Why do looks limit?

Written by Valentina Frank


Have you ever seen a photo of a beautiful person and ended up in front of a mirror unconsciously comparing yourself with the photo? The more you look at yourself, the more flaws you find in your appearance, and your self-esteem can easily be affected. In today’s world, you constantly get brainwashed into thinking that you are not enough the way you are and should change your looks to become a “better person”. I recently wrote a blog post regarding the issues of beauty standards, but I feel there is so much more to research and study on the subject. This time, I didn’t have an aim for where I was going with my post; I just started surfing the internet on beauty standards and looks. With the help of photos and images, I want to analyze and give my thoughts on this subject.


I started by simply googling “beautiful woman”, and in just the blink of an eye, my screen was filled with dozens and dozens of beautiful women. Most of the women that popped up as the definition of a beautiful woman were white. I noticed only a handful of “genuinely” colored women when scrolling through the images. Many women probably have different ethnic backgrounds, but with the help of makeup, hairstyling, and heavy photoshop, they were whitewashed to fit the norm of the beauty standards. I made a quick google search on what the biggest ethnic group in the world is; Han-Chinese. What stunned me was that I had to scroll through the pictures of the beautiful women for quite a while until I came across a picture of a woman who could fit the standards of a Han-Chinese. It is very odd that only one picture could represent the biggest ethnic group in the world amongst the hundreds of photos. However, it is an eye-opener to how Eurocentric our beauty standards are.


Beautiful woman”


I then went on to type “handsome man” in my google search, and I was shocked. Several handsome men popped up on my screen, but all of them were white! It took me quite a few scrolls to find a man with a different ethnic background than a Caucasian white, and when I finally found one, he was heavily whitewashed. I scrolled through the whole first page of “handsome men” and was shocked to notice that I didn’t come across a single black man; keep in mind that I went through several hundreds of different photos. The lack of representation of people of color in our society is unfortunate and there is no wonder that non-white people feel excluded when it comes to beauty standards.

Handsome man”


People with disabilities in our society are another group of people who face constant exclusion, and the risk of them being marginalized is significant. About 15% of the world population experience some sort of disability, yet the representation of people with disabilities in the context of beauty is almost non-existent. Recently I came across an article about the first girl with down syndrome to become Victoria’s Secret model. Victoria’s Secret as a brand feeds off people’s insecurities and their desire of looking like runway models. It’s no surprise that people would like to look like the beautiful women representing the brand; I mean they are some of the most beautiful women we’ve ever seen. The issue is that the life behind the scenes of the runway models is not glamorous at all. Starvation, invasion of privacy, and unrealistic expectations of their looks are just the iceberg tip. The fact that a girl with a visual disability has been accepted to represent a brand as heavily concentrated on looks as Victoria’s secret is a sign that we are slowly moving in the right direction. People who suffer from disabilities- or anyone who feels they can’t fit the norm of beauty, can now refer to a supermodel, gain confidence, and truly understand that they are as beautiful as anyone, despite their imperfections.


Victoria’s Secret models”


“Sofia Jirau, the first Victoria’s Secret model with down syndrome”


In my previous blog post, I explained how we become limited and exclude ourselves from society due to our insecurities. We feel anxious that our imperfections will define us as human beings, and therefore we want to protect ourselves by hiding them. The issue is that these so-called “imperfections” most often are only in our heads. It would help if you did not exclude yourself from society because you feel you don’t fit perfectly to beauty standards. I mean, who really fits? Almost everybody has insecurities, meaning most people think they can’t define themselves as “perfect”. So why even strive for perfection? It is such an unrealistic aim. What you can do instead is to think about what you define as beautiful. Not what the media or the society thinks. What does the definition of beautiful mean to you? Then you try to change your aim and strive for that without caring about what’s important to others.


Because at the end of it all, why do we even care about looks? What matters is the way we act towards one another, and everyone should be able to enjoy their life without being limited by the way they look.



Fleming, E. (2021) “What is the most common race in the world?”, Sidmartinibio.org Available: https://www.sidmartinbio.org/what-is-the-most-common-race-in-the-world/

Infogram. “Race of the world population” Available:


Basaninyenzi, U.(2021) “Disabilitiy inclusion”, Worldbank.org Available: https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/disability#1

Weigel, M. (2019) “What Life Is Really Like For A Victoria’s Secret Model”

Ranker.com Available:


Acevedo, N. (2022) “First Victoria’s Secret model with Down syndrome is Latina” Nbcnews.com, Available:

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/first-victorias-secret-model-syndrome-latina-rc na16533

Photo by Zoey Grossman, published by glamour.com (2022)

Available: https://www.glamour.com/story/sofia-jirau-makes-history-as-the-first-victorias-secretmodel-with-down-syndrome

Photo by Evan Agostini, published by wbur.org (2020) Available:


Twisted Standards of Beauty

Written by Valentina Frank


The world circles around appearances and the idea of what beauty constantly changes, far more quickly than one should be expected to change oneself. Yet, people continuously want to live up to those standards. Why, though? Why is it so important to be “beautiful” in society’s eyes?


If we take Finland as an example, it is immediately an advantage if you are attractive. It is easier for you to find a job, friends, partners, or to get by in your everyday life. The Finnish beauty standards are, for instance, being slim, tall, blonde, fit, healthy-looking, etc. The most significant beauty standard of them all, even though it can only be read between the lines, is being white. And that is a big issue. If you are not white, you are instantly in a lower position compared to a typical scandi. This is naturally something that is not only an issue in Finland but also a problem that occurs in the whole western world. Since I am white, meaning I have never experienced any prejudices due to my skin color, I don’t feel I am in a position to present the issue of racial injustice as I can’t in any way relate to the problems of color. I recently got the opportunity to participate in a lecture by Jasmin Slimani about the lack of representation of Afro-Finnish women in the Finnish beauty standards. It was eye-opening, and she explained well the issues she and other Afro-Finnish women have had to experience living in an all-white country. Her lecture got me thinking about what experiences I have regarding the issues of beauty standards, and since this world is far from perfect, I found plenty.


In the world we live in today, the power social media has on beauty and how it impacts people is, to be honest, quite frightening. Overnight, a new trend pops up, and suddenly you are expected to look a certain way. People, especially young girls, can get a malformed idea of beauty. And why not young boys, too. They think that to be attractive; they will have to be perfect-skinned, fit, athletic, feminine, or masculine, you name it! These are very unrealistic expectations of what a beautiful person should look like. Yet we constantly strive for looking like the photo-shopped supermodels on the internet. We are manipulated into thinking that we are better and become more successful by being beautiful in terms of beauty standards. And yes, it is true that “attractive” people have more advantages in life, but why does it have to be that way?


