Personal barriers

Many individuals who overcome personal, cultural barriers and attempt to become active in public life, experience a ‘zapper effect’ as a result of how they are treated. The values, norms, structures and processes prevalent in public agencies lead to those people who are trying to get involved feeling excluded, patronised, not good enough, or simply not knowing the ‘rules of the game’.

Reflections from the field:

People report the following personal barriers:

  • Lack of confidence and not knowing how to take the first step
  • Fear of rejection
  • Poor self esteem
  • Inferiority complex
  • Feeling of being ignored
  • Physical and linguistic abilities
  • It’s scary to step into the unknown
  • Fear in public speaking
  • Age – feeling too young or too old
  • Not believing in our political system – opting out
  • It’s pointless
  • Cynical about being able to change things
  • Don’t see the point – doesn’t make a difference
  • Believing you won’t be listened to

There are many reasons for the above:

  • Feeling you don’t have the right – power is in ‘others’ hands
  • Fears and concerns about going wrong, not knowing how it works
  • Not understanding how things work – not having enough knowledge and understanding of structures
  • Being ignored, patronised
  • Not knowing the ‘rules of the game’
  • Dismissed as inexperienced
  • Not understanding what people are talking about
  • Feeing that they may be found out – that they have nothing valid to say
  • How people see you because of your age, sexuality, race, gender, class, education…..
  • Being excluded (even deliberately) from structures – a closed shop!
  • Family commitments and caring responsibilities in both the practical sense and also because of ‘guilt’

People can also be excluded because of access issues and these can include:

  • The language used – spoken, non-English speakers, verbal, no signing, jargon
  • Locality – can you get to where things happen – public transport issues
  • Safety issues – times of meetings, personal safety
  • Lack of support
  • Money and lack of resources

People can also be excluded by ‘religion’ or other ‘sets of beliefs’ that are used as a barrier to stop a project, to exclude certain people, to set rules that mean people, e.g. women, are not ‘allowed’ to do certain things, where men become more dominant. Sometimes a group or organisation can have prior claims on people, especially if you are a member of a political party (the whip!)

Women particularly report:

  • Childcare and family commitments
  • Family responsibilities
  • Home atmosphere
  • Responsibility
  • Lack of partners/family support
  • Negative attitudes

As women we have full responsibility of our family, especially the kids, that sometimes stop us getting involved in big causes

There is also a clear connection with the role that women are expected to play, often singlehandedly in raising children, often with little support

Ref quotes

It is really important to disentangle the barriers that prevent people becoming more involved as ‘active citizens’ and to work out who and what is responsible, what we can do to change things, and what else needs to change in terms of systems and structures.



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