This article celebrates the United Nations World Day of Social Justice, 20 February 2015.
What is social justice? According to the United Nations, it is a type of justice that allows people to live with dignity, and reach their own potential. Boil it down and you get a definition that includes equality no matter what your gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion, culture or disability.
It is also about the ability to get decent work to feed your family.
In 2007, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 20 February the World Day of Social Justice. Member states were invited to devote the day to promoting national activities to eradicate poverty, support full employment and decent work, gender equity and universal access to social well-being and justice.
Which brings us back to decent work. For some, it is getting harder and harder to find.
A Global Economy
As globalization has increased business opportunities have expanded. On the down side, the global economy has moved manufacturing and services to new locations and caused financial instability in certain regions. Some people have profited by this, but many more have not.
Inequality within many countries (as witnessed in the United States and elsewhere by the Occupy Wall Street movement) and between the world’s richest and poorest nations has also grown exponentially over the last few decades. According to W. Sengenberger’s 2002 report Globalization and Social Progress, in 1960 the income gap between the wealthiest and the poorest fifth of the world’s population was 30 to 1. By 1999, it had increased to 74 to 1. In 1995, average GDP per capita in the richest 20 countries was 37 times the average in the poorest 20 – a gap that doubled in 40 years.
Alarmed by these figures, the International Labour Organization (ILO) adopted the Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization in 2008. The Declaration focuses on guaranteeing fair outcomes for all through employment, social protection, social dialogue, and fundamental principles and rights at work.
“Inequality not only leads to a decline in productivity but also breeds poverty, social instability and even conflict,” noted ILO Director-General Juan Somavia in a 2010 speech. He urged the international community to establish some basic rules of the game to ensure that globalization offers a fair chance at prosperity for everyone. Somavia also shared some grim statistics: 200 million people unemployed worldwide, including nearly 80 million youth; 1.5 billion workers in vulnerable employment; 630 million working poor living with their families at US$ 1.25 a day.
The Way Forward
The solution? Leaders and societies must promote policies to provide jobs, justice, and freedom for people to voice their needs. World Social Justice Day is a perfect time for grassroots organizations to address politicians with local and international social justice concerns via marches, letters and awareness-raising events.
Ban Ki-moon states clearly on the United Nations website, “Experience shows that economic growth, on its own, is not sufficient. We must do more to empower individuals through decent work, support people through social protection, and ensure the voices of the poor and marginalized are heard. As we continue our efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and shape a post-2015 development agenda, let us make social justice central to achieving equitable and sustainable growth for all.”
Equality and decent work for all could result in a socially just world. It’s not too much to ask for.
Social Justice Resources for Teachers
- Teachers resource tools – National Education Association – Diversity Toolkit: Social Justice
- Teaching Tolerance – Southern Poverty Law Center in the US – Using Photographs to Teach Social Justice
- Canadian Civil Liberties Association: Teaching Critical Thinking for Social Justice
- A Social Justice Lens, BC Teachers Federation