As a young woman in my early 20s, I can most definitely say I’ve experienced the pressures of social media. I remember feeling anxiety about not having that many followers on Instagram from my early teens compared to the “popular girls”. Why were my selfies not pretty enough? Why was I not cool enough? The constant comparison to other girls was never-ending. Fortunately, in my early teens, social media did not have quite the impact as it has these days. Today the constant reminder to change yourself for the better is exhausting. I could not even imagine going through my most fragile teenage years with society’s “ demands “ on young girls. For example, the amount of advertisements for cosmetic surgery is alarming. Young people are encouraged to get procedures on their bodies to make themselves pretty. Romanticizing cosmetic surgery is something common, and it is everyday life in today’s society for teens to talk about what procedures they want to get done when they are adults. In other words, children fantasize about going under the knife to look beautiful, and it is unfortunate.


There are different ways to fit the beauty standards portrayed in social media into a question of social exclusion. Social media platforms are widely used worldwide, and beauty standards differ from country to country. That being said, prejudices towards “wrong” looking people are unfortunately widespread. Biases often lead people, who stand out from the norms, to be excluded or left out of different opportunities. When you meet someone new, you often categorize them by how they look; you give them a gender, race, ethnicity, etc. This often happens unconsciously and makes people with prejudices treat those they find differently. This causes a form of social exclusion. For example, people who wear garments that imply a different religion than the norm are often having a more challenging time finding employment or lodging since their way of looking is not what is considered the standard of beauty.


Beauty standards are not something that excludes people only on, e.g. social media. For instance, many children and teenagers are pressured to look a certain way to fit in the school environment. A significant majority of children have access to social media and have access to be affected by beauty standards. The issue is that there are no beauty standards “for children,” which leads to children wanting to look like adults. Many young girls try to dress more revealingly, use heavy makeup and enhance certain body parts to look more like their adult idols on Instagram. As a result, even more, children are trying to act and look like adults, and the children who are not (yet) affected by these beauty standards, are getting left out and bullied simply for looking like children. As a solution, some schools have introduced school uniforms to minimize the inequality between students and the risks of someone getting excluded by how they look. Naturally, school uniforms cause many other issues, but that is another discussion.


I find it very interesting that people’s insecurity often excludes them from social situations regarding beauty standards. Most people have some issues with their appearances. Still, usually, those insecurities are only in their heads, meaning that others won’t necessarily even notice them, and therefore people are unlikely to be excluded from society due to them. You will not (or at least I hope so) get declined service for not having a small nose or not having a thigh gap, but what is common is that you might limit yourself from doing things because of such thoughts. For instance, some people don’t like going to the beach because they are insecure about their bodies that may not present the current “bikini body” shape. They feel left out because they refuse to show their perfectly normal body, only because they don’t fit in the image of a stereotype. The problem is that only a small percentage of people fill up the expectations social media portrays. Despite knowing that, we constantly strive to change ourselves into the twisted ideals of these photo-shopped beauty standards. People who suffer from visible disabilities might not want to participate in social events because they are ashamed or feel uneasy due to their disabilities. Hence, they are socially excluded by these beauty standards. It is important not to blame these people for being left out. Instead, we should blame society for accepting that beauty standards are twisted and malformed and for not making an active effort to make a change.


The existing beauty standards persist due to our relations with other people. We constantly compare ourselves with others, and we always feel that somebody else is better looking, more intelligent, funnier or more successful than we are. Beauty standards would not exist without the never-ending comparison. Due to social media, we are exposed to the standards daily, and we maintain the feeling of not being enough by comparing our lives with other people. We exclude ourselves from others by thinking that we are odd with our imperfections, while every other person is perfect. We forget that all of us have our issues, everyone has insecurities, and you are the definition of perfect for someone else. And that’s not the way it should be because your definition of perfect should be you. Exactly the way you are.



Roets, A.(2011) Research States That Prejudice Comes From a Basic Human Need and Way of Thinking

PsychologicalScience.org, Available: https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/releases/research-states-that-prejudice-c omes-from-a-basic-human-need-and-way-of-thinking.html

Silver, H. (2015) Social exclusion, Brown University.

Researchgate.net, Available: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/319557578_Social_Exclusion

Treacy, S. (2018) Social Media Users Negatively Affected by Social Media Posts

That Make Them Feel Excluded

Electronics360.globalspec.com, Available: https://electronics360.globalspec.com/article/12905/social-media-users-negatively-af fected-by-social-media-posts-that-make-them-feel-excluded

Fetto, F. (2019) The beauty industry is still failing black women Theguardian.com, Available: https://www.theguardian.com/global/2019/sep/29/funmi-fetto-happy-in-my-skin-beaut y-industry-diversity

Slimani, J. (2021) Mirror, mirror on the wall, why am I not the fairest? – an

Afrocentric approach to the lack of representation of Afro-Finnish women within the

Finnish beauty standard, Åbo Akademi University, Faculty of Arts, Psychology, and

Theology Available:



Pagtakhan, A. (2021) Beauty standards create fear of exclusion for young girls Riversideeddy.ca, Available: https://riversideeddy.ca/beauty-standards-create-fear-of-exclusion-for-young-girls/.

Procon.org (2020) Pro and con: School uniforms, Available: https://www.britannica.com/story/pro-and-con-school-uniforms

Focusing In: The Outcomes of Exclusionary U.S. Higher Education Policy

Written by Steve Huerta Raygoza


In the last blog, I discussed how research conducted in higher education in the U.S. had been co-opted to benefit corporate interests. I also discussed that the cost of education is rising in public universities and, the recently more numerous, private for-profit universities. These aspects of the privatization of higher education are crucial to understanding when analyzing how these conceptual borders are created and maintained. It is essential to, at this time, discuss one of the significant events that led to this shift in the purpose of higher education. In the late Twentieth Century, the World Bank set the worldwide plan for higher education. It issued a report that said there needs to shift from the “basic needs approach” to one that called for universal primary education, the progressive privatization of secondary and higher education.[1, 2] This shift continues today as the World Bank continues to push for the expansion of Public-Private Partnerships in Ghana and Nepal[3]. To understand the goals for this shift, we need to continue building on the analytical framework from the previous blog.


Within this context, we need to understand that this new stage of globalized capitalism has distinct needs for the global labour supply, particularly those coming from higher education. It needs organic intellectuals that will strategize for the system, and it needs a vast group of people doing routine deskilled labour intended to support the development of transnational capital.[4] The overwhelming majority of the world’s population that does not pursue higher education is seen as surplus humanity. Their resources are to be extracted, and their labour is exploited to generate value for the transnational elite. This is the World Bank’s vision for education, and it is why we are observing these systems of Social Exclusion and perpetuation of conceptual borders today.


Crushing Debt and Credit

In the United States, the total student debt is $1,61 Trillion, accumulated from 43,4 million borrowers. In 2004, that number was a mere $345 billion.[5] That is an increase of 467% in less than two decades. This debt that 43 million people have accumulated is, perhaps, one of the most extensive methods of social control, and it works to perpetuate Social Exclusion by creating several conceptual borders. Firstly, it is essential to understand that high-impact loans disproportionately affect the poorest, sub-employed, ethnically/racially oppressed, and precarious dimensions of the working class. This massive amount of debt serves as an enormous claim on the future wages of the working class, and it also works to make sure that they have the most challenging time earning enough even to begin paying it off.

