legal instruments to safeguard the rights of persons of African descent, including affirmative action, awareness campaigns, and antidiscrimination legislation, as well as their inclusion in the census.
But much more needs to be done to address the complex problem of exclusion, which is at the heart of the World Bank’s efforts to level the playing field. The goal is to improve the opportunities and access to services and markets for excluded groups in ways that respect their views and aspirations. Afro-descendants are a heterogeneous population so policies need to be tailored to the specific conditions of each country, subregion, and, often, each situation.
To do this, for example, more and better data is needed, beyond censuses, which were an important but only first step. Policies need to have clear and measurable goals, in key areas such as educational attainment, employment opportunities, and equal wages. In addition, racial stereotypes need to be addressed and eliminated. Afro-descendant organizations should be empowered to increase their voice, participation and bargaining power, building on the progress made in recent years by their leaders.
According to the report, the growing recognition of Afro-descendants represents a long-overdue break from a past that began with one of the darkest chapters of Latin American history: slavery and its egregious legacy of social exclusion.