What’s this Social Justice Thing ?

Why I advocate for social justice

My workday is spent with people who experience various levels of disadvantage. It is not surprising then that much of our time together is spent listening to their experiences of the system within which they are trying to access social services.  There are few rainbows in their lives yet they exhibit an admirable resilience to the inappropriate attitudes of those in positions of power.

(Back in the day they were called civil servants for very good reason.  They were there to serve civilians who required help, not hand outs or anything they weren’t entitled to.  And these servants of the general populace behaved in a civil manner to those entering their offices.  They held their public in respect and treated them with dignity.  So when did all that change?)  

Some clients have the strength and assertive skills to keep on keeping on but for each one of these there are ten others with little emotional energy to continue to fight against the arrogant attitude of those in public office.  It is important therefore, for those people, that there are others willing to stand alongside them and advocate on their behalf.  This is grassroots social justice.

Social justice is a subjective concept when we talk about the redistribution of wealth to achieve greater equality for the oppressed.  The perspective of social justice from this group would be that it is a positive.  On the other hand those who view social justice in terms of a “group of bleeding hearts propping up those who should get off their butts and better themselves” (yes, that has been said to me) have earned their position of wealth and status and see the redistribution of  wealth as unfair.

There is no right way to think about social justice because it is seen so differently by various people, some of whom may be in the same socio-economic position.  Not everyone has an opinion about social justice, or indeed even cares about it.  Those who do hold an opinion, whether positive or negative, will more likely be the ones affected by it.

social justice 1

Five basic principles underpin the concept of providing a fair go for everyone and not to be confused with everyone receiving the same opportunities so much as everyone having access to services that reduce their disadvantage and vulnerability.  In short help close the gap between the haves and the have-nots.

Most of us have the smarts to understand that if we work hard and persevere we deserve to reap the fruits of our endeavours. Most of us have what I think of as born-with talents, traits like a happy disposition, insight and self awareness. Combine those talents with the privilege of being born into a family that nurtures the child, values a small persons dignity and respects their maturing opinions then chances are that person will enter adult hood years with a sunny self-esteem and self-confidence to carry them through.

What an excellent world we would live in if every one of us had that luck. Please don’t misunderstand me, I am not saying the privileged don’t deserve their lives. I’m suggesting for those who have not had such a nurturing environment in which to experiment in early life and make mistakes, the emphasis of advocating for social justice becomes important. In some circumstances this support and advocacy can be life-saving.

If we take a look at the principles of social justice we start to get the feeling that these are things that affect all of us at some point of our lives. Everyone, on the life continuum, experiences disadvantage and vulnerability. Maybe it’s an early diagnosis of terminal illness, or we become frail with age and no longer able to remember as well as we used to. On the other hand we may be vicariously affected by a loved ones vulnerability and their struggles accessing services that they may never have thought they would need. Being on the back foot in our vulnerability diminishes our self-confidence and belief in our abilities once so strong. Social justice comes in at this point in the form of another to help navigate the system to ensure services, resources and support are accessible during times of vulnerability.

So what are these principles ?

1. Being able to access resources and services
2. Equity is overcoming unfairness caused by unequal access to economic resources and imbalance in power. Like the pore exercised by certain public servants when dealing with community members trying to access their services.
3. Rights is about the same effective legal, industrial and political as other citizens.
4. Self Determination encourages people to be actively involved in huge decisions which govern their l Ives.
5. Participation:
 An economic, political and socially inclusive society in which everyone has access to the employment market regardless of race, gender, culture, ethnicity or disability.

If you’re thinking social justice is the domain of community workers then I urge you to read on no matter how uncomfortable you may be feeling.

Social justice is about everyone’s obligations to the common good; it’s about each of us placing an emphasis on the vulnerable receiving what they are owed. They are owed services, resources and moral support because they are citizens of our country. The Australian federal government has a role in this, they redistribute resources as policy decides. But social justice is about the common good and the common good is everyone’s concern.

Social justice is about respect for human rights and although we may not have been asked for our opinion when these were being put together, society recognises them. Living in community means we care for each other, we have obligations to see other are okay and yes we are our brother’s keeper. Regardless of our birth privilege, or disadvantage, each person has a right to experience basic equality by virtue of their humanity. We are superior to only plant and animal life – and some would argue that point – but we are equal to each other by virtue of sharing in the same human experience.

To be able to walk into the potential life has granted us, individuals need to be able to do things for themselves, of their own accord. To do these things we need access to resources, the same opportunities as the next person, the freedom to participate in the decision-making process involved and the right to be treated with dignity and respect throughout the process. We also have the right to do for ourselves what we are capable. Some of us may need a little more support than you think is required, or are able to offer. What you think we need does not diminish that need, it simply reflects your need for us to achieve … on your terms.

Lastly social justice is not about rescuing, being a trendy leftie or a bleeding heart. It is about our helping some member of the community to flourish and in so doing we raise the bar for everyone. We achieve the common good, reduce discrimination and gender-bashing, celebrate – honour, respect and recognise – diversity. We acquire a cultural humility that is promoted through partnerships. When we celebrate with these communities we become allies, and advocates for marginalised and oppressed groups.

Australia is growing continually as a multicultural, multiethnic and multiracial country. To keep pace with the demographic shifts of the times economic inequality by gender and race all of us need to step up to ensure we do not lose big pockets of diversity to vulnerability and disenfranchisement.

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