Figure from “Forbes”[6]


In the U.S., credit reports have become an effective mechanism of Social Exclusion. Private companies and government positions sometimes require credit checks, and some discriminate based on bad credit, particularly for those in “sensitive positions.”[7] This prevents a significant portion of the population from working in specific careers. As wages stagnate over time[8], paying off these loans becomes impossible. One of the most critical aspects of this credit system is creating these conceptual borders around homeownership. Bad credit will not allow someone to purchase a home, making it challenging to accumulate generational wealth and forcing them to rent instead. In many cases, a bad credit score can prompt a landlord to look elsewhere when looking for a tenant. To begin with, conceptual borders like bad credit that prevent someone from accumulating wealth and tuition hikes that deter people from attending college have been built to lock out this surplus labour from pursuing meaningful upward mobility.


Content of Education

The final aspect that I wish to look at in this blog is, perhaps, the most abstract way of understanding the existence of these conceptual borders. I think it is essential to know how the content of contemporary education serves to create those that gatekeep these borders and motivate students to develop conceptual borders for themselves. Please bear with me because this is undoubtedly a confusing statement.


Firstly, it is essential to discuss how particular ideologies have invaded university campuses. There has been an incredible increase in so-called criminal justice programs and the glorification of the military and security careers within the content of many social studies programs in universities. According to the American Council on Education, “62 percent of responding institutions currently provide programs and services specifically designed for military service members and veterans, up from 57 percent in 2009. Seventy-one percent reported including such programs and services in their long-term strategic plan, a notable gain from 57 percent in 2009.”[9] Ironically, the people in these programs become literal gatekeepers that enforce non-abstract and very tangible borders when they join Homeland Security, the DEA, ICE, and Border Patrol.


Secondly, I want to discuss the commoditized conception of education itself. Many students have developed a consumer mentality of education, believing that they are purchasing a commodity. Brad J. Porfilio, in his article “Student as a Consumer,” states that

“… Recent far-flung and aggressive capitalist development [that is] driven to secure economic and ideological control is permeating education and schooling… corporate culture, market principles, and commercial values are rapidly intruding and affecting teacher education programs.”[10]


Unfortunately, the idea that the pursuit of higher education is akin to purchasing a commodity is becoming increasingly common among students. Returning to Phenomenology of Exclusion, Lems writes about developing an ethnography that focuses less on asking people directly about their lives and more on understanding their human experiences by creating a phenomenology that looks at everyday aspects that make people feel unwanted or undeserving of inclusion.[11] The negative outcome for students in the US is that they forget to acknowledge a truth that has been considered in many other comparably wealthy nations; that education is a fundamental human right – not a commodity. This unfortunate reality leads people to feel they deserve a higher status because they’ve been educated and invested a lot of time and money into their studies or that they are undeserving of education simply because they cannot afford it. The latter of these two outcomes formulates the final conceptual borders. People begin internalizing this ideology and fall into accepting the fact that they are being excluded. Until we can nationalize education and make it an inalienable human right, education under globalized capitalism will only further socially exclude the broader population.


  1. Puiggrós, Adriana. 1997. “World Bank Education Policy: Market Liberalism Meets Ideological Conservatism.” International Journal of Health Services 27(2):217–26.
  2. Daugela, Margarete. 2012. “Understanding the World Bank’s Education for All Policy as Neoliberal Governmentality.” Canadian Education: Governing Practices & Producing Subjects 77–100.
  3. Malouf Bous, Katie and Jason Farr. 2019. “False Promises: How Delivering Education through Private Schools and Public-Private Partnerships Risks Fueling Inequality Instead of Achieving Quality Education for All.” Oxfam International.
  4. Robinson, William I. 2016. “Global Capitalism and the Restructuring of Education: The Transnational Capitalist Class’ Quest to Suppress Critical Thinking.” Social Justice 43(3):1–24.
  5. Helhoski, Anna and Ryan lane. 2022. “Student Loan Debt Statistics: 2022.” NerdWallet.
  6. McCarthy, Niall. 2018. “How U.S. Education Has Become ‘a Debt Sentence’ [Infographic].” Forbes.
  7. Dye, Felicia. 2017. “Can You Get a Government Job with Bad Credit?” Houston Chronicle.
  8. Anon. 2021. “The Productivity–Pay Gap.” Economic Policy Institute.
  9. Anon. 2012. “Many colleges and Universities Ramping Up Programs for Military and Veteran Students.” American Council on Education.
  10. Porfilio, Brad J. and Tian Yu. 2006. “‘Student as Consumer’: A Critical Narrative of the Commercialization of Teacher Education.” Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies4(1):225–43.
  11. Lems, Annika. 2020. “Phenomenology of Exclusion: Capturing the Everyday Thresholds of Belonging.” Social Inclusion 8(4):116–25.

Conceptual Borders: Understanding Exclusionary Processes within the U.S. Higher Education Model

Written by Steve Huerta Raygoza

Image from “Mississippi Center for Justice” [1]

Analytical Framework

When addressing topics within the Social Exclusion program, I often attempt to understand them through a historical materialist perspective [2]. Specifically, I try to understand these issues by applying an understanding of the overlying systems that have some use for the labour and resources of the people observed as being socially excluded. I want to establish an analytical framework to show my perspective better. When referring to Social Exclusion, I will be most closely tying it to the definition proposed by Andrew M. Fischer, which describes it as both the process and the outcome of “repulsion or obstruction” that leads people to experience inequality[3]. I will also be abstractly using the term border as, for this case, there are no barriers that can be touched in person or seen on a map. I certainly took some liberties while discussing borders, as many of my classmates discuss tangible borders. Instead, drawing on Anikka Lems’ article Phenomenology of Exclusion, I describe these conceptual borders as being similar to “interior frontiers” that “work to delegate who is allowed in and who is to be [excluded]” and are delegated “by unarticulated and inaccessible conventions.”[4] Additionally, using Lems’ article, I intend to explore the perspectives of the students who experience exclusion and the views of those doing the excluding; in this case, institutions such as the World Bank.



I decided to write about how the U.S. University Education System manufactures intangible borders around individuals’ ability to pursue upward mobility. This blog will focus on the policies that work to create said borders, and the next blog will discuss the outcome and consequences of this border creation. To understand how modern higher education within the U.S. makes these conceptual borders, we must first develop an understanding of how this system operates. The premise for these blogs is that the contemporary US higher education model involves:

  1. The creation of public-private partnerships
  2. The destruction of subsidized education
  3. The creation of debt as a mechanism of social control
  4. The creation of a system to indoctrinate each new generation into the existing social hierarchy


These outcomes are maintained by the exclusionary policies that construct these conceptual borders. I will explore these crucial features over the following two blogs.


