While the constitution and other legal provisions have recognised social justice as an obligation, socio-economic situation of the country has yet to be transformed to realise the spirit of the legal mandate. In today's society, poverty and inequality continue to be pressing issues that affect millions of people worldwide. Nepal still hosts millions of people who continue to suffer poverty and inequality. Social justice is impossible under such situation. This article is an attempt to delve into the disparities in wealth, income, and opportunities among different regions and social groups. It will also explore strategies that can be crafted and implemented to alleviate poverty and promote social justice for all in the country.
Poverty refers to a state of deprivation, where individuals or communities lack access to basic necessities such as food, shelter, healthcare, and education. Inequality, on the other hand, refers to the unequal distribution of resources, opportunities, and rewards within a society. These two issues often go hand in hand, perpetuating a cycle of disadvantage for marginalised and poor groups. Sometimes, inequality is worse than poverty. It divides society and undermines peace and harmony and thereby social justice is not attained.
One of the key indicators of inequality is the unequal distribution of wealth and income across different section of the population. Wealth disparity occurs when a small percentage of the population controls a significant portion of the resources, while the majority struggle to meet their basic needs. Income inequality, on the other hand, highlights the gap between high earners and those living on meagre wages. Prevalence of these both situations is against the spirit of social justice.
Poverty and inequality are not evenly distributed across regions. There are across country and within country disparities. Developing countries often face higher poverty rates due to limited economic opportunities and inadequate infrastructure. They are also deceived by global economic governance. Furthermore, rural areas within countries may experience greater disparities compared to urban centres, where access to education, healthcare, and employment is more readily available. Despite federalism, such inequality is still seen in Nepal. Humala and Jhapa are not same.
Inequality can also be observed among different social groups. Factors such as gender, race, ethnicity, and disability can significantly influence an individual's access to resources and opportunities. Social hierarchies across these lines create, recreate and perpetuate such economic disparities. Marginalised communities still often face systemic barriers that limit their chances of social mobility and perpetuate cycles of poverty.
Various researches reveal that various factors contribute to the persistence of poverty and inequality in any society. These include lack of education and skills, limited job prospects, inadequate social protection, discrimination, and unequal distribution of power and resources. There are both individual and social factors. Understanding these factors is crucial in developing effective strategies to address the root causes of these issues.
Poverty and inequality have far-reaching adverse consequences for individuals and societies. They hinder economic growth, perpetuate social unrest, and lead to a myriad of social and health problems. High levels of poverty and inequality can also exacerbate existing disparities and hinder progress towards sustainable development goals. Other national development goals such as LDC graduation are also not possible without countering poverty and inequality.
Addressing poverty and inequality requires a comprehensive approach that encompasses economic, social, cultural and political dimensions. Here are some strategies that can contribute to poverty alleviation and promote social justice: Investing in quality education and skill development programmes can empower individuals to break free from the cycle of poverty. Accessible and inclusive education equips people with the knowledge and skills necessary for employment and economic empowerment. A research shows that better educated people earn more than those who have not acquired quality education.
Creating job opportunities, particularly in sectors that cater to marginalised communities, is crucial for reducing poverty and inequality. Promoting entrepreneurship and providing vocational training can empower individuals to become self-sufficient and contribute to the economy. Indeed, employment is by far the most prominent social protection. Ensuring universal access to basic services such as healthcare, clean water, sanitation, and housing is essential for poverty reduction. Governments and organisations should work together to improve infrastructure and provide essential services to underserved communities. Privatisation of these services may not ensure access for all and thereby poverty and inequality may continue.
Establishing social safety nets, such as welfare programmes and unemployment benefits, can provide temporary assistance to individuals facing financial hardship. These safety nets act as a cushion and help prevent vulnerable populations from falling into deeper poverty. They ensure smooth livelihood during adverse conditions. Efforts to eliminate discrimination and marginalisation are crucial for achieving social justice. Policies and initiatives that promote equal rights, combat racism and sexism, and ensure equal opportunities for all can contribute to a more equitable society which our constitution has aspired for. Empowering vulnerable groups, such as women, children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities, is equally paramount in addressing poverty and inequality.
Providing support, protection, and opportunities for these groups can enable their full participation in society and have secured livelihoods. In sum, poverty and inequality pose significant challenges to societies worldwide. Nepal is not an exception to this. By understanding the disparities in wealth, income, and opportunities among different regions and social groups, we can work towards implementing above-stated effective strategies to alleviate poverty and promote social justice. Progresses have been made, but they are below expectation and slow. It is crucial for governments, organisations, and individuals to come together and create a more equitable and inclusive future for all. This is how social justice can be ensured.
(Dr. Bhusal is an expert in poverty, employment and social protection.)