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Social Workers recognise World Social Justice Day

The Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers recognises World Social Justice Day 2019.

Social Justice is a concept that acknowledges the distribution of wealth, influence and privilege in society is not always fair and seeks to address these deficits, so that individuals and families / whanau from all walks of life are able to access opportunity on a level playing field.

The principle of social justice has deep roots in our islands. It’s spirit is clearly recognisable in the tradition of Manaakitanga, the establishment of the welfare state, the struggle for rights for women and justice for Tangata Whenua, to name some prominent examples.

ANZASW is proud to align itself with such movements and their legacy, recognising the role that many social workers have played in furthering the cause of social justice, historically and at the present time.

As the global definition of Social Work makes clear, our profession holds social justice at its core. Ours is a vocation that seeks to facilitate human liberation by walking with service users, applying our training and skills to empower them to move forward and overcome unfair barriers to full participation in society.

Reflecting on this, ANZASW member Dr Liz Beddoe of Auckland University said: “I think, for me, social work is social justice enacted on a daily basis.”

“So whether it’s the person in front of you, the family that you’re working with, the community organisation that you’re partnering with, whatever the context- micro, macro or whatever- you are practicing human rights in all of your interactions. And where you feel that human rights have been breached- for example, you may deal with a situation that is right there in front of you, because that’s your job- you’re actually able to do something about it,” she observed.

Social workers are trained to recognise the big picture, acknowledging the forces that produce disadvantage, creating obstacles to fulfilment for some communities and persons more than others.

Our profession offers a wide-lensed social model of analysis which informs our response to the challenges service users are facing in ways no other other can, ANZASW member and Auckland University academic Dr Ian Hyslop noted.

While other professions tend to see “solutions as located within individuals or within individuals and their immediate family context,” Dr Hyslop noted that social also provides a “broader contextual analysis that goes beyond that,” recognising, among others, historical, structural and class-based influences “played out in the individualised lives” of service users and their families / whanau.

“It’s about seeing that big picture in the lives of individuals. And that’s not about excusing behaviour, or the various critiques of social work being this soft, over-caring profession. It’s about understanding behaviour, understanding people’s circumstances, understanding the material conditions that impact people’s choices and opportunities in life,” he added.

In keeping with our principles, the Association will continue to advocate for social and economic justice, including the fulfilment of human rights, self-determination, the development of more fulfilling, secure and fairly-paid jobs; social mobility; a fairer distribution of the benefits of economic growth and a robust welfare state.

Both globally and locally, we uphold social justice when we support the rights of workers, migrants, refugees, indigenous peoples, women and the LGBTIQ community; when we oppose preventable hardship and famine, oppose rights abuses and express solidarity with colleagues overseas. Social workers are doing so on a daily basis across the world.

An example of the difference that social work has made in affirming human rights and promoting social justice internationally was given by Rory Truell, a New Zealander, member of ANZASW and head of the International Federation of Social Work (IFSW).

He recalled: “Social workers in Argentina recently explained how they refused to participate in a system that allocated access to health and hospitals for certain people [only]; and they systematically, across a number of institutions, refused to assessments...and after a long advocacy process and a refusal to participate in that system, they won that [fight] and they changed the health system in the region that they working in so that all people, regardless of their background, had access to health services.”

In another example of social workers being instrumental in furthering social justice, practitioners in Costa Rica played a crucial role in campaigning for new legislation that incorporated social work approaches to tackling poverty. The law was changed, and Puente al Desarrollo – A Bridge to Development, has helped to significantly reduce poverty in the country.

We hope that highlighting these inspiring examples of social change facilitated by international colleagues will be a reminder about the value of the work we do, the objectives we are all striving for- and the fact that we can make a difference.

To members and colleagues, we offer our thanks and respect for all you do to advance social justice through your work. We hope the awareness day we are presently observing will encourage more action to address the injustices that remain both here in Aotearoa and across the world.

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