A major psycho social cause of conflict is the repeated marginalization of particular persons or groups. As a host of people are excluded from the social, economic and political spheres, tension increases, and marginalization makes it easier for contending parties to cause individuals and groups to engage in extreme actions and mobilize others to act as perpetrators. The effects of marginalization differ for every individual and are linked to personal traits and environmental circumstances. Historically, those who have become rebel leaders felt victimized and humiliated during an earlier period of their lives. They may have experienced repression, human rights violations, deprivation of needed resources and/or alienation. Their aggression appears to be a form of retaliation deriving from past feelings of
indignity and degradation. A theory that closely examines the notion of humiliation underlying structural violence contends that one contributing factor is the absence of recognition and respect, which creates divisions between “masters” and “underlings” and feelings of humiliation. As the “underlings” rise to power, they engage in extreme acts, inflicting tremendous indignities and perpetuating the cycle of humiliation. This is particularly true in hierarchical societies such as Burundi, Rwanda, and Germany under Hitler’s reign. Followers may be successfully instrumentalized with notions of avenging humiliation, where there may simply be frustration.22 Examples of this are depicted in the Sierra Leone case study below but may also be seen in Colombia, the Philippines and Rwanda. When rebel leaders are in a position to vent their feelings through actions, the majority of the population is made to suffer, with many killed, wounded or exploited. Similarly, youth and adolescents who experienced early aggression and a violent childhood are at the highest risk of perpetrating violence. Unaccompanied children 23 are both victims and sources of violence in Africa and Latin America. Studies indicate that uneducated youth and school dropouts are more likely to engage in violence and other behaviours that are detrimental to their health.24 This is perhaps because they are less secure than their educated peers and feel inferior to or less capable than other members of the community—or, in a word, humiliated. Youth and women are often marginalized in decision-making processes. At the local and national levels, they are expected to obey political and religious community leaders. At the international level, they have little say in the formulation and implementation of policies that are meant to protect their interests and well-being during peacetime and wartime. Nonetheless, they must endure the sometimes brutal socioeconomic effects of these decisions, and their long-term needs are left unmet, as in the case of rape victims who do not receive health and counselling services. During armed conflict, girls and women assume non-traditional roles as heads of households. Although it becomes their responsibility to produce meals for their families, during emergencies these individuals—many of whom are children and adolescents—are seldom consulted about issues related to food aid, nor are they informed when the deliveries they are depending on are delayed or cancelled. Likewise, the women may be empowered through their inclusion in high-level decision-making processes. Their participation would most likely contribute to an improvement in social welfare and more equitable resource distribution.