Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Institutionalized Inequality in the Age of Reform

It is difficult to talk about a single social policy issue because no social issue occurs in isolation. As Audre Lorde tells us, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” Thus, the social policy team set out to explore the status of education, health, and Afro-Colombians. In societies with egregious inequality such as Colombia, education and socioeconomic status are key social determinants of a population’s health. At the same time, we know that poor health affects educational achievement and socioeconomic status. Moreover, a population’s socioeconomic status affects their level of education and their health. How then do we parse out the connections between these three issues?
Our presentation reviewed the inequalities that persist in the educational and health system, giving particular attention to how those inequalities play out for Afro-Colombians. Since the process of decentralization, Colombia has undergone a series of health reforms, namely La Ley 100/1993 which established a managed competition model of health care with the goal of achieving universal health care and improving equity.  Colombia has also implemented novel education programs such as Escuela Nueva and Familias en Acción that have helped achieve nearly universal primary school coverage. Despite these efforts, inequalities still persist in both systems, and in some cases the policies have only reinforced inequality. A comparison between Afro-Colombians and the non-minority ethnic population (white and/or mestizo) along a series of indicators such as illiteracy, level of education, life expectancy, and health care coverage reveals how Colombia’s development initiatives aren’t reaching the Afro-Colombian population.
We outlined the history of Afro-Colombians, how Mestizaje ideology, discrimination, and color-blind racism fostered a hostile environment for Afro-Colombians, and relevant policies like Constitutional Court Order 005/2009 aimed at addressing the situation of Afro-Colombians, to further contextualize our research questions. Colombian UM PhD candidates Angela Perez, Ingrid Sanchez, and Monica Hernandez joined us to share their perspectives from the field.
This exploration should serve not only to elucidate the situation in Colombia, but as a mirror of our own problems of racial inequality at home. Colombia, a developing country that ranks lower than the U.S. on every development measure, displays health and education disparities along racial lines comparable to trends in the U.S., especially in cities like Detroit and Chicago. Oppression everywhere is an outrage and we hope our research gives you pause for thought.
Panel Discussion (From left to right: Angela Perez, Ingrid Sanchez, Monica Hernandez)

The Social Policy Team (From left to Right: Ronisha Harvey, Eboni Wells, Marisol Ramos, Ine Collins, Dionisio Garcia Piriz)

By: Ine Collins, University of Michigan School of Public Health, MPH Candidate '13

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