The Private Brain Trust of Capital

When discussing the purpose of contemporary U.S. higher education, we must understand the corporate elite’s material interest in university research and how this research is used. I believe that in a functioning society, students would conduct research funded at any given university to better the human condition. Under the U.S. model of higher education, however, the state subsidizes research done at public universities and puts the results of said research in the hands of private corporations. These public-private partnerships create private brain trusts[5] that work to benefit the interest of corporations. Pharmaceutical companies (J&J, Pfizer, Novartis)[6], energy corporations (B.P., Chevron)[7], and the military-industrial complex benefit from research completed at public universities. As such, biochemistry, engineering, and other fields of study become appendages of corporate research. Understanding this dynamic is crucial to understanding the role universities play when maintaining corporate interests; these corporate entities maintain a vested interest in making sure that these universities continue to produce research that helps boost their bottom line. However, this is not the only way capital is created through higher education.


The Decline of Subsidized Education

Often, when discussing education in the U.S. with my mates in the Social Exclusion program, we end up on just how expensive it is to attend college – in this context, I am fortunate enough to have been unfortunate enough. By this, I mean to say that the state of California almost entirely subsidized my bachelor’s degree because my parents fell into a low-income bracket. This was at U.C. Santa Barbara, a Public University. I make the distinction to call it public because, to the surprise of some people I have spoken to during my time in Finland, many universities in the U.S. are privately run. These private universities have seen exponential growth in their attendance over the last few years. According to the National Center for Education Statistics:

“From 2000 to 2010, enrollment in private for-profit institutions increased by 329 percent (from 403,000 to 1.7 million students). In comparison, enrollment increased by 30 percent at public institutions (from 10.5 million to 13.7 million students) and by 20 percent at private nonprofit institutions (from 2.2 million to 2.7 million students) during this period”[8]


What we see here is the result of the ongoing commodification of education. The most unfortunate aspect of this commodification is the massive cost of attending these universities.


Although many students fall into this same income bracket that I did, most students across the U.S. end up having to pay tuition, and the cost of said tuition has been steadily increasing for the last few decades. In 1980, a four-year degree at a public university cost $9,438 on average, adjusted for inflation. In 2019, that cost increased to $23,872.[9] This is undoubtedly a significant increase; however, for private for-profit universities, the average tuition increased from $15,160 in 1988 to $34,740 in 2018.[10] You might be asking how these students manage to pay for such incredibly high tuition. Well, many simply don’t. This is where we see the first conceptual border that works to exclude massive portions of the population. The incredibly high cost of attending a university makes it so that up to 18.6% of college-ready students choose not to participate because they believe it costs too much.[11] This boundary locks out the poorest portions of the population, excluding them from the opportunity to receive higher education and accumulate their wealth.


Because a massive portion of students cannot afford to attend higher education on their own, many choose to rely on accumulating debt. In the next blog, I will discuss this debt accumulation, the exclusionary effects, and the ultimate way that this perpetuates the existing social hierarchy.



  1. Anon. 2021. “HB 1029 Allows Mississippi’s IHL Board to Create New Questionable Student Debt Product.” Mississippi Center for Justice.
  2. Historical Materialism – A philosophical understanding of political conflict that recognizes material needs as the primary source of friction.
  3. Fischer, Andrew M. 2011. “Reconceiving Social Exclusion.” Brooks World Poverty Institute 146:1–27.
  4. Lems, Annika. 2020. “Phenomenology of Exclusion: Capturing the Everyday Thresholds of Belonging.” Social Inclusion 8(4):116–25.
  5. Brain Trusts – Experts advisors, usually for politicians, that serve as advisors on a given subject
  6. Bagley, Constance E., and Christina Tvarnoe. 2013. “Pharmaceutical Public-Private Partnerships in the United States and Europe: Moving from the Bench to the Bedside.” Harvard Business Law Review 4:373–401.
  7. Hofferberth, Matthias. 2011. “The Binding Dynamics of Non-Binding Governance Arrangements. the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights and the Cases of B.P. and Chevron.” Business and Politics 13(4):1–30.
  8. Anon. 2019. “Undergraduate Enrollment.” National Center for Education Statistics.
  9. Jackson, Abby. 2015. “This Chart Shows How Quickly College Tuition Has Skyrocketed since 1980.” Business Insider.
  10. Martin, Emmie. 2017. “Here’s How Much More Expensive It Is for You to Go to College than It Was for Your Parents.” CNBC.
  11. Seltzer, Rick. 2017. Study Shows How Price Sensitive Students Are in Selecting Colleges.

So, what can be done?

Written by Elna-Annina Kanerva


Two main matters should be focused on: the effectiveness of integration practices – mainly through the housing policies of Helsinki city – and the exclusionary behaviour these people face when they try to break free from this kind of “circle” many feel stuck in. I think these matters should be focused on because they both seem to have a critical role in maintaining the vicious circle mentioned previously. The city’s housing practices contribute to the formation of closed communities, and the exclusionary behaviour discourages people from breaking free from them.


So why do we need to solve this issue and stop this development? Why is it such a bad thing?


It is important to remember that immigrant families living in the same neighbourhood aren’t a problem, but this systematic concentration of immigrants is harmful and a form of segregation. Having other immigrants with the same kind of background creates a feeling of safety and belonging to many, which isn’t bad. There are both negative and positive aspects to the formation of these clusters. Clustering hurts integration; in clusters, immigrants can have fewer opportunities and motivation to learn a new language, and ethnic clusters tend to get stigmatised (which is happening in Helsinki).[1] The segregation, stigmatization, and low-quality housing are shown to impact immigrants’ physical and mental well-being negatively.[2]


This pattern in housing policies can’t continue; however, completely separating those with immigrant roots from one another and removing their safety nets isn’t beneficial either. Concentrating on the same areas can enable minorities to maintain their language and cultural heritage and provide a feeling of security. We do not want these people to lose their sense of security.[3]


As a concluding answer to this question: this development needs to be stopped since it’s proven to have more negative than positive impacts; however, completely separating immigrants from one another and thereby splitting communities also isn’t a good solution.


