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Fighting social exclusion in rural areas

[ Summary ]


Chapter 1:
Social exclusion, a multidimensional phenomenon


1.6 The fight against social exclusion and rural development


Social exclusion is a complex phenomenon that has to be dealt with by taking account of the changing job market, the area’s demographic and geographical data, the references, social links and income level of the groups concerned and the evolving institutional responses. Because of its magnitude and its recent characteristics, the phenomenon is now extremely important.

More than a social, cultural and political preoccupation, the fight against social exclusion has become an essential and inevitable component of economic development. It is playing a key role in the revitalisation of the countryside in particular.

In rural areas, the fight against social exclusion is the prerequisite to take full advantage of human resources.

Given the handicap created by the scattering of communities and the lack of jobs, the fight against social exclusion is especially important for the overall development of rural areas.

In Bazois (Burgundy, France), a “multiservice” association enables unemployed people to offer local services. This activity is complemented by an action to recruit the long-term unemployed. They are offered work in maintaining the environment or developing tourist sites. In parallel, a training centre meets individualised needs and offers job training that will lead to stable employment (development of rural facilities, maintenance of waterways).

The fight against social exclusion creates the conditions for social dialogue:

  • It leads to consensus and collective actions, often essential in launching new activities or capturing new markets.

  • It reduces the social cleavages, has a direct impact on the area’s image and on rural tourism and quality products.

In the southern Iberian peninsula (Alentejo in Portugal and Andalucia in Spain), because of the very high unemployment rate in these regions (at 15%, Andalucia had one of the highest rates in Europe in 1999), the LEADER groups ended up giving top priority to actions to fight social exclusion. These actions were complementary to the LEADER actions and were specially oriented towards disadvantaged people.

In rural areas, the fight against social exclusion creates new development opportunities.

Although initially factors of social exclusion, certain handicaps specific to the rural world can be turned into development possibilities and factors of social inclusion.

This is the case of the weight of traditions, presented above as a factor of exclusion, and of women and young people in particular, which can on the contrary serve as the basis for new opportunities.

In the Sousa valley, a rural area near Porto in Portugal, women have been doing embroidery work for centuries. It is a supplementary source of income, and for those who live alone it is even the main source of income. This very poorly paid and disparaged work (EUR 150 per month for a full-time job) keeps the women who do it as a living in a state of particularly severe poverty and social exclusion. An association created at the initiative of the LEADER group worked to professionalise the sector by reviving traditional embroidery motifs, by improving the quality, by training the women and by helping them capture upscale markets. This freed the women from the grip of the traditional tradesmen. In addition to increasing their income, it was the entire question of the women’s human dignity that was at stake.

How do we measure the challenges of the fight against social exclusion in a rural areas? How do we assess the margins of manoeuvre available for this purpose? These are questions that we will attempt to answer in chapter II before examining in the following chapters the question of tools, methods, prospects for action to fight social exclusion and how this fight can be included in a wider territorial approach.

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