February 20th marks the World Day of Social Justice established by the United Nations (UN), and this year’s theme recognises environmentally sustainable economies and societies. The World Day of Social Justice brings together the fundamental values that all societies should have: equality, harmony, solidarity and social justice. The United Nations holds social justice at the core of its mission to promote development and human dignity.
Governments have made a commitment to the creation of a framework for action that promotes social justice not only a national level, but internationally. In addition, Governments around the world have also pledged to promote equal distributions of income and resources and have recognised that a society for all needs to be based on respect for all human rights.
The World Day of Social Justice places an emphasis on civic duty, engagement and solidarity which is a new politics that will bring a society defined by utilitarianism. That which is fair, moral and just is that which a civilization must decide in order to assure social justice. A day in which the General Assembly will recognise that social development and social justice are indispensable for the achievement and maintenance of peace and security amongst nations. Social development and social justice cannot be attained in the absence of peace and security, or in the absence of freedom.
Oxfam reported that 80% of the world’s richest people had the same amount of wealth as the poorest 3.6 billion people. The effects of economic inequality can have drastic results, even in the UK there is a growing divide between the life expectancy of the richest and poorest within society.
In 2008, the Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization was adopted by the International Labour Organization (ILO) in an effort to show its commitment to social justice. The Declaration posits that achieving improved and fair outcomes are necessary for the aspirations of a just society.
“In this crucial year for global development, as Member States work to craft a post-2015 agenda and a new set of sustainable development goals, let us do our utmost to eradicate all forms of human exploitation. Let us strive to build a world of social justice where all people can live and work in freedom, dignity and equality.” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
Whilst globalization and interdependence are opening opportunities through trade, investment and capital flows which encourage the improvement of living standards around the world, there are still severe challenges such as insecurity, poverty and inequality amongst societies which places barriers to further integration and participation in the global economy.
In June 2014 the International Labour Conference voted overwhelmingly to adopt a Protocol and a Recommendation that provided specific guidance on effective measures to be taken that would help eliminate forms of forced labour. In 2015, the International Labour Organization held a panel discussion on modern forms of forced labour and human trafficking and the impact this had on national and global social and economic development.
In order to advance social justice, societal barriers must be removed. These include gender, age, race, religion, culture and disability. The 2015 theme for the World Day of Social Justice was ending human trafficking and forced labour. Forced labour takes different forms including trafficking and debt bondage. Victims of this are usually women, migrants or sweatshop workers.
Whilst unemployment has been falling in developed countries, the job crisis is not likely to end in the short term, especially in emerging countries. Unemployment rates are expected to rise by 2.3 million, reaching 199.4 million in 2016 with an additional 1.1 million forecasted to be added to the global tally by 2017. This means that both males and females are likely to have to accept lower paid jobs, both in emerging and developing economies.
Urgent action should be taken to increase the number of work opportunities in order to alleviate tensions. Policies need to focus more on strengthening employment and tackling the inequalities. Furthermore, vulnerable employment is concerning high in developing economics with peaks in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
Keep up to date with the World Day of Social Justice on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #WDSJ2016! Additionally, there are many resources online for teachers including lesson plans about social justice too!
Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Richard Barth at the Society for Social Work Research (SSWR) conference in Washington DC. Dr. Barth is President of the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare (AASWSW) in addition to being the School of Social Work Dean at the University of Maryland. Dr. Barth has previously served as a chaired professor at the University of North Carolina and the University of California at Berkeley. He is also a past recipient of the SSWR Lifetime Achievement Award.
We got together to discuss the Grand Challenge initiative launched by the Academy during the conference, and its potential impact on the future of social work practice. The Grand Challenges for Social Work is a groundbreaking initiative to champion social progress powered by science, but it is also a call to action for all of us to work together to tackle our nation’s toughest social problems.
SWH: Why was it important to launch the Grand Challenge initiative, and what do you hope it will accomplish?
Richard: The goal is for the profession to improve its capacity to assist society to be safer, more supportive, and healthier. Our aspiration is to identify areas where we already have a history of accomplishment and those which we can be expected to have significant future accomplishment if we strengthen our focus and our scientific work.
In some cases, this may require readiness to take the interventions we are already engaged in to scale and testing them in different ways. This also means expanding partnerships with professionals, organizations and businesses who are interested in the same outcomes as we are. For other Grand Challenges we will need a longer period of development although we have identified measurable improvements that can be achieved in the next decade for all the Grand Challenges.
An additional benefit is to help the entire nation understand what social work does, what w are good at, what we care about, and why social work is such a vital partner in addressing each of these issues.
SWH: How do you envision turning the Grand Challenges into actionable policy changes?
Richard: As we develop interventions or take existing interventions to scale there will be policy implications all the way along. Sometimes those policies are just to identify newly needed research.
As an example, we have a grand challenge on ending homelessness and we are looking at youth homelessness. This is a significant problem and so to start attacking that problem one of the things we would need to do is to get very good estimates about youth homelessness, and the array of causes, that would the help us to see what are the opportunities to devise additional interventions that have compelling results. This may include changes in policies for child welfare, mental health, education, and juvenile services that help support youth in a broader range of ways. There will, undoubtedly be some homeless youth who we can’t help right away and who may require a different policy approach, which could include finding ways to help them stay out of jail or otherwise not become part of the incarceration of America during their period of homelessness.
This leads to another one of our grand challenges, which is “Smart Decarceration”. We expect that these grand challenges will integrate with each other and what we learn about ways of achieving decarceration–such as modified family courts–may be helpful for runaway homeless youth and people with behavioral health problems.
We’re interested in policy changes that affect as many people in a positive way as soon as possible. But that said, there are certainly policies that are primarily governed at the local level. Education policies for example are often determined at the school district level because most of the money to support education comes from local taxes. There are school and school district policies and procedures related to suspension and expulsion, which we talked about today in our discussion about success for African American children under the grand challenge of “Achieving Equal Opportunity and Justice”.
There are other areas where federal policy would need to be changed. For example, Medicaid supports groups for smoking prevention but they don’t support groups for parenting and yet if you’re really going to change family violence then you need to improve parenting. This is also true if we are going to achieve the Grand Challenge of “Ensuring Healthy Development for All Youth”. We are looking at ways to work at the national level to address that issue. Policy implications that arise out of the Grand Challenges will in many ways depend on the question that is being asked and the way that it’s currently being supported.
SWH: The Grand Challenges are being launched at a macro level, how do you plan to reach frontline social workers?
Richard: We’re hoping that each of the grand challenges will end up with a cadre of interested members putting their ideas on the website at www.aaswsw.org and who go to the grand challenge section clicking over to the areas that they are interested in and signing up to get information. People will be able to post and retrieve information there. We are also encouraging all the grand challenges work groups, which are currently in their formative stages, to do what they can to reach out to practitioners to get their voice and to reach out to consumers to hear their voice.
In terms of frontline practitioners, one of the things we talked about today was trying to cohost some webinars with National Association of Social Workers. For example, we would like to open conversations with state social work organizations and non-governmental organizations about the goals of the grand challenges and ways we can collaborate for collective impact. For instance, when talking about our goals for education or goals related to decarceration, it’s important for us to connect with groups already specializing in those areas. We’re going utilize as social media as much as possible to expand our efforts and reach.