A good solution could therefore be to change the housing policies of the city of Helsinki simply. The city does have dwellings elsewhere; it just needs to be more persistent in locating people with different backgrounds into a variety of different neighbourhoods. At this moment, there aren’t clear instructions by which city officials decide on where to locate people. City officials describe the logic behind the decisions as a notion of “common sense”. In this context, “common sense” could mean not locating many big families in the same building and spreading people with similar ethnic or cultural backgrounds into more expansive areas. However, trusting city officials to make arbitrary decisions on where to allocate families isn’t very sustainable, which we have seen in eastern Helsinki. Therefore, there must be clear policies and instructions on how council housing should be distributed and how allocating too many people with the same backgrounds into the same areas should be avoided. Policies such as these are likely to significantly impact the geographical division of people in need of housing.[4]


The avoidance of ethnic clustering can naturally help the integration process since it would force those of immigrant background to maybe form connections to the so-called native population. It could also contribute to immigrants meeting Finns who represent a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds and so-called “normal” families, and therefore widen their perception of the native population. However, integration is a two-way process. It is up to the native population to make sure that immigrants don’t have to fear harassment and racism outside their communities and homes. Having to face discriminatory behavior shouldn’t be something people expect or take for granted.[5]



[1] Article: Housing policy and the ethnic mix in Helsinki, Finland: perceptions of city officials and Somali immigrants (Hanna Dahlmann, Katja Vilkama)

[2] Article: Residential mobility, mental health, and community violence exposure among Somali refugees and immigrants in North America (Sarah Gillespie, Emma Cardeli, Georgios Sideridis, Osob Issa, B. Heidi Ellis)

[3] Article: Housing policy and the ethnic mix in Helsinki, Finland: perceptions of city officials and Somali immigrants (Hanna Dahlmann, Katja Vilkama)


[4] Article: Housing policy and the ethnic mix in Helsinki, Finland: perceptions of city officials and Somali immigrants (Hanna Dahlmann, Katja Vilkama)

[5] Article: Phenomenology of Exclusion: Capturing the Everyday Thresholds of Belonging (Annika Lems)

The geographical division taking place in Helsinki, Finland

Written by Elna-Annina Kanerva


In this blog post, I will discuss the social exclusion in Helsinki, Finland and precisely how the eastern parts of the city are becoming more and more concentrated with inhabitants of foreign backgrounds while so-called native Finns are moving elsewhere. The blog post will focus on areas such as Kontula, Kannelmäki, Vuosaari, Kallahti and Myllypuro since approximately 29.1% of all inhabitants in Helsinki with a foreign background live in these areas.[1]


Before diving deeper into this issue, I feel it’s essential to establish my role and view on this topic. I have never lived in the eastern parts of Helsinki myself; however, most people who have lived or live in Helsinki and I are aware of its reputation as the “bad part” of the city. My mother, who spent her childhood living there, has told me about changes the area has gone through in the last 30 years; the once so peaceful and calm neighbourhood she grew up in has become a place where used drug needles are found. A friend, who has spent a lot of his childhood in these areas, has told me how immigrants from the same regions of origin tend to live in the same neighbourhoods and thereby create communities for themselves. These stories and experiences have led to me choosing to write and research this topic. I want to know why this happens. I want to see why these small communities are formed and why they have a terrible reputation. I want to know why my mom has found used drug needles in the front yard of her childhood home.


I also want to point out that I’m looking at a significant and general picture of moving practices and patterns within the city. Many parts of eastern Helsinki are very beautiful, with long, sandy beaches and fancy houses overlooking the sea; it’s not an undesirable area. There are indeed people who want to live there and feel safe. My goal, however, is to figure out why the big picture looks like it does.


What makes this issue essential is the development that’s been happening in this area for the last circa 30 years. The continuance of the development of clustering could lead to an even more segregated area from which it’s hard for people living in to separate themselves and integrate into Finnish society. I mostly see the continuance of this development as an obstacle in the integration process, which I will explain further down.


To better understand what this topic focuses on, it’s necessary to map what the situation in Helsinki looks like now. Some statistics:

At the end of 2020, approximately 111,000 people with a foreign background lived in Helsinki. The most common countries of origin are Russia (18,400 people), Estonia (11,800 people), Somalia (12,000 people), Iraq (6,500 people) and China (4,000 people). Immigration is a fairly new phenomenon in Helsinki: in 2020, only half of its immigrants had lived there for over ten years.[2]


As you can see, there is a wide variety of different national backgrounds living in Helsinki. It’s important to note that the word “immigrant” in this blog post means anyone of a foreign background living in Finland (who directly doesn’t resemble a so-called native Finn), meaning a person whose ethnicity, demeanour or native language noticeably isn’t Finnish. Many of these people see themselves as different from the rest of society, and that’s where the issue of social exclusion comes in.


Since social exclusion is a very broad term that can be defined and understood in numerous ways, we need to establish a working definition for this case. In this situation, we will be looking at social exclusion as a phenomenon restricted to some geographical regions and as “a state equivalent to relative deprivation and as processes of socially determined impediments to access resources, social goods or institutions.”[3]


Research shows that those with a foreign background living in these segregated suburbs tend to feel bound or even restricted to them. While there are many reasons for this, one of the major ones is lack of belongingness and not having connections elsewhere, which ultimately results from other people or institutions practising exclusionary behaviour towards these individuals. Such practices tend to, in many cases, be subconscious or unintentional while still having a significant effect on those who are vulnerable.[4]


One factor contributing to this kind of residential segregation is the council housing policy in Helsinki. Helsinki offers housing in several council houses in its suburbs. Council dwellings are an essential form of housing for refugees, low-income immigrant families, and Finns. Since these families don’t have a choice in which location they end up living in (due to monetary reasons), they tend to be allocated in suburbs so-called natives do not want to live. Eastern Helsinki is an excellent example of such an area. This has led to a continuance of many council houses in eastern Helsinki being inhabited by immigrant families. Meanwhile, those with a Finnish background are starting to move elsewhere.


While there are several reasons for forming these “clusters”, the main factor seems to be a feeling of not belonging. Those of immigrant background living in these clustered areas certainly feel like they belong in them better than anywhere else in the city; living close to someone of the same experience creates a feeling of safety and support, which is very understandable. Immigrants have said that many are afraid of facing – and do face – racism and harassment outside of these areas, which naturally also leads to them not wanting to leave their “safety nets”.


Then why is it that these people are afraid of facing racism and harassment in the so-called outside world?


We cannot ignore, of course, the exclusionary behaviour they have had to face outside these “clusters”. However, this conception of Finns being racist and xenophobic may have been enforced by the marginalised group of Finns these people live near and therefore interact with. As stated above, eastern Helsinki isn’t a very wanted area among housing seekers, and those who have no other choice tend to end up in its suburbs – which also applies to Finns. This has led to a situation where the native population living in these same housing buildings with the immigrant families typically represent a low-socioeconomic status. Social workers in Helsinki state,

“[…] In many housing estates, where our customers [Somali families] live, there aren’t many normal Finnish families: working, nice kids, mum and dad. There are multi-problem Finnish families, whose aggressions and bad feelings are directed at immigrant families–”.


These kinds of experiences further reinforce the negative conception of the native population. It is also understandable that these experiences further reinforce peoples’ desire to stay within their “safety nets” and not move away from these clusters for fear of facing harassment.[5]


According to Somali interviewees, many Finnish Somalis depend on their social networks and communities to find housing and new housing locations. Since information on living opportunities and housing spreads through relatives and friends, it becomes difficult to break free from these restricted communities and improve one’s housing situation. Previous studies have shown a similar problem among minority ethnic groups in other countries. It seems to be a problematic, persisting pattern that reinforces itself. The result is that people are stuck in these circles even when they don’t want to, which makes the integration process much more difficult.[6] The next blog post will be focusing on what can be done to end this vicious circle, which seems to be standing in the way of people feeling like they truly belong to society.



