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In every country, some groups confront barriers that prevent them from fully participating in political, economic, and social life. These groups may be excluded not only through legal systems, land, and labor markets, but also discriminatory or stigmatizing attitudes, beliefs, or perceptions. Disadvantage is often based on gender, age, location, occupation, race, ethnicity, religion, citizenship status, disability, and sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI), among other factors. This kind of social exclusion robs individuals of dignity, security, and the opportunity to lead a better life. Unless the root causes of structural exclusion and discrimination are addressed, it will be challenging to support sustainable inclusive growth and rapid poverty reduction. 

The COVID-19 pandemic put the spotlight on deep-rooted systemic inequalities. As COVID-19 continues to have wide-reaching impacts across the globe, it is important to understand the differentiated and intensified impact the pandemic has on the most marginalized, including women, persons with disabilities, unemployed youth, sexual and gender minorities, the elderly, Indigenous Peoples, and ethnic and racial minorities. For example, many persons with disabilities have underlying health conditions that made them particularly vulnerable to severe symptoms of COVID-19. Women and children have been  affected by increasing rates of domestic violence as a result of lockdowns and increased stress on households. Many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex people have struggled more than ever to access health services and are overrepresented among those without access to social security. In some contexts, groups who have historically faced barriers to access to health systems due to discrimination on ethnic or racial grounds have had higher mortality rates than other groups and have experienced difficulty accessing information about the pandemic, access to equitable care, and access to vaccines.

Social inclusion is the right thing to do, and it also makes good economic sense. Left unaddressed, the exclusion of disadvantaged groups can be costly. At the individual level, the most commonly measured impacts include the loss of wages, lifetime earnings, poor education, and employment outcomes. Racism and discrimination also have physical and mental health costs. At the national level, the economic cost of social exclusion can be captured by foregone gross domestic product (GDP) and human capital wealth.

Exclusion, or the perception of exclusion, may cause certain groups to opt out of markets, services, and spaces, with costs to both individuals and the economyGlobally, the loss in human capital wealth due to gender inequality alone is estimated at $160.2 trillionAfro-descendants continue to experience significantly higher levels of poverty (2.5 times higher in Latin America). 90 percent of children with disabilities in developing countries do not attend school. In many countries, it is especially difficult to tackle LGBTI exclusion, discrimination, and violence. To date, 70 countries continue to criminalize homosexuality.

Over time, exclusion can also contribute to social tensions and even risks of violence and conflict, with significant long-term social and economic costs.

Social inclusion is vital to achieving the World Bank Group’s twin goals of ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity. The World Bank’s Environmental and Social Framework (ESF), which applies to all investment project financing, emphasizes that social inclusion is critical for all of the World Bank’s development interventions and for achieving sustainable development.

That is why the World Bank has prioritized an inclusive recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, the recent IDA20 Final Replenishment Report has an increased emphasis on inclusion, with 14 out of 41 Policy Commitments explicitly mentioning inclusion. The current crisis has to be seen as opportunity to focus on the rebuilding more inclusive systems that allow society as a whole to be more resilient to future shocks, whether health, climate, natural disasters, or social unrest.

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Washington, D.C.
Laura Ivers