SWH: If the Grand Challenges has any hope of being successful, how will the Academy support Child Welfare social workers?
Richard: The Grand Challenges do not have a specific grand challenge about child welfare services. Yet, I expect that a grand challenge touches the lives of every child welfare involved client related to homelessness, decarceration, education, education pipeline, family violence, equal opportunity for all, and improved health for all. By making progress on these Grand Challenges we will create greater opportunity for families to succeed and will greatly strengthen child welfare’s capacity to help families to live together safely.
There’s a group that’s forming that’s dedicated to ending gender based violence, which of course intersects with family violence. There’s a very interesting grand challenge about “Build Financial Capability For All”, which has to do with helping low income families to manage the challenges they have around their resources, debt collection and management, eviction, and the many financial challenges that plague families. Further many of the approaches that will be further developed and disseminated under this grand challenge will be preventive in nature. Child welfare workers have to often try to address these issues after they’ve already impacted families. The Grand Challenge will look at preventive tools and also research how to help families maintain benefits they have received from their interaction with a child welfare worker.
SWH: How is this research going to be translatable to frontline workers and people in the field?
Richard: It is our goal to put really good science together and create intervention models that are more powerful than what we have now. As an example, the work on ending or reducing severe and fatal maltreatment is one of the working papers we are working on under “End Family Violence”. There has been a discussion about using birth records and prior child welfare records and other data to predict what cases should be screened in and looked at rather than screened out even though they’re high risk. So we’re trying to look at the groups that are working on testable questions that actually have a benefit in reducing the rates of untoward outcomes.
We’ll have to talk to child welfare workers to figure out how they would use that information. Let’s imagine we could create some excellent predictive analytics. Even so, we will still find it important for us to work with child welfare workers to see for example, how do you want to see that information? What don’t you want to see included in those predictions that might institutionalize bias? What do you think would actually lead to unfair uses of this information and how can you help us to take our science and use it to make a difference? We don’t want to overwhelm frontline workers with either too many ways or vague suggestions about what they would like to see.
SWH: If you could tweet one message about the Grand Challenges, what would it be?
Tweet: The Grand Challenges will be transformative if people buy in, join a challenge, & commit to partnering with others to make it happen. #Up4theChallenge
Foundations for Tomorrow is a community initiative that provides a tiny home community where Huntsville’s homeless can reside whilst transitioning back into society. This unique initiative was founded by Nicky Beale after the eviction of Huntsville’s Homeless from tent city in the Spring of 2014.
Foundations for Tomorrow has set its sights on building 30 tiny homes that will populate an acre of land, and allow its inhabitants to develop a community where they will live, eat and work together, according to the group’s fundraising site. Foundations for Tomorrow gained tremendous community support, helping this unique organisation help those who need it most.
SWH: Could you tell us about the mission and vision you have for Foundations for Tomorrow?
Beale: Our mission is to provide a tiny home community in which Huntsville’s homeless can reside while transitioning back into society. We hope to have a village for our homeless to temporarily reside in while they find a job, apply for public housing, and get the services they need to help them contribute to society.
SWH: How did your first tiny homes project come about?
Beale: It all started with my passion for tiny homes. I am a single mom with a five year old so living tiny would be a hard transition for us. But, I had a passion to give back to my community and a passion to change lives, so I decided to start building tiny homes and letting the homeless live in them. I thought it was a genius idea, but when I googled it, Andrew Heben with Opportunity Village has just stood up a village in Eugene Oregon. I connected with him and people in the Huntsville community and it all started to come together in a snowball way. I truly believe that if you start living your purpose, things will align in a divine way. At least with me, it did and still is.
SWH: What types of challenges and barriers have you run into?
Beale: There are a lot of challenges and barriers when trying to implement tiny homes as a viable solution to homelessness. First and foremost are zoning codes. Tiny homes are considered camping and in most cities, you are not allowed to camp within the city limits. These rules are to protect property value so it is hard to get city support to allow tiny homes. Another challenge we face is the lack of education on homelessness. People have stereotypes about the homeless that have to be undone.
City officials here believe that our tiny homes are inhumane because they don’t have running water or electricity. This is understandable coming from a person with a house, but when you spend any time in tent cities you realize that providing a hardened structure for our homeless citizens is the first step to reintegrating them back into the community. It provides them with security, privacy, a dry place to sleep, an address, and most importantly gives them a big dose of hope that living in a tent takes from them.
SWH: For people who are interested in replicating what you did in their local communities what steps would you advise them to take?
Beale: First and foremost educate yourself by reading Andrew Heben’s book Tent City Urbanism. It walks you through all the important steps of taking a tent city and transitioning the people to a hardened structure. He touches on all the barriers and challenges and how they overcame them. Second, would be to start talking to people in the community that already deal with the homeless on a regular basis to try and build support through other non-profits.
They can be very helpful in addressing who the important stakeholders are in the community. Another step is to familiarize yourself with the homeless in your city. See what challenges they face and what their day consists of so you can be an educated representative for them. After all that preparation and homework you can start to address city leaders.
SWH: What is next for Foundations for Tomorrow, and how can people support your efforts?
Beale: Foundations for Tomorrow is currently finishing our third house. We have an event with a local brewery and pizza place on Valentine’s Day to raise money and awareness. The Foundation is hosting a Tiny Home Build Workshop in April so people can learn how to build a tiny home and give back to the community at the same time. If anyone would like to help in our mission they can donate on our website, foundationsfortomorrowal.com
As a profession, British psychologists have traditionally been slow to rush to the forefront when it comes to societal, political or social injustices. This is in spite of available information and data – the British Psychological Society, which represents psychologists in the UK, has a list of articles related to Government and Politics alone.
Dr. Libby Watson of the University of East London wrote, “Rather than sitting in ivory towers or locked in clinic rooms, we as a profession need to get out – reach out to communities in need; talk to the people with the ‘power’”. In Keith Tuffin’s Understanding Critical Social Psychology, he notes that political ‘neutrality’ has led to a lack of reflection on where psychological research and practice sit within society – notably, what ideas and values underlie certain research topics.
There has been a call to go ‘beyond the therapy room’ and for psychologists to ‘speak out’ about things that matter. ‘Things that matter’ to psychologists might include the overuse of deadly anti-psychotic drugs in dementia, the personal and social implications of psychiatric diagnoses, gender disparity in ‘attempted’ and ‘completed’ suicides (the article’s terminology), and race differentials in treatment for ‘schizophrenia’. More recently, however, the United Kingdom’s austerity measures have mattered. They have mattered a lot. The key question is – why does austerity matter to psychologists?
Arguably, psychologists’ “speaking out” action has started with petitions. There were some intra-professional actions, for example psychologists have joined initiatives to provide free psychotherapy to the poor. However, now psychologists have started to march, and they marched 100 miles from Leicester to London.