[1] www.ulkomaalaistaustaisethelsingissa.fi

[2] www.ulkomaalaistaustaisethelsingissa.fi

[3] Article: Reconceiving Social Exclusion (Andrew M. Fisher)

[4] Article: Housing policy and the ethnic mix in Helsinki, Finland: perceptions of city officials and Somali immigrants (Hanna Dahlmann, Katja Vilkama)

[5] Article: Housing policy and the ethnic mix in Helsinki, Finland: perceptions of city officials and Somali immigrants (Hanna Dahlmann, Katja Vilkama)

[6] Article: Housing policy and the ethnic mix in Helsinki, Finland: perceptions of city officials and Somali immigrants (Hanna Dahlmann, Katja Vilkama)

Asian hate and the Year of Tiger

written by Kosar Mohammad Naeemi


This year, Lunar New Year fell on Feb. 1 and welcomes the year of the water tiger. You might be thinking how the element of the water tiger has anything to do with the rising of Asian hate and Anti-Asian racism. I will explain the link between these two things shortly, but let me explain the situation. As I have written in my previous blog called “COVID-19 & hate crimes”, we witnessed what will happen when some people use any opportunity to attack people of color and minorities. We learned that social exclusion and discrimination based on race would only condemn a society to destruction. Since the pandemic began in 2019, Asian people have been experiencing record amounts of denigration, hatred, and racism.


COVID-19 did not only take the life of some people and isolate some, but the byproduct of this virus was also race-based traumatic stress for some of us. Robert T. Carte has published a research article on the issue of race-based traumatic stress, “Racism and Psychological and Emotional Injury: Recognizing and Assessing Race-Based Traumatic Stress”. Carter’s article aims to discuss the psychological and emotional effects of racism on people of color.

A detective in New York's Chinatown neighborhood handing out leaflets.

The New York Police Department Community Affairs Rapid Response Unit hands out flyers with information on how to report hate crimes to residents. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)


When you are being attacked just because you happen to be a person of Asian descent, something must have gone wrong in that society. This hate will create an invisible border around your whole being, and suddenly you as an Asian are responsible for a global pandemic. Many blame former U.S.  President Donald Trump for calling COVID-19 the “Asian flu, “Kung Flu”, and “China Virus”, among other terms, for this increase in violent attacks and harassment. And while it certainly contributed, these violent attacks, harassment and hate expressed against people of Asian descent did not begin with Trump or the pandemic (Chai Yun Liew, 2021).


Data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has announced that hate crimes against Asian Americans rose 73 per cent in 2020 compared to 2019. What is interesting is that Canada has more anti-Asian racism per capita than the United States – more than double the number of those reported in the U.S (ibid). Now imagine how it does feel to be not only cautious of a global pandemic but also to be alert not to be attacked. Seventy-two per cent of Asian Americans who reported a hate crime said discrimination was more stressful than the pandemic. Hate crime has created a border of interpersonal shame and stigma, which adversely affect one’s health.

China Daily Life

(AP Photo/Andy Wong)


Coming back to the year of the tiger. Let’s be together like tigers; let’s be fierce, bold, persistent, and courageous in our never-ending fight against discrimination. Let’s be tigers in the year of the tiger to fight all forms of racism, and xenophobia and let’s be united in our struggle to end white supremacy. Let’s learn from our past mistakes to create an equal society and world.



Carter, R. T. (2007). Racism and Psychological and Emotional Injury: Recognizing and Assessing Race-Based Traumatic Stress. The Counseling Psychologist.

Liew, J. C. (March 2021). The Atlanta attacks were not just racist and misogynist, they painfully ferlect the society we live in . Noudettu osoitteesta The Conversation: https://theconversation.com/the-atlanta-attacks-were-not-just-racist-and-misogynist-they-painfully-reflect-the-society-we-live-in-157389

Wong, G. (January 2021). Year of the Tiger: An opportunity for bold changes in combatting anti-Asian racism. Noudettu osoitteesta The Conversation : https://theconversation.com/year-of-the-tiger-an-opportunity-for-bold-changes-in-combatting-anti-asian-racism-174385



Written by Kosar Mohammad Naeemi


Everything started in late December 2019 when the COVID-19, previously known as 2019-nCOV, was first found in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. COVID-19 was fast spread from within China’s border and to rapidly worldwide. We learned that to slow down the virus spreading, great endeavours are needed, such as social distancing and isolating the infected people, which are among the key elements. Although all these efforts were essential to control COVID-19’s spread, which has 319M infected and 5,73 deaths (2022), discrimination based on race, gender, age, etc., have happened under the shadow of COVID-19. This text aims to bring the social exclusion, discrimination, and the effect of intensified border politics to people worldwide to the surface.


Many of us have come across news where Chinese people or people of Asian descent have been the target of discrimination and social exclusion exclusively based on their race. Since the outbreak, there have been many reports worldwide, from Australia to Europe and America. There have been people of Asian descent who are being attacked whether they are on school campuses, on public transportation, or in shopping malls. Jun He, Leshui He, Wen Zhou et al. (Discrimination and Social Exclusion in the Outbreak of COVID-19, 2020) from Yunnan University conducted a global survey in February 2020 that reached 1904 Chinese residents all over the world across 70 countries. This global survey has revealed that 25,11% of these Chinese residents overseas have experienced a different form of discrimination. For instance, this discrimination has appeared in being laid off without proper cause, rejection of housing, for example, adequate and commonly reported abuses in public (Jun He, LeshuiHeetal.,2020).


Asian-American leaders decry racism amid global pandemic | AP News

Photo/Steve Senne


In the same article, it is stated that “increased social exclusion of those from areas most impacted by the virus also took place within racial and national boundaries, in china many fears contacts with people from Wuhan or Hubei Province. The stigmatization of people from Hubei is associated with the social exclusion process” (ibid). Other forms of segregation and discrimination against the people of Wuhan and the province of Hubei was also visible through the action of some hotel owner in Yunnan Province. In January 2020, hotels turned away pre-booked guests who came from Wuhan or Hubei, no matter their health conditions.


It was also reported that across mainland China, both rural and urban communities had set up checkpoints, and the goal of these checkpoints was to block all visitors from Wuhan and Hubei. There were no medical checks in these checkpoints, but it was enough that a person was from Wuhan or Hubei, and their entrance to the city was denied. Another form of segregation and discrimination against the residents of Hubei was that many local authorities in mainland China had required their residents to report to the government any physical contact with residents from Hubei Province. Also, travelling to Hubei Province had to be reported. In some parts of mainland China, any car with registration from Hubei had also been regarded as a virus carrier; this issue was that many cars were being attacked throughout the country (ibid).


