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Structural racism reinforces colonial dynamics in global development, says report


An international peacebuilding charity is calling on international aid organisations to decolonise aid and tackle structural racism head-on in a new report.

Time to Decolonise Aid: Insights and lessons from a global consultation is a study by Peace Direct about the colonial legacy of the aid system and outlines the steps needed to transform power relations towards greater equality.

For the report, Peace Direct, Adeso, the Alliance for Peacebuilding and Women of Color Advancing Peace and Security held a three-day online consultation with 158 activists, decision- makers, academics, journalists and practitioners across the globe. Participants and guest contributors exchanged insights and local experiences on the current power dynamics and imbalances that exist within the humanitarian, development and peacebuilding sectors. 

They discussed how structural racism manifests itself in their work, and how they envision a decolonised system that is truly inclusive and responds to their needs. The consultation received more than 350 detailed comments across nine discussion threads, with the report presenting the findings and recommendations from that consultation. 

The report’s key findings include: 

Most organisations and donors in the Global North are reluctant to acknowledge that current practices and attitudes in the aid system are derived from the colonial era and certain modern-day practices and norms reinforce colonial dynamics and beliefs such as the ‘White saviour’ ideology. 
 The influence of structural racism is so deeply embedded in the everyday culture and working practice of those in the sector that it has affected the way local staff regard their own communities and how they engage with INGOs.
 Some of the language used in the aid system reinforces discriminatory and racist perceptions of non-White populations. The phrase ‘capacity building’ was cited as one example that suggests that local communities and organisations lack skills, while other terms, such as ‘field expert’ perpetuate images of the Global South as ‘uncivilised.’
 Structural racism benefits organisations in the Global North and also those from the Global South who know how to ‘play’ the system. 
 Programme and research design are rooted in Western values and knowledge systems meaning that many programmes inadvertently create a standard based on the West that communities in the Global South are required to meet. Local knowledge is, by default, devalued.
 The challenges faced by individual practitioners of colour are amplified if they belong to other marginalised groups, including women, the LGBTQ community, the disabled community, the non-Anglophone community.
 The report shares a variety of recommendations to effectively ensure inclusion of marginalised communities. From encouraging conversations about power, investing in indigenous knowledge, and making changes in recruitment, fundraising, communications, and research. 

CEO at Peace Direct, Dylan Mathews said: 

“We believe that local communities are key to preventing, resolving and healing conflicts but in order for them to play their vital role, the sector that funds, facilitates and empowers their work, needs to decolonise. Only when this happens, through greater equality, will we start to see the global change needed to achieve conflict resolution.”


“We call on all international aid organisations to tackle the issue of structural racism head-on.”

Image: detail from report cover. Credit: Nash Weerasekera // The Jacky Winter Group

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