What of these claims? Take the first point, the UK benefits system. Sanctions drove one gentleman to set his car alight, with him inside. Another man hanged himself due to his disability benefits being cut and the coroner ruled the benefits cuts as an unequivocal cause. Stephanie Bottrill wrote in her suicide note, after being subject to the ‘bedroom tax’, “The only people to blame are the government”. Calum’s list, a memorial for those who have ended their lives due to cuts, put the number at 60+. And the deaths don’t end there.
Between 2011 and 2014, 90 people per month died after their Employment and Support Allowance was stopped and approaching half of these had appealed the decision; this does not support causal effect, but proportions of deaths were higher than the general population. Indeed, research from the World Health Organisation suggests that the life expectancy of people with disabilities in 2010 should be 68.6 (compared to 79.9 for people without disability) – how many ‘working age adults’ whose benefits were stopped have reached close to 68.6 years old? Research by UK mental health charity The Samaritans found that poorer men are 10 times more likely to end their lives than richer men; ideas of money and power being salient in cultures with toxic societal ideals of masculinity.
Few people would disagree that food poverty is detrimental to wellbeing. We have this understanding in all areas of Western life, from a well-known chocolate bar suggesting “You’re not you when you’re hungry”, to psychologists talking about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (Maslow & Lewis, 1987). The hierarchy of needs suggests that a human needs a foundation of being well-fed and physically safe and secure to pursue other goals that facilitate wellbeing. However, it may be reductionist to suggest that food is only at the bottom of the ‘needs’ pyramid.
Homelessness, which no doubt exposes people to food poverty, paints a bleak picture of people’s psychological wellbeing, according to the American Psychological Association. Crucially, there are a number of interlinking factors that leads to lack of housing having an impact on mental wellbeing. Feeling low or ‘depressed’ is characterised by loss, powerless and guilt (not necessarily all at once, or by all theorists), problems with anxiety or anger are related to threat, substance abuse can be related to ‘numbing’ difficulties.
Add to this an uncertain, transitory lifestyle, condescending or abusive social environments, the increased risk of sexual assault and physical assault – not to mention traumatic events that might have led to homeslessness, or ongoing physical of mental health problems – and we have an utterly deplorable picture. Problems such as poor hygiene (hair, teeth, clothes, body…), sleeping lightly or sporadically, exposure to unsavoury weather conditions, and a lack of basics such as deodorant or shaving equipment have a huge part to play in our self-image and overall wellbeing.
So yes, it seems that psychologists do have a stake in the UK’s current austerity measures.
And psychologists are by no means the only group invested. The anti-austerity movement is growing across the county. Psychologists aren’t just walking with other mental health professionals. On October 4th 2015, Psychologists Against Austerity marched against austerity in Manchester, with tens of thousands of British people – from disabled people against austerity, an alliance of psychotherapists, anti-fracking groups, concerned parents, charity workers, student assemblies, human rights activists, junior doctors, university lecturers, anti-racism campaigners, politicians, trade unions, although not all of these groups got a mention in the media. Indeed, the media is reporting numbers up to 40,000 people fewer than the “100,000 and growing” number given to those who attended the march before it had even started moving.
Notable clinical psychologists David Smail wrote extensively about the effects of society on the individual – his “radical environmentalist theory of personal distress” rejects the idea that personal problems are inside an individual and their immediate environment, and advocates consideration of macro, political factors. The British Psychological Society is to hold a conference in his honour in November 2015, crucially stating “David proposed that to understand why we are unhappy, rather than insight, we must cultivate ‘outsight’ into the world around us. This perspective – which encourages personal modesty, appreciation of luck, compassion, and recognition of our common humanity – is today more relevant than ever”. More relevant than ever.
So – psychologists are marching because it’s necessary. They’re marching because it makes sense. They’re marching, crucially, because even an apolitical profession in an apolitical organsation is unable to stand by and keep quiet whilst austerity measures disempower, disable, and dismiss British citizens. Whilst people beg, and die begging. That’s not what national wellbeing looks like. That’s not what basic humanity looks like. And until things begin to change, psychologists will continue to march.
Children, women and men should be protected from forced labour and human trafficking which are two serious human rights violations. The latest International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimatesindicate some 20.9 million people around the world still being subjected to forced labour, and 880,000 in the European Union. Among these victims, 90% are exploited in the private economy, by individuals or private companies. Within this group, 22% are victims of forced sexual exploitation and 68% of forced labour exploitation in economic activities, such as agriculture, construction, domestic work or manufacturing.
An overview of the country reports of the Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) clearly shows that Europe is not immune to human trafficking and that certain groups, including women, children and minorities, are particularly vulnerable to this phenomenon. As illustrated by a study, the practice of human trafficking has a disproportionate impact on Roma, a group already suffering widespread discrimination and marginalisation.
The figures mentioned above, which are generally considered to be underestimates, are even more striking when we recall that slavery, servitude and human trafficking are clearly prohibited by international and European legal standards. Of particular relevance are Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) on the prohibition of slavery and forced labour, and the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (anti-trafficking Convention), which celebrated its 10th anniversary this year. The latter has now been ratified by 42 out of 47 member states of the Council of Europe –all but the Czech Republic, Liechtenstein, Monaco, the Russian Federation and Turkey – and by one non-member state, Belarus.
It is important to keep in mind some fundamental distinctions. Forced labour is any work or service which is exacted of someone under the menace of a penalty and for which that person has not offered him or herself voluntarily.
A victim of human trafficking is a person who has been recruited, transported, transferred, harboured or received within a country or across borders, by the use of threat, force, fraud, coercion or other illegal means, for the purpose of being exploited. Importantly, a child is considered to be a victim of human trafficking if he has been recruited, transported, transferred, harboured or received within a country or across borders for the purpose of being exploited, regardless of whether any of the aforementioned means were used.
In the context of human trafficking, exploitation is to be understood broadly so as to include: sexual exploitation; forced labour or services; slavery or practices similar to slavery; servitude; the removal of organs.
To give some concrete examples, I was informed by the Austrian authorities that the most frequent human trafficking was for sexual exploitation, forced labour as well as slave-like situations of domestic workers of foreign diplomats. In Belgium, numerous cases of trafficking for labour exploitation have been documented, including the case of several Moroccan workers exploited by a construction company. In Italy and nearly all European countries, Nigerian women have been found to be trafficked for the purpose of prostitution.
Other widespread forms include cases of exploitation where children or persons with disabilities are forced to beg by traffickers. For instance, cases of trafficking of Roma children for forced begging were reported in France. Forced committing of petty offences is another emerging form of exploitation, as in the documented case of Vietnamese youths trafficked in theUK to work in cannabis farms.
A new international legally binding treaty to protect the rights of victims of forced labour
The 2014 Protocol to the 1930 ILO Forced Labour Convention provides victims of forced labour with similar rights as the Council of Europe Anti-Trafficking Convention establishes for victims of trafficking. The Protocol, which has so far only been ratified by Niger, requires that states parties take effective measures to prevent and eliminate the use of forced labour; provide protection and access to appropriate and effective remedies to victims, such as compensation, irrespective of legal status in the national territory; and sanction the perpetrators of forced or compulsory labour. All member states of the Council of Europe should swiftly ratify and fully implement this new instrument in addition to the anti-trafficking Convention
The importance of distinguishing human trafficking and people smuggling
Trafficking in human beings is very often closely linked with migration. Migrants, in particular when undocumented, are among the groups at high risk of exploitation. However, the smuggling of migrants and trafficking in human beings should not be confused.