The book The State Borders and Borderland Studies 2009: A historical view from the journal of borderlands studies by Emmanuel Brunet-Jailly states that Albert Brigham has argued that boundaries should provide economic equilibrium. In the case of Hubei and Wuhan residences, we can agree that the borders created within mainland China destabilized residents’ financial situation. In the case of the Wuhan and Hubei people, their discrimination was based on their residential area regardless of their health condition. Discrimination and social exclusion may often damage social outcomes, especially when facing a global pandemic.


In the case of people from Wuhan and Hubei Province, there is no visible border to separate them from the rest of China. As we have witnessed, the hard border was created for people by people and the government’s participation. Many single explanations of boundaries, borders, borderlands, and frontiers exist, but none is satisfying. It is stated that many scholars seem to agree that there are many types of boundaries, and each social science subfield has its epistemology of borders (Brunet-Jailly, 2009, p. 11). The effect of segregation and border and checkpoints for the people of Wuhan and Hubei Province has been negative. Still, as we have witnessed before in history, stigmatization of people will only bring more harm. Social stigma and border policy will likely reduce people from coming forward and asking for help. When people’s rights, recourses, and opportunities are not limited, it makes it easier for medical practitioners to contain and treat the disease at an early stage effectively. If social exclusion and discrimination continue, we might have the same extreme cases. Patients might even attempt to escape hospitals, as we have previously witnessed during the outbreak of other infectious diseases like SARS, Ebola, and HIV.


It is natural for human nature to react strongly while facing danger; in this case, the COVID-19 was the enemy. Even though the enemy is COVID-19, we sometimes forget it because it is easier to discharge our prejudice and hate toward “the others”. In the case of the Wuhan and Hubei people, we witnessed the brutal and inhuman demeanor towards them, regardless of their health condition. These actions led to discrimination and social exclusion, while those were also among the people fighting the disease. COVID-19 has increased a phenomenon called “Asian hate”. Many people with Asian backgrounds have been victims of such racist and pitiful attacks. We should learn from these incidents to not let hate and racism win. In some humans, these two strong feelings will use whatever source they need to attack people who do not resemble them. Once its source is COVID-19, and another time just the fact that someone is darker than them. No one’s ethnicity is a virus. The actual virus is narrow-minded people and those afraid of people who do not look like them.



Brunet-Jailly, E. (2009). The State of Borders and Borderlands Studies 2009: A Historical View andn a View from the Journal of Borderland Studies. Journal of Borderland STudies.

Des, J.;Don, C.;Sandro, G.;Melissa, T.;Susan, T.;& David, V. (2006). Stigmatization of newly emerging infectious diseases: AIDS and SARS. Am. J. Public Health.

Huang, C.;Wang, Y.;Li, X.;Ren, L.;Zhao, J.;Hu, Y.;& Cheng, Z. (ei pvm). Clinical features of patients infected with 2019 novel coronavirus in Wuhan, China. 2020: Lancet.

Pandemic, W. H.-1. (2019). Noudettu osoitteesta https://www. who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019

Parker, R.;& Peter, A. (2003). HIV and AIDS-related stigma and discrimination: A conceptual framework and implications for action. Soc. Sci. Med.


Incomplete citizens of Nepal

Written by Tripura Oli

Nepal celebrates International Mother Language Day with a poetry festival

People from the Madhesi community, Source: Kathmandu Post


The scars of the Anglo – Nepal War

Historically, the discrimination against Madhesis can be traced back to the Anglo – Nepal war of 1814 -16 between Nepal and the East India Company[1]. It is believed that during the Anglo – Nepal war, some Madhesi rulers of the time took the side of the British East India company. This can be argued as the historical starting point of the structural discrimination against the Madhesi community. After that, Madhesis were perceived as a threat to national security and were prohibited from joining Nepal’s security forces.  For example, during the Rana regime[2], Madhesi had to obtain written permission to enter the Capital, Kathmandu Valley[3].


From 1960 to 1990, as part of one of nation-building, the Hill dominant higher caste group of Nepal imposed its values and norms– its language (Nepali), religion (Hindu) and culture (hill ̳high caste male) – on the Nepalese society as a whole. The languages, cultures and religions of other groups were marginalized to the extent that some languages are at risk of extinction.  This created soft borders for ethnic groups (Indigenous), religious minorities, particularly Madhesi people living in the southern plains of Nepal.  This ideological border has prevented Madhesi communities from equal access and fully participating in administration and governance, decision-making, and policy planning.[4]


Although, in the past few decades, Nepal has undergone enormous social and political changes, and the Government of Nepal has actively and aggressively launched several programs to include and integrate its marginalized and oppressed ethnic groups like the Madhesi community through quota systems in social, political and economic aspects, [5] but Madhesi community are still bearing the scars of the Anglo – Nepal war[6].  For example, Madhesi representation in the security forces of Nepal is still negligible. At the same time, Madhesis make up over 30% of Nepal’s total population. Still, their presence in Nepal Police is only 2%, in Armed Police Force Nepal 5%, and  Nepal Army 2%, which is hugely disproportionate considering their population.[7]


Incomplete Citizenship and Social Exclusion

The government’s responsibility is to ensure that all its citizens have equal access to resources and rights.  When a citizen does not have equal access to services from the government, it is incomplete citizenship.[8]  Therefore, it can be argued that Madhesis have incomplete citizenship in Nepal.


Social exclusion is a complex and multi-dimensional concept. It is both a ‘process’ and an outcome of a ‘process’ where individuals or groups are systematically isolated or prevented from participating in society, such as social, economic, and political-cultural spheres. The exclusion can be based on their gender, race, caste, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, disabilities, language, culture, literacy, etc. As a result, the excluded may have lesser or no access to resources, legal protection and rights; thus, they may have reduced opportunities in society. [9] Therefore, social exclusion can be applied in the context of the Madhesi communities of Nepal as a section of society has difficulties in participating or exercising the same rights and access available to the dominant group of Nepal.  To fully understand the social exclusion of the Madhesi community, it is necessary to discuss multiple dimensions of Madhesi marginalization and their interrelationships.


Impact of Social Exclusion

As the Madhesi community does not share the dominant group’s culture and language, they often suffer from linguistic-based exclusion regarding “access to information and participation in the public life”.  They are excluded due to their own language’s lack of access to information. Due to the imposition of Nepali as the only language for teaching, the Madhesi people have been deprived of primary education in their mother tongue. Here, the Nepali language has become a barrier to equal access to education for Madhesi children who grow up speaking their mother tongue. As a result, a child belonging to the Madhesi community may underperform or fail in his formal education, leading to many other social exclusions in the society such as unemployment, unfavourable work conditions, lack of skills for the labour market, and subsequent poverty and ill health. [10]

Thus, there is a high possibility that an uneducated, unemployed, and in particular, a person belonging to linguistic minorities may have lower chances of coming out of poverty than the one from the dominant group.  Moreover, the recruitment policies to the armed forces and bureaucracy made it very difficult for Madhesi youth to join security forces, administration, and governance.  One of the barriers for Madhesi youth to join state organs is the requirement of Nepali language; significantly, for higher officer-level positions, proficiency in the Nepali language is a must. [11]



[1] Basnyat, P.S. (2017). Anglo-Nepal War: A Military Review.

