The absence of culturally appropriate evidence can produce or exacerbate inequities

Rayanne de Sales Lima, Andréa Borghi Moreira Jacinto and Rodrigo Arthuso Arantes Faria

This blog post is part of a series linked to the Evidence & Policy Special Issue (Volume 17, Issue 2): The many faces of disability in evidence for policy and practice. Guest Edited by Carol Rivas, Ikuko Tomomatsu and David Gough. This post is based on the Special Issue article, ‘Ignoring evidence, producing inequities: public policies, disability and the case of Kaiowá and Guarani Indigenous children with disabilities in Brazil‘.

The implementation of public policies is a process that is as complex as its formulation, especially when we set out to solve issues in communities whose codes and languages are not shared by policymakers.

For example, Brazil is a country of continental proportions. Its population and socio-political contexts are very diverse. In the 2010 census, 305 indigenous ethnicities were identified, ranging from peoples living under voluntary isolation to groups living in major cities, spread across the 27 Brazilian states. Such diversity engenders a multitude of viewpoints about socially relevant problems, which universal public policies cannot cover without proper adaptations.

In contexts with a high level of specificity, it is imperative to gather evidence in many ways. For public policies to reach their goals, it is not enough that their implementation is ‘evidence-based’; it is fundamental that the evidence is culturally appropriate. Culturally Appropriate Evidence (CAE) is the evidence that is contextualised through (1) the points of view of the beneficiaries; (2) the social, cultural, political and economic framework; and (3) environmental and territorial conditions.

As we discuss in our Evidence & Policy article, the absence of CAE, and interinstitutional and intersectoral collaboration, can hinder the formulation of alternatives that respect diversity and achieve public policy goals. Between 2018 and 2019, as representatives of the National Indian Foundation (Fundação Nacional do Índio: FUNAI), we acted alongside other entities of the federal government and the government of the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul to seek alternatives to the situation of the Guarani Kaiowá children with disabilities, who found themselves under ‘social internment’. Although they had families and were not in need of hospital internment, these children lived in hospitals. During our work, we realised that even though there existed public policies geared towards child protection, people with disabilities and indigenous peoples, street-level workers and local decision-makers had difficulty implementing the three policies in a joined-up manner.

At a local level, we observed that discriminatory narratives were used as justification for the development of solutions for the case. Neither the point of view of the indigenous populations from that region, nor the studies carried out by the scientific community, were used as references for the implementation of these policies. Therefore, local parties drew the conclusion that there were no services or equipment that answered to the needs of those children. As a result, the first solution that was proposed locally was the creation of a ‘total institution‘ – a recourse that would violate the basic Brazilian guidelines for the safeguard of the rights of children, indigenous peoples and people with disabilities.

Through this experience, we understood that implementing public policies, without taking into consideration the specificities of the beneficiary populations, results in the propelling of discrimination and deepening social inequality. If the justification for action is associated with discriminatory narratives, and the tools and conditions for the participation and the consultation of the beneficiary populations are non-existent, the ‘adaptations’ may be used to bring forth racist policies and justify the use of ‘mechanisms of exception’.

The production of CAE presupposes the approximation of local decision-makers and street workers from the indigenous population, their communities and their deliberation spaces, as well as the inclusion of actors from the scientific community in the process of implementing and adapting public policies. In addition, the interinstitutional and intersectoral collaboration associated with a favourable political context contributes to the reduction of local resistance to new approaches to public policies. CAE-based policymaking fosters the development of creative and culturally appropriate solutions.

Rayanne de Sales Lima is a Specialized Indigenist at the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI), Brazil.

Andréa Borghi Moreira Jacinto is a Social Policy Analyst at the Ministry of Health, Brazil.

Rodrigo Arthuso Arantes Faria is a Specialized Indigenist at the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI), Brazil.

You can read the original research in Evidence & Policy:

de Sales Lima, R. Jacinto, A. B. M. and Faria, R. A. (2021). Ignoring evidence, producing inequities: public policies, disability and the case of Kaiowá and Guarani Indigenous children with disabilities in Brazil. Evidence & Policy, DOI: 10.1332/174426421X16147039138899.

Image credit: Author’s own.

If you enjoyed this blog post, you may also be interested to read:

Using evidence in shaping disability policy in Romania: the case of sheltered workshops

The many faces of disability in evidence for policy and practice: embracing complexity

Disability and family violence prevention: a case study on participation in evidence making

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