While the aim of people smuggling is unlawful cross-border transport in order to obtain a financial or other material benefit, the purpose of trafficking in human beings is exploitation. Furthermore, trafficking in human beings does not necessarily involve crossing a border. For instance, In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the majority of victims of trafficking identified by the authorities were trafficked within the country.
Now more than ever, the terms “smuggling” and “trafficking” are employed interchangeably in relation to migrants crossing the Mediterranean sea or using the Western Balkan routes. Many states claim that they are taking measures against networks of “human traffickers” or even against “modern slavery” whereas such measures target in fact people smugglers. This discourse has been severely criticised by over 300 scholars from around the world as an attempt to “twist the ‘lessons of history’ to authorise unjustifiable violence”.
It is also important that measures taken against people smuggling do not have a negative impact on action against human trafficking. Referring to the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean region, GRETA recently called upon states parties to “ensure that migration policies and measures to combat migrant smuggling do not put at risk the lives and safety of trafficked people and do not prejudice the application of the protection and assistance measures provided by the anti-trafficking Convention”.
Clearly, military actions against boats used to transport smuggled migrants and the closing and militarising of borders should never be presented as solutions to the problem of human trafficking. On the contrary, in the absence of suitable legal migration solutions, these measures are likely to increase the vulnerability of those fleeing wars to exploitation by traffickers, including because they need to find money to pay smugglers for increasingly dangerous – and therefore expensive – ways to reach Europe. When it comes to preventing trafficking in a migratory context, the real solution is to open channels for legal (labour) migration and always protect the rights of migrants.
The need for a child-sensitive approach to combating forced labour and human trafficking
The economic crisis has had dire consequences on vulnerable groups, especially children. During my country visits, in particular to Spain and Portugal, I noted with concern that an increasing number of children are dropping out of school to find employment and support their families. This raises serious human rights issues, including the risk of the re-emergence of child labour, which hinders children’s development, potentially leading to lifelong physical or psychological damage.
Children are often considered as perpetrators of petty crime by law enforcement officials, when they are in fact victims of exploitation by the real criminals. Child victims of trafficking should always be identified as such by law enforcement officials, prosecutors and judges. This means that one should look beyond appearances in the field of juvenile justice, in order to be able to apply the non-punishment provision of the anti-trafficking Convention (Article 26) to victims of trafficking who have been compelled to act illegally by their traffickers. Still, this is not sufficient. Child victims of trafficking should also receive adequate assistance tailored to their specific needs. In this respect, I find it disturbing that, as I witnessed in Bulgaria, some trafficked children are placed in juvenile justice institutions instead of being given the full assistance they need. In the current context of migration, it is also worrying to note, as in Denmark, reports of disappearances of children from accommodation centres for unaccompanied migrant children. This is not acceptable. Children without parental care who have been confronted with exploitation must be protected and receive all the support they require in full compliance with the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children.
The need to involve all states and non-state actors in the action against forced labour and human trafficking
Exploiters and traffickers for the purposes of forced labour are mainly private persons (individuals or companies) exploiting other private persons. This means that the prevention of forced labour and trafficking should be geared at all parts of the supply chain in industries at high risk of exploitation, such as in the textile, agriculture or tourism sectors. National and transnational companies should be made accountable in case of human rights abuses, including through effective and appropriate penal sanctions, in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, regardless of whether exploitation takes place in Europe or in other parts of the world.
However, the European Court of Human Rights has made it very clear that states have a positive obligation under Article 4 of the ECHR to prevent forced labour and trafficking, to protect the victims and to prosecute the exploiters and traffickers. Member states of the Council of Europe should therefore live up to their crucial responsibility to respect, protect and fulfill the human rights of all victims – or persons at risk of becoming victims – of forced labour and human trafficking.
Human rights defenders and civil society organisations working to protect the human rights of women and gender equality perform an essential role in Europe. They provide much needed assistance to victims of gender-based violence, combat discrimination against women, contribute to peace-building and hold authorities accountable for fulfilling their human rights obligations. Unfortunately, as I learned at a roundtable with a group of women’s rights defenders in Vilnius in July, they also face serious obstacles in their work.
Multiple challenges as human rights defenders and promoters of women’s rights
Along with other human rights activists, the situation and working environment of women’s rights defenders are affected by several negative trends in the Council of Europe area. Restrictive legislation and repressive practices against civil society in Azerbaijan, the Russian Federation and Belarus have also had an impact on those who work to protect the human rights of women and promote gender equality. In Hungary, several women’s rights organisations were among the beneficiaries of the Norwegian NGO Fund and have been targeted by smear campaigns, audits and inspections.
In addition, women’s rights defenders face specific obstacles when they challenge patriarchal values, sexist stereotypes and the traditional perception of gender roles. They can be portrayed as destroyers of family values and national traditions or as agents of what has pejoratively been labeled “gender ideology”. I highlighted this issue in my latest report on Armenia,where women’s rights organisations and defenders were violently targeted in 2013 during the discussion and adoption of the Law on Equal Rights and Equal Opportunities between Women and Men.
Women’s rights defenders also face intimidation, pressure, threats, attacks, defamation, cyber-attacks and disruption of victims’ hotlines. Those working on sexual and reproductive rights or advocating the rights of women victims of domestic violence have often been specifically targeted. For example, in Ireland, defenders working on abortion issues experienced a smear campaign and stigmatisation. In many countries, segments of ultraconservative movements and far-right or extremist religious groups have been the instigators of such attacks. A serious problem lies in impunity for such actions. All too often state authorities do not fulfill their duty to protect human rights defenders by ensuring effective investigations into these violations and adequate punishment for those responsible.
Most defenders of women’s rights are women. Women human rights defenders are at a high risk of experiencing gender-based violence, rape and other forms of sexual violence, harassment and verbal abuse as well as attacks on their reputation on-line and off-line. A worrying phenomenon which has been identified recently is the increasing use of hate speech targeting women human rights defenders. In Serbia, for example, members of the NGO Women in Black have faced gender-motivated attacks because of their human rights work.
National authorities often fail to consult or listen to women’s rights defenders on relevant policies and laws. In some countries, independent activists feel overshadowed by NGOs which are close to the government – the so-called “GONGOs” (Government-Organised Non-Governmental Organisations). Another disturbing element is that women’s rights defenders are not considered as equals by some fellow human rights defenders, who mistakenly consider women’s rights and gender equality as a soft or secondary human rights issue.
The current period of austerity has made it particularly difficult for civil society organisations to find sustainable and long-term funding. NGOs running shelters for women victims of violence, for example, have been weakened by cuts in public services at the local level.
