Affirmative action

Affirmative action describes policies that support members of a disadvantaged group that has previously suffered discrimination (and may continue to) in such areas as education, employment, or housing.[1][2][3][4] Historically and internationally, support for affirmative action has sought to achieve goals such as bridging inequalities in employment and pay, increasing access to education, promoting diversity, and redressing apparent past wrongs, harms, or hindrances.

The nature of affirmative action policies varies from region to region. Some countries use a quota system, whereby a certain percentage of government jobs, political positions, and school vacancies must be reserved for members of a certain group; an example of this is the reservation system in India. In some other regions where quotas are not used, minority group members are given preference or special consideration in selection processes. In the United States, affirmative action in employment and education has been the subject of legal and political controversy. In 2003, the Supreme Court of the United States, in Grutter v. Bollinger, held that the University of Michigan Law School could consider race as a plus-factor when evaluating applicants holistically and maintained the prohibition on the use of quotas.[5] In other countries, such as the UK,[6][7][8] affirmative action is rendered illegal because it does not treat all races equally. This approach to equal treatment is described as being "color blind". In such countries, the focus tends to be on ensuring equal opportunity and, for example, targeted advertising campaigns to encourage ethnic minority candidates to join the police force. This is sometimes described as "positive action".


The term "affirmative action" was first used in the United States in "Executive Order No. 10925",[9] signed by President John F. Kennedy on March 6 1961, which included a provision that government contractors "take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin".[10] It was used to promote actions that achieve non-discrimination. In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson issued Executive Order 11246 which required government employers to take "affirmative action" to "hire without regard to race, religion and national origin". This prevented employers from discriminating against members of disadvantaged groups. In 1967, gender was added to the anti-discrimination list.[11]

Affirmative action is intended to promote the opportunities of defined minority groups within a society to give them equal access to that of the majority population.[12]

It is often instituted for government and educational settings to ensure that certain designated "minority groups" within a society are able to participate in all provided opportunities including promotional, educational, and training opportunities.[13]

The stated justification for affirmative action by its proponents is that it helps to compensate for past discrimination, persecution or exploitation by the ruling class of a culture,[14] and to address existing discrimination.[15]