Know these 5 “isms” to build a more inclusive society

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What is an inclusive society?

The term gets its meaning from the word ‘inclusion’, which means the practice of including those within a group or a structure who may be otherwise excluded or marginalized due to any social, cultural, or societal differences. It fosters an environment that offers equal opportunities as well as the right to be to all its members despite differences in age, colour, gender, sexuality, language, nationality or ethnicity. In short, an inclusive society is a society for ‘all’.

Why is an inclusive society important?

Social inclusion plays a key role in determining the mental well-being of an individual. We all thrive when we enjoy a life of dignity, socio-political and economic security, and when we are allowed to nurture harmonious relationships with other members of society. Social inclusion, therefore, is the touchstone of a safe and stable social order.

What is the opposite of social inclusion?

The opposite scenario is a society that discriminates against certain groups. It is when people are excluded from enjoying rights simply because they belong to a certain minority. Such treatment pulls down the self-esteem and confidence of individuals. The result is a society with deeply-rooted resentment, disharmony, and anger.

What kind of a society would you like to live in?

The first step to building an inclusive society is for each of us to be aware of our own preconceived notions. Here’s a list of the usual “isms” that can prevent any society from fostering inclusion. See if you believe in any of them:


Racism is discrimination based on a person’s race or ethnicity. It’s a belief that exalts a certain race over another. In history, systems like apartheid and slavery were based on the misguided principle that whites are superior to other races, especially black people. This led to a variety of discriminatory practices that caused suffering among people of colour. Examples of these were hate crimes (from verbal abuse to lynching) and segregation laws.

The well-known George Floyd case (2020) is one of the recent examples exposing police brutality in the U.S based on racial differentiation. George Floyd was denied his civil and judicial rights and was subjected to racial profiling.

Have you ever stereotyped someone based on their skin colour?


Sexism is discrimination based on the gender identity of a person. Typically, it upholds the assumption that men are superior to women. For centuries, men have enjoyed rights and privileges for which women had to struggle and fight. These include equal rights to education, voting, owning property, and receiving equal pay. Women continue to fight for these rights today. Sexist and misogynistic attitudes, harassment, language and jokes that dismiss them as inferior, incapable or silly are still prevalent in present times. The creation and amendment of abortion laws have also reignited the issue of women’s rights over their own bodies.

In Canada’s history, the Famous Five led the fight to uphold women’s equal rights. Because of their work, the Supreme Court of Canada officially recognized women as persons in 1929, finally making them able to vote, run for office, and participate in spaces originally afforded only for men. Their groundbreaking work is immortalized in a sculptural piece outside the Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

How 5 women changed Canada forever over a cup of tea, Famous 5 Foundation

While sexism is typically against women, men can also be subjected to sexist attitudes. For instance, society’s expectations for men to be always strong and shoulder the economic responsibilities of the family is the flip side of sexism targeted towards women.

Have you ever labelled someone based on their gender?


Ageism is discrimination based on a person’s age. It’s a social construct that tags people of specific age-groups as unfit to accomplish certain tasks due to their age. It is prejudice targeted towards both the young and old alike. It can occur in the workplace, community, in healthcare, or politics, and even in your own home. Being ignored or dismissed, excluded, ridiculed or passed over due to lack of experience are some subtle ageist practices. It can demotivate and dispirit people.

Did you know that Colonel Sanders started the popular franchise KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) when he was 65 years old, an age when most people prefer to retire from work and work-related responsibilities? Conversely, teenagers like Greta Thunberg, Malala Yousafzai, and Joshua Williams started campaigns that have inspired millions, proving that kids can make a difference.

Have you ever assumed that a person would not be good at something because of their age?


Ableism is discrimination based on a person’s different abilities or disabilities. It is a misplaced belief that able-bodied people are superior to those with disabilities. Some may also assume that the disabled always need support. This is patronizing and disrespectful. They don’t need our pity. It is important to recognize people with disabilities or different abilities as unique. Their contributions are invaluable to society. A more equitable approach should be adopted towards their inclusion.

According to the World Health Organization, about 15 per cent of the world’s population identify as having some form of disability, yet most disabled individuals lead productive and fulfilled lives.

Have you ever categorized someone based on their abilities?


Classism is discrimination based on economic class. It is stereotyping people based on their job status or income. Most commonly, those with money and power align themselves with those of the same or higher status, and look down on those who are poor and powerless. As you can imagine, this leads to dissatisfaction among people who are at the receiving end of social and economic inequality. This grievance is justified because everyone has the right to a life of dignity, irrespective of their class and economic status.

Many countries realize that income disparity should not affect public benefits that people enjoy. As such, services like healthcare and education act as great equalizers. Another way to bridge the gap is generating employment and investment opportunities for its people.

Have you ever judged someone based on their clothing or material possessions?

Building a more inclusive society

In order to build an inclusive society, it is important for everyone to be educated about different kinds of discrimination and to learn about various stereotypes, misconceptions, and hurtful language that perpetuate discrimination.

Becoming aware is the first step towards becoming sensitive and fixing the wrongs!

Sources: Ableism, negative attitudes, stereotypes and stigma, Ontario Human Rights Commission; Ageing: Ageism, World Health Organization; Creating an Inclusive Society: Practical Strategies to Promote Social Integration, DESA; and Ableism, negative attitudes, stereotypes and stigma, Ontario Human Rights Commission. Accessed May 18, 2022.
By Tanveen Tatke

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Community Resources

Interested in learning more about the various “isms” that affect our rights? The Manitoba Human Rights Commission holds seminars and workshops particularly on the Human Rights Code. Please note that workshops can be free or for a fee.

Learn about key human rights topics such as “Racial profiling in retail stores”, “Sexual harassment in the workplace” (Safer spaces in Canada) and ‘Working with Abilities Canada” at the Canadian Association of Human Rights Agencies (CASHRA) website. Their Virtual Classroom has self-directed resources in English and French you can use for free.

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