Ways to improve the working environment of women’s rights defenders
The difficult situation of defenders of women’s rights highlights the fact that progress achieved towards gender equality has not yet been fully consolidated. As most defenders of gender equality are women themselves, the enduring discrimination of women can affect their work directly. Therefore even today it is essential to stress that equality between women and men is a fundamental right and a crucial element of the human rights agenda.
I urge Council of Europe member states to reaffirm and implement the national and international obligations they have undertaken to end discrimination and human rights violations based on sex and gender. In particular, I call upon all member states to ratify and implement the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (the Istanbul Convention).
States must also meet their obligations to protect human rights defenders and ensure an enabling environment for their work free from intimidation and pressure. These obligations are recalled in the 1998 UN Declaration on human rights defenders and the 2008 Declaration of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers to improve the protection of human rights defenders and promote their activities. States should notably refrain from putting in place policies, legislation and practices which run contrary to freedom of association, assembly and expression.
In 2013, the UN General Assembly adopted a specific resolution on the protection of women human rights defenders, expressing concern about the discrimination and violence faced by them and urging states to protect them and support their work. In July 2015, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women called on States parties to ensure that women human rights defenders are able to access justice and receive protection from harassment, threats, retaliation and violence.
At the national level, I urge member states to adopt and implement laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex and gender as well as legal provisions specifically aiming to combat gender-based hate crimes and hate speech. I also encourage member states to develop national guidelines and other measures to support and protect human rights defenders and to integrate a gender perspective in this work. It is time to put an end to impunity for violations that human rights defenders face because of their work. Expressions of support from the government and state institutions for the work of women’s rights defenders are of great importance and should also extend to the effective inclusion of women’s rights defenders in official consultations on relevant issues.
Solidarity and cooperation among human rights defenders are necessary for the protection of defenders and promotion of their work. International, regional and national networks of human rights defenders are instrumental in assisting those defenders who face difficulties in their work and threats to their personal security. It is therefore essential for the wider community of human rights defenders to support women’s rights defenders and fully cooperate with them.
Human rights defenders work closely with national human rights structures (NHRSs) on many issues of mutual interest. However, in many cases ombudspersons, human rights commissions and equality bodies have not yet acquired sufficient trust among defenders of women’s rights so that they would turn to these institutions for help when they are under threat. We need more intense co-operation and joint action between NHRSs and human rights defenders to advance human rights agendas and to assist those who are at risk. I encourage NHRSs to fully take on board issues related to the human rights of women and gender equality, and to work together with women’s rights defenders in this field.
In several instances, women’s rights defenders have successfully partnered with the media in countering attacks, including smear campaigns, and in raising public awareness of their work and the importance of protecting the human rights of women and of promoting gender equality. I find it extremely useful to build on such experiences and to foster a culture of human rights and strengthen the defender’s interaction with the public.
It is time that women’s rights defenders receive the acknowledgment, support and protection they deserve for their committed work for human rights.
Whilst politicians appear concerned about the monetary deficit invoked by refugees, many people are currently concerned with what appears to be a deficit in compassion.
This is particularly with regard to the current humanitarian crisis of refugees, for reasons ranging from their numbers, their religion, and their reasons. What we are seeing is dehumanisation, which arguably has two facets – the first being mechanistic dehumanisation, where we believe others are lacking basic human traits such as warmth, emotionality, and depth. The second form of dehumanisation is animalistic dehumanisation where we see others as lacking human uniqueness – elements such as rationality, maturity and moral sensibility that separate humans from other species.
But, how does this happen? There are many theories about how dehumanisation can occur on both a personal and societal level. Here we are going to consider the theory of cognitive dissonance, alongside ideas about how our social environment can have an impact.
Cognitive dissonance theory stipulates that we feel uncomfortable when we hold two conflicting beliefs at the same time. We also experience cognitive dissonance if we act in conflict with a belief or value. For example, my health is important, but I binge on pizza every night.
How much dissonance we experience depends on how important our personal values conflict with our beliefs. If I need to get up early, but I’m staying up late watching a film, I might feel a tad conflicted. However, if I have a very important interview tomorrow, I will feel more conflicted about staying up late. If the interview is for a job I don’t particularly want, suddenly it’s easier to stay up.
The level of dissonance is also affected by how much information we have supporting each belief. Usually it’s harder to hold on to beliefs which have a mountain of evidence against them. However, linked to the above paragraph about values, conflicting evidence is most likely to change beliefs we don’t value very much. If our belief is very dear and important to us, conflicting evidence can actually make us strengthen the belief and hold onto it tighter in order to erase the conflicted/dissonant feeling.
If we are in ‘dissonance’, we somehow need to make these two conflicting beliefs balance out again – essentially so we don’t feel like a hypocrite.
There are several ways we can do this. In the example ‘refugees need our help’ we could:
add extra cognitions to justify ourselves (‘help at home first’)
ignore conflicting information (e.g. avoiding the news)
change the cognition which causes conflict (‘they are not victims, they’re economic migrants not refugees’), and finally…
change our behaviour to make it in line with the original belief (i.e. doing something to help).
Another example might be that I believe I’m a ‘good person’, but I do things which do not fit with ‘good person’ labeling. For example, ignoring a petition about a humanitarian crisis. To resolve this conflict, I could choose to act congruently with my values and sign or take alternative action such as making a donation. I could, however, seek out people who support my lack of action, people who think online petitions don’t have any impact, to make myself feel better. I could also seek out information which confirms my altered cognitions consisting of news stories about refugees being terrorists or liars. As another alternative, I could alter my beliefs about what a ‘humanitarian crisis’ is to make it something that is not my problem or not a real humanitarian crisis.
I believe many of these things are happening en-masse at the moment with the current refugee crisis. Here are some of the ways people are resolving cognitive dissonance to make ourselves more comfortable and less compassionate.
Firstly, we can reduce the human element of the crisis. This includes likening refugees to animals or insects, and using anonymous numbers without corresponding personal touches. Refugees have been called a swarm by the UK Prime Minister in addition to other using references such as cockroaches and towns being ‘swamped’.
Large numbers of refugees without individual cases to humanise them can lead to facelessness and a lack of true understanding or empathy toward their plight. Perhaps that’s why it took a photo of a single child, Alan Kurdi, alongside the numbers, for people to remember these numbers are not abstract. Each refugee represents a life, and nearly half of Syrian refugees are children. On top of this, Britain has only taken in a trainful of Syrian refugees – the apparent swarm is currently missing in action.
We can also create an us-and-them situation.
“The decision to cooperate and expend resources for another’s benefit is a dilemma of trust since the ultimate benefits depend on everyone else’s willingness to do the same”. – M. Brewer (1999)
The dynamics of this are complex and contingent on multiple levels of belief systems and environmental safety. However, lack of trust helps us dehumanise and conflict with ‘outgroups’, alongside feelings of superiority, assuming the moral absoluteness of the ingroup, and feelings of fear/threat over resources.
