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Increasing marginalized people’s participation in political decision-making, whether in the customary or conventional governance sphere, is important for a number of reasons, not least because exclusion and discrimination of these groups have been a key factor in political and civil conflict. Equal and inclusive participation of a diverse citizenry in public and private life is a fundamental aspect of a peaceful and just society. Thus, improving opportunities for previously marginalized groups to participate in democratic institutions and mechanisms has often had a conflict-prevention effect However, majority communities sometimes react with resentment to the inclusion of marginalized groups.
Indeed dealing with the potential backlash from dominant groups is one of the many challenges that I found myself dealing with in my work as a Minister with the Government of Sweden, as well as during my tenure as a member of the European Commission and at the United Nations. While reading through this International IDEA publication titled Overcoming Political Exclusion: Strategies for marginalized groups to successfully engage in political decision-making, I have been reminded of many of these challenges. A resource of this nature would have provided some useful insights into strategies to overcome such obstacles. Importantly, the insights communicated in this publication are from people themselves confronting human rights injustices, narrating in their own voices the discrimination they have faced.
These injustices range from long-standing discrimination and in some cases exploitation of women and girls in customary governance to the exclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersexual people in the context of conventional governance. As I have noted in my work with the European Commission, participatory and effective democratic practice requires that policy makers actively listen to the citizenry, and in particular, people’s experiences of discriminatory practices.