The Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers (ANZASW) today celebrates the World Day of Social Justice.
Aotearoa New Zealand has a proud history of advancing the cause of progress: for example, we hold the distinction as the first nation on earth to grant votes to women thanks to the pioneering struggle of Kate Sheppard and the woman’s suffrage movement in the late nineteenth century.
Social workers are at the forefront of the fight for human rights and social justice in society; it is a profession that holds these principles at its core. ANZASW offers its solidarity to social work colleagues all over the globe who every day contribute to the struggle for social progress.
ANZASW is itself committed to advancing social justice through all the means at its disposal, particularly in advocating for the rights of disadvantaged persons.
The fight for social justice never ends. Yet it is fitting to reflect on its achievements: thanks to the work of politicians, unions and justice movements we have developed a fairer society where barriers of class, race, gender, religion, sexuality and physical ability have been incrementally worn down.
Today we particularly celebrate the progress that has been achieved in terms of greater racial equality, women’s and LGBTIQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Questioning) rights.
However, Aotearoa New Zealand still has some way to go to tackle persisting issues that prevent parts of society from being able to thrive.
For example, the pay gap between men and women remains too high. Despite having fallen from 12% in 2016 to 9.4% last year the figure remains a testament to ongoing structural forms of discrimination which must be eliminated entirely.
Despite having a female Prime Minister, women generally remain under-represented in higher status and higher paid positions in Aotearoa New Zealand. The Prime Minister’s commitment to tackling this issue is welcomed, and ANZASW looks forward to seeing more progress.
Child poverty remains a blight on the social landscape and is perhaps the most urgent crisis in the country today. UNICEF estimates that more than quarter of Kiwi children live in income poverty, while 12% live in a state of material hardship. ANZASW notes that deprivation, especially severe deprivation, at an early age can have life-long consequences which make it harder for children to achieve their full potential.
Residual disadvantage rooted in the historical dispossession of Maori remains a deep problem, measurable in continuing income disparities between Maori and Pakeha, low house ownership rates for Maori and high levels of unemployment.
More broadly, there is a need for a living wage to be available to all workers so that they do not have to rely on government support or even external help like food banks to meet their basic needs.
ANZASW looks forward to further development on all these issues even as it celebrates the progress that has been achieved so far.