At the moment, people in Britain are fearful of their job security, worrying about paying rent, food prices are rising, and the media is playing up to stereotypes of people who are trying to swindle the taxpayer in order ‘get something for nothing’. This is in light of a long list of Britain’s elites squandering taxpayer money on moats, chauffeurs, and second houses. It isn’t difficult, therefore, to foster a lack of trust in others to create a threat from the outgroup ‘stealing’ jobs or money, and add extra cognitions which justify lack of action with a sense of “help at home first, what has anyone ever done for me, we don’t have the resources”.
People generally find it hard to dehumanise others without a corresponding dehumanising environment. To start with, we have people feeling under threat as explained above which leads to Zimbardo’s famous Stanford Prison Study documenting ways to foster dehumansing environments. This includes living in an unpredictable environment and the UK arguably had one of its most unpredictable elections ever in 2015.
Beginning with smaller abusive acts such as fake stories about misuse of the Human Rights Act, anti-immigration rhetoric being framed as economically sound in spite of contrary evidence), and minimising individual social responsibility to do anything. This plays with the fact that the British public are disillusioned about politics, and presumably their ability to make any meaningful broad-scale change in light of this.
Additionally, Zimbardo notes the role of providing people with a solid ideology or rhetoric for unpleasant actions. Perfect case examples include, but are not limited to, Donald Trump in America and UKIP in the United Kingdom. In both, it allows them to perform dehumanising acts against certain groups whilst feeling ‘justified’ in doing so. For example, a parent may beat their child ‘for their own good’, or a politician might argue that ‘real’ help does not come from accepting refugees – it is ‘for their own good’ to find a bigger solution that does not involve accepting refugees.
This also involves lack of adequate information about what is happening to refugees – shelters have been torched, refugees have been ‘tattooed’ with permanent-marker numbers in the Czech Republic, refugees including babies and children have been pepper-sprayed by police and by the public. Additionally, there are ongoing deaths in Calais and 2,200 refugees have died at since since July this year. The Still Human Still Here campaign raises awareness of the horrific destitution facing refused asylum seekers in the UK alone. This atrocities are not hidden, and it can be found on any search engine. But why would you seek this information out only to increase your sense of discomfort when it can be avoided?
Again, it goes back to threat – economic migrants want to steal our jobs and money, refugees are economic migrants, therefore refugees are a threat. Therefore, the refugee humanitarian crisis is also linked to misinformation about migrants more generally.
People of the UK overestimate numbers of immigrants nearly doubling the true number, alongside overestimating other social issues such as unemployment and teenage pregnancy. A University College London study found that immigrants who have arrived in the UK since 2000 have made a net contribution of £25bn and were less likely to receive ‘benefits’, tax credits, or live in social housing.
The NHS owes a huge amount to people who were not born in the UK and tight immigration rules are negatively impacting the NHS due to lack of nurses. One can ignore this information or add cognitions which allow the facts to be dismissed such as assuming the study was mis-conducted or done on incomplete data, suggesting we’d have fewer foreign-born nurses if there was more ‘space’ for people born in Britain, or that we wouldn’t need as many nurses if we had fewer immigrants.
Unfortunately, this ‘economic migrant’ and utterly false ‘welfare benefit’ rhetoric has placed the British public nicely in a position to alter their belief about the intentions of refugees, reducing cognitive dissonance because one can believe that ‘their’ home countries are safe; ‘they’ are here only for ‘our’ money and jobs; ‘they’ have no legitimate reason to be here. If the other’s intentions can be considered illegitimate, manipulative, or meaningfully harmful, it makes it easier to dismiss their beliefs, actions or values.
This dissonance has very real and deadly consequences. 67% of the British public would support sending troops in to France to stop what have been termed ‘immigrants’from entering the country. Refugees are being treated like criminals. Although there are petitions to allow more refugees into the UK, news outlets showing how individual people can contribute, crowdfunders, websites helping people to share a room in their house, viral videos of Germans cheering arriving refugees, and grassroots campaigns. However, there is still a widespread sense that refugees are a horde to be rid of rather than fellow humans to be welcomed with open arms and kept safe.
The discomfort of the humanitarian crisis is apparent for anyone who has had even remote contact with news of the situation. However, the way to resolve this discomfort is not for us to alter and add beliefs until we feel safe in our inaction. It’s someone else’s problem, we need to tackle things in home countries alone, we will ‘open the door’ to anyone if we let in refugees, and that’s bad, we have enough on our plate, there’s no room, im(migrant)refugees take up our resources and they’re only here to steal our jobs but also to not-work and they take all our benefits anyway.
Enough is enough. We have to stop using a lack of compassion to resolve our own discomfort and face up to the hard truth. Otherwise, history will not look kindly upon this period of time.
Since 2010, the Social Good Summit has grown substantially aided by the increasing popularity of social media and technology. Mashable in partnership with the United Nations General Assembly decided to bring people together global leaders to discuss how to utilize technology to eradicate poverty. People over the globe are becoming empowered to share their voices in an effort to be heard, and the Social Good Summit has committed to listening to those diverse voices.
The Social Good Summit is a two day conference discussing the impact of technology and media on current social good initiatives. Starting today on September 27th, days after the United Nations ratification of its Global Goals, the goals aim to eradicate poverty, inequality, increase access to education and protect the environment.
It is hoped that these goals will create sustained growth of the bottom 40% of the population to empower and promote their general welfare. These goals will guide policy and funding, and the purpose of the Social Good Summit is discuss the coordination of these goals globally. With now over 1.8 billion people between the ages of 10 and 24, it is clear why the UN has a youth focus to work towards the eradication of poverty by 2030.
The venue for this year’s Social Good Summit is 92nd Street Y which is a world class cultural and community centre that encourages people to connect through culture, the arts, entertainment and conversation. This year’s speakers include Kathy Calvin and Pete Cashmore, the CEO’s of the United Nations Foundation and Mashable respectively, as well as Sienna Miller, Charlize Theron and Savannah Guthrie. Using the hashtag #2030Now, social media and live streaming will definitely allow everyone to get involved!
In 2014, over 170 countries were connected through video and social media, with 65 countries and counting for 2015 it is thought this year could be even bigger. Jamaica, Turkmenistan and Guatemala have signed up and for the first time ever will be involved in the Social Good Summit. Global meet-ups will play a huge part in the Social Good Summit and allow people around the globe to take part and discuss how communities are using the digital tools to build a brighter future.
Also in 2014, #2030 trended at number one globally, breaking down any language barriers between the 45 different languages involved! The Social Good Summit is surrounded by a week of related events which provide encouragement to take action and identify innovations that can create the world we want. Two days of jam-packed sessions, including ‘The Tipping Point for Human Rights’, ‘Sustainable Cities’ and regular global meet-up check-ins, to keep everyone involved.
The voices of global citizens will be a necessary force for change, and the Social Good Summit has taken on the role of helping to facilitate conversations with UN officials, pop culture icons, activists and entrepreneurs around the world who want to create this change. Be a part of the Social Good Summit in helping to create the kind of world we all want to make a reality. Watch the summit via live stream at https://livestream.com/Mashable.