[2] Period from 1846–1951 when the control of the government was in the hands autocratic Rana family

[3] Goait, J.K. (2007). History of Tarai in Nepal.  Available at: https://madhesi.wordpress.com/2007/04/04/history-of-terai-in-nepal/  (Last accessed 19/032022).

[4] Singh, P. (2015). Understanding the Conflict & Inclusion issues of Madhesh. Available at: https://daayitwa.org/storage/archives/1582525302.pdf (Last accessed 20/03/2022).

[5] Gurung, O., Tamang, M.S., & Turin, M. (2014). Perspectives on social inclusion and exclusion in Nepal. Department of Sociology/Anthropology, Tribhuvan University, Nepal.

[6] Ibid

[7] Lal, C.K. (2015). Most Nepalis are Not Celebrating their New Constitution. Here’s Why. The Wire, External Affairs, South Asia.

Available at:  https://thewire.in/external-affairs/most-nepalis-are-not-celebrating-their-new-constitution-heres-why (Last accessed 20/03/2022).

[8] Rehnberg, A. (forthcoming) Australia Has Never Felt as Far Away as Now: Australians In Finland And Social Exclusion During the COVID-19 Era

[9] Levitas, R., Pantazis, C., & Gordon, D. (2006). Poverty and Social Exclusion in Britain, Bristol, The Policy Press.

Levitas, R. (2005). The inclusive society?: Social exclusion and new labour. Palgrave Macmillan UK.

Silver, H. (2007). The process of social exclusion: the dynamics of an evolving concept. Brown University Providence, Rhode Island, USA

Sen, A. (2000). Social exclusion: concept, application and scrutiny. Social Development. Asian Development Bank.

[10] Gurung, O., Tamang, M.S., & Turin, M. (2014). Perspectives on social inclusion and exclusion in Nepal. Department of Sociology/Anthropology, Tribhuvan University, Nepal.


[11] Ibid

Invisible Borders, Visible Impact: Social Exclusion of Madhesi in Nepal

Written by Tripura Oli

Geographic map of Nepal showing study area (Terai region).... | Download Scientific Diagram

Geographic Map of Nepal, Source: researchgate.net


Outsiders Within

My childhood friends Sunny and Amar were visiting me in Kathmandu in 2007, and the three of us went out sightseeing in the beautiful Kathmandu Valley. We stopped at a roadside vendor to have some snacks and cold drinks. Sunny asked the vendor in Nepali, “Dai, tinwota coke dinus na” (Brother, three cokes, please). The vendor replied in broken Hindi, “Yeh lo sardar ji” (here you go, Sardar ji).  I noticed discomfort on both of my friend’s faces because they were again reminded of their “otherness”.


My friend Sunny is a Sikh and wears a turban on his head as a symbol of his faith, but the vendor assumed by his looks that my friend was an Indian. My friend Amar is a Hindu and does not wear a turban but still faces a similar experience because he has an accent while speaking Nepali. The commonality between all three friends is that we were all born and brought up in the Terai region (known as Madhes), but I never had to experience the “otherness” they have been all their lives.  Because I am from the dominant Nepali speaking community, whereas they are from the Awadhi speaking Madhesi community.


Who are Madhesi in Nepal?

As shown on the map above, Nepal is divided into three geographical regions – Mountain, Hill, and Plains, also known as the Terai region. Madhesi are borderland communities of southern Nepal sharing borders with India. Madhesi are the native inhabitants of the Terai (plains) region in Nepal, with a long history of origin. Yet, they are considered outsiders – Indians – due to their family and cultural affiliations across the border with India[1].  Because of this connection, the Madhesis of Nepal have been facing structural exclusion and marginalization – political, economic, and social – in Nepal for decades.

The Madhesi community comprise over two-thirds of Nepal’s total population.  It’s a diverse ethnic group as there are over five languages – Maithili, Bhojpuri, Awadhi, Urdu, Hindi – spoken in the Terai region, and Madhesi are identified by the language they speak as their mother tongue, not by the geographical location where they were born in or where they live in the country. Similarly, they constitute Hindus, Sikha, indigenous Janjati ethnic groups, other native tribes and Muslims[2].


Borders and Boundaries

Humans create borders and boundaries, and initially, they were used to delimit the territorial possessions of sovereign states.  So, borders played a crucial role in forming the nationalist agenda and developing nation-states. However, international borders cannot divide the culture (ethnicity, language, and religion)[3]. Borderland communities of southern Nepal and Northern India are the perfect examples of this unity.  However, this shared ethnicity has been the core reason for the social exclusion of Nepal’s Madhesi community, who have been treated as outsiders in their own country. Therefore, while discussing the borders, we also need to reflect on the invisible soft borders created based on language, culture, gender, and race…  in our societies and how crucial these invisible borders play in social marginalization and exclusion of certain groups over others.


Breaking the Borders

Growing up in Madhes as a Nepali-speaking girl, I was also under the impression that Madhesi people were Indian migrants in Nepal. I was never taught anything about the Madhesi people and history in school or college. Secondly, I did not see many Madhesi people in the police, army, or government offices[4]. I saw that they speak the same language as Indians across borders, share the same culture, and get married across borders.

I could relate with my Madhesi friends because I was treated as an outsider in India, where I went for my further studies based on my looks. But the case of my friends was different, as they were treated as outsiders in their own country.  Seeing my friends go through such unpleasant experiences, I became interested in understanding Madhesi people and their history in Nepal and began to do my homework.

To my surprise, I discovered that Nepali speaking hill people like my family and me were the ones who migrated to Madhes less than half a century ago, and Awadhi, Maithili, and Bhojpuri speaking people who were perceived as Indian migrants were the native people of Madhes. Still, they have been structurally marginalized due to their close cultural affiliation across the border with India and are wrongly perceived as people of Indian ethnicity[5].

In my next blog, I will discuss the history and impact of this ideological border between the state and the Madhesi community of Nepal.




[1] Lal, C.K. (2015). Most Nepalis are Not Celebrating their New Constitution. Here’s Why. The Wire, External Affairs, South Asia.

Available at:  https://thewire.in/external-affairs/most-nepalis-are-not-celebrating-their-new-constitution-heres-why (Last accessed 20/03/2022).

[2] Singh, P. (2015). Understanding the Conflict & Inclusion issues of Madhesh. Available at: https://daayitwa.org/storage/archives/1582525302.pdf (Last accessed 20/03/2022).

[3] Brunet-Jailly, E. (2010). The State of Borders and Borderlands Studies 2009: A Historical View and a View from the Journal of Borderlands Studies (eds) Iwashita, A. & Chi, H. N. (2010), Eurasia Border Review Part I: Current Trends in Border Analysis.

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid