Affirmative action refers to policies intended to promote access to education or employment aimed at a historically socio-politically non-dominant group (typically, minorities or women). Motivation for affirmative action policies is to redress the effects of past discrimination and to encourage public institutions such as universities, hospitals and police forces to be more representative of the population.
This is commonly achieved through targeted recruitment programmes, by preferential treatment given to applicants from socio-politically disadvantaged groups and in some cases through the use of quotas.
Opponents of affirmative action policies argue that it is based on collectivism and merely another form of discrimination because it can result in qualified applicants being denied entry to higher education or employment because they belong to a particular social group (usually the historically socio-politically dominant group; typically majority races and men).
Some groups who are targeted for affirmative action are characterized by race, gender, ethnicity, or disability status. In India (where the term used is "reservation"), the focus has mostly been on undoing caste discrimination. In South Africa, the focus has been primarily race-based and, to a lesser extent, gender-based discrimination. When members of targeted groups are actively sought or preferred, the reason given is usually that this is necessary to compensate for advantages that other groups are said to have had (such as through institutional racism or institutional sexism or historical circumstances). Opponents counter this argument by demonstrating that some groups who have been victims of institutional racism, such as Asian Americans, are directly injured by affirmative action programs.
Proponents argue affirmative action is the best set of principles to eliminate unfair decision-making. Other forms that rely only on race-blindness, gender-blindness...