Social work is at a crossroads. As a new generation of social workers move towards graduation and entrance into the profession, we face a unique conundrum. Millennials overall are earning less despite being the best educated generation in history. We are struggling to pay student loans and are widely expected to be the first generation to fare worse than our parents. We know from our own struggles this is not for lack of effort.
Injustices have been allowed to fester and grow unchecked. The social work profession must choose how to address the concerns of this new generation–dedicated to meeting the needs of others, but who are also struggling to meet their own.
For millennials, there is little choice. We will lead for a better tomorrow.
Millennial social workers are recognizing the importance of clinical, community, and political practitioners working in tandem for change at all levels, and the foundations to support this philosophy are being laid down at this moment. Recognizing the unique perspectives of our generation, YSocialWork is launching as a millennial-driven organization that will apply social work methods to the profession itself.
YSocialWork, originally launched as a hashtag for the inaugural Student Advocacy Day platform for social work students in the United States, is a socially conscious, grassroots start-up based in Washington, DC. It seeks to provide training and education to youth and young professionals in the areas of innovation, leadership development, and political engagement. Since its inception in 2014, as the driving force behind creating new opportunities for students in policy-entrepreneurial engagement, YSocialWork continues to empower its members to transform ideas into sustainable solutions in the classroom, community , and government.
Examples of policy-entrepreneurial activities led by YSocialWork will include (but not be limited to): idea generation activities, problem framing activities, dissemination activities, strategic activities, demonstration project activities, activities cultivating bureaucratic insiders and advocates, activities enlisting support from elected officials, lobbying activities, and administrative and evaluative activities (Roberts & King, 1991).
I’m a millennial who became politically conscious under the second Bush Administration–tainted as it was with an air of corruption and illegitimacy. My entire adult life, the United States has been at war. I’ve only experienced an economic recession, despite the alleged recovery. My political reality has been shaped by seeing advocates who stood against the conservative Bush agenda all but disappear as a new Democratic administration came to power–but the injustices remain.
I saw a political system change but go unchanged.
I changed. What might have been the making of partisan loyalty eroded. The belief that good politicians could change the system from the inside dissipated. Because every good politician must confront a system fueled by money and seniority–two things that have a way of influencing political thought and behavior.
I cheered the Arab Spring, the occupation of the Wisconsin capitol, and of course Occupy Wall Street.
In the midst of it all, I became a social worker, drawn by its values–so simple yet essential–a belief in the inherent value and worth of all people and the pursuit of social justice. It is the only profession that carries such a mandate. Social work seemed like the obvious answer to our fragmented systems for social good with micro, mezzo, and macro practice united by a common mission to enhance human well-being.
Unfortunately, our profession has become unbalanced, with an emphasis on clinical practice that comes at the expense of organizing and political work. This is not unlike my own generation. No matter how idealistic we may once have been, we have disengaged from the political in favor of individual impact. We are a generation undeniably invested in social good, but we have not yet mastered how to maximize our impact.
To be sure, this is changing. The vestiges of Occupy–once apolitical–have found a candidate in Bernie Sanders. The historic Black Lives Matter movement has grown to engage not only in street protests, but the political sphere through its strategic confrontations with presidential candidates and the launch of a policy agenda–Campaign Zero. We are learning quickly how to use all the tools at our disposal and to attack the ills of our world from multiple angles.
We must recommit to our core values. We need social workers helping communities to stand up and force systemic change. We need social workers to be political leaders who will listen and take action with the interests of society’s most vulnerable at heart. We need front-line social workers to help individuals overcome their personal struggles and navigate existing systems. We need a united front of social workers for social justice.
With poverty and inequality being extremely prominent in the media recently, the Global Citizen’s Festival is well timed to advocate on behalf of their goal to end extreme poverty by 2030. So what is Global Citizen and how does it aim to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030? It’s a mission that can not be achieved without your help.
Global Citizen is a community of people committed to tackling societal challenges in the world and encouraging other people to do the same. Global Citizen believes courageous actions taken by those who believe in a better world will shape history and change society. Extreme poverty is one of the greatest injustices at the present time and it strips people of their basic rights as well as access to opportunities.
Whilst extreme poverty has halved in the last 30 years, there is still more work to do. Poverty can be a vicious cycle but if we come together to learn and take action we can change the rules trapping people in these cycles. Global Citizen does not ask for charity, it asks for help in fighting injustice. Global citizen wants people to advocate and use their passion to take action on issues that will help eradicate extreme poverty.
Global Citizen have several themes that we all can become involved in:
The first theme is food and hunger, and it is thought that people who are well fed will perform better in education and create more stable communities which will allow them to take advantage of the opportunities to end extreme poverty. The world has enough food to feed everyone, and we need to ensure this is spread more equally! The second theme is education, and by focusing on education for all children, it will encourage more leaders to lead society out of poverty and build communities that will thrive.
There are still millions of children without a good standard of education. Education is a basic right that we all deserve. The third theme focuses on health because everyone must be healthy in order to end extreme poverty. Healthy people can live fuller lives and take more opportunities to develop themselves. Health is vital for pregnant mothers, new-borns and children who require vaccines and access to healthcare that many are not receiving.
It is estimated that over a billion people suffer the indignity of having to defecate in open areas which is why water and sanitation is a top priority of Global Citizen. Waste systems and clean water are not a luxury, and it is a necessity that could save millions of lives each year and help eliminate diseases. Finance and innovation is also highly important. By funding development, it will help the global community to empower people to make changes and innovate in order to help themselves break the poverty cycle.
Women and girls are often subjected to some of the harshest aspects of poverty. Global Citizen believes promoting better education for women and girls will also them become powerful leaders. A great example of the power of education for women and girls is Malala Yousafazi who was shot by the Taliban for speaking publicly about the importance of girl’s education. I received an email that Malala has now started a petition to encourage support to stand up for over 60 million girls around the world who do not receive the opportunity of education, which you can also sign here. This shows we can all make change, but we need to take the steps to do it like Malala Yousafazi.
Most importantly, we should not forget about the environment. Working towards these goals will mean more healthy people who can help take care of the earth and protect those who live on it. To participate and work on these themes Global Citizen have recommended actions such as tweeting, writing, making phone calls and/or email. These can all be found by clicking on each theme on the Global Citizen website. By completing these simple actions, we can make the goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030 happen a lot sooner!
On September 26th, Global Citizen will host its annual Global Citizen Festival on the Great Lawn of New York’s Central Park which also coincides with the launch of the United Nation’s global goals. To date more than 150,000 people have attended the festival with more than 30 million watching the festival.
The festival channels the power of thousands of global citizens to achieve policy and financial commitments that shape success. The Global Citizen Festival is supported by many brands from YouTube, to H&M to Unilever and many more. YouTube will feature a special livestream and a live simulcast of the full concert will be available on MSNBC and msnbc.com.
Screenwriter Richard Curtis will also produce a one-hour special to air on NBC on Sunday, September 27th. For all those in the UK, don’t worry. It will also air on BBC One on Monday, September 28th. The festival also involves artists such as Beyoncé, Ed Sheeran and Coldplay to name a few. The Global Poverty Project is a registered non-profit organisation who works in partnership with business leaders, world leaders and global citizens to call on governments to support policies that would impact the poor.
So far, Global Citizens have taken a massive 2.3 million actions to fight against extreme poverty in the last four years which have resulted in 87 commitments and policy announcements including cash commitments which are valued at around $18.3 billion.
With your help, extreme poverty can be ended and Global Citizen encourages us all to help in that journey. We tweet and email every day, let’s do it today to create change! Global Citizen has taken on an amazing goal which encourages everyone to participate, and we can eradicate extreme poverty by 2030.
If you’re not sitting at the table, you’re on the menu. This pithy bit of wisdom was offered as a reminder by University of Illinois Springfield social work professor David Stoesz in a discussion thread on a social work policy listserv about the profession’s paltry participation in policy and politics. Social workers on that listserv are concerned about our level of effort on social justice issues in order to bring about societal change as our code of ethics mandates. Helping people cope with policies that have disproportionately favored the wealthy over the past several decades is not enough.
However, we must do more to change those policies and create a more egalitarian society. Two interesting articles caught my attention last week. One that was posted on Social Work Helper’s Facebook page had appeared in the Guardian. The article featured young social workers in the United Kingdom who expressed concern about their futures and the future of the profession of social work. One young man, Justin, who became a social worker after serving in the British military in Afghanistan, worried about the absence of a strong voice to represent the interests of social workers.
The other article was published in Al Jazeera by Sean McElwee, a young Demos research associate, titled: “Inequality is a disease, voting turnout is the cure.” This is an idea I have been preaching recently. He provides research to support this hypothesis. The questions are: Can social work can be the x-factor that helps propel a movement leading to full voter participation? And who will be the leader(s) of that effort?
What McElwee is stating is quite simple. The 2016 election will not turn so much on who votes but on who stays home. Non-voters are more likely to be low income and lean significantly towards Democrats. Registering these potential voters and getting them to the polls could have significant effects on the outcomes of elections at all levels of government.
Unions traditionally mobilize voters and got them to the polls. However we have seen the number of members and the power of union decline in recent decades.
Will social workers help fill that gap? I believe we can. Social workers can help would-be voters break through barriers such as voter identification. Republican strategist Chris Ladd says it’s time Democrats stop whining about voter ID laws and begin to help people get the documentation they need. Sounds like good advice.
Mildred “Mit” Joyner proposed this idea several years ago when she was president of the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). She believes this is something social workers at every level can participate in. Direct service workers can assist clients in understanding the particulars of voting regulations and ensure they have proper documentation when they go to vote. Administrators of agencies can make it a matter of policy to inform clients about exercising their right to vote.
However, according to WRAL News in North Carolina,
Local social service agencies are not giving poor residents adequate opportunities to file and update voter registrations as required by federal law, a letter sent by a group of voting rights advocates warned the North Carolina State Board of Elections and Department of Health and Human Services. Read more
On the macro level, social workers can work with churches, tenant organizations, and other community-based groups to organize and implement voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives. Joyner suggests social workers engage the League of Women Voters for information and support. Agencies can learn more from organizations like Nonprofit Vote. Social work students can work with Rock the Vote to encourage young people to vote.
At the same time social workers can continue efforts to overturn misguided laws that restrict voting. We can continue to press Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act. Social workers have a responsibility to work for a more just society that permits and promotes the self-actualization of everyone.
Policies, laws and systems that restrict one’s ability to be all that one can be should be the object of intervention on the micro, mezzo, and macro levels. While social workers must pay attention to licensing, research, and building reputation as a fully scientific profession, we also have a mandate to pursue social justice.
Richard Nixon galvanized a large swath of voters who he saw as being neglected and appealed to them as the silent majority. There is a new silent majority today—voters who have been demoralized by the vast sums of money that are gaming the political system. They see the rich getting richer and not much being done to expand opportunity and prosperity for the vast majority of Americans. They are turned off by the negative campaigning and believe voting is an exercise in futility.
Social workers should be participants in the effort to restore hope to these voters—to help them understand that staying away from the polls is exactly what those protecting the status quo wants you to do. Social workers need to be involved politically and be at the policy table. If you’re not sitting at the table, you’re on the menu.
I began discussing economic inequality in my classrooms more than a decade ago when President Bush successfully pushed through Congress another round of supply-side tax cuts. Since then, there have been continuous discussions about the consequences of having so much of the nation’s wealth concentrated in the hands of a few super wealthy individuals and families.
In remarks given at the ARC in southeast Washington, DC in December 2013, President Barack Obama called economic inequality the defining challenge of our time. That economic inequality is a phenomenon that needs to be addressed is hardly debated these days. However, no one seems to have a politically viable plan to reverse the current trend, so we can only expect it to worsen.
Researchers Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty have been documenting trends in economic inequality for more than a decade. Saez, an economics professor at the University of California at Berkeley and director of the Center for Equitable Growth has published numerous research articles on economic inequality with Piketty and others.
A 2014 paper with Gabriel Zucman—Wealth Inequality in the United States Since 1913—documented the growth in the share of wealth held by the wealthiest individuals and families with slides that provide a visual representation of the largess. Piketty, an economics professor at the Paris School of Economics created a firestorm among conservative economists with his book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, in which he concluded unchecked economic inequality may not reach the destructive levels predicted by Karl Marx, but could begin to undermine democracy.
The Roosevelt Institute recently released a compendium of social and economic policies that, according to Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz, will promote economic growth and more shared prosperity. Titled “Rewriting the Rules of the American Economy”, the report features ideas of top progressive economic thinkers and promotes policy changes that address financial regulation, labor unions, progressive taxation and human capital investments that they say will create broader opportunity and a more egalitarian society.
Stiglitz, the former chief economic advisor to President Bill Clinton and former president of the World Bank, stipulates that economic inequality is not inevitable—that the notion there is a tradeoff between economic growth and inequality is false, and that the market is not free and infallible but determined by the rules and policies that we have put into place. He says new rules are needed.
Across the pond, the renowned scholar Sir Tony Atkinson has been building a case for policies that promote social justice for decades. In his latest book—Inequality: What Can Be Done?—released earlier this month, he lays out a 15-point plan to address economic inequality that includes raising the highest marginal tax rate to 65 percent. Take Jared Bernstein’s advice like I did and give a listen to this very compelling lecture and discussion by Sir Tony Atkinson. He says many things that are worth hearing. One thing he says that is undeniable is that neither side of the political spectrum has debated this escalating calamity in a meaningful way.
The American public has not made much of the issue despite the fact that 45 million Americans are living below the poverty threshold, many older Americans are facing a retirement crisis, and as Robert Putnam describes in his recent book—Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis—for millions of children in the United States, the myth of the American Dream is little more than a fairy tale.
In a February AP/GfK poll, 68 percent of respondents say the rich are not paying their fair share of taxes. Yet all that we have seen in terms of public outrage was the relatively short-lived Occupy Wall Street demonstrations that never became the movement it threatened to be.
My understanding of being a social worker begins with a commitment to the pursuit of social justice for all Americans especially the most vulnerable among us. So the question is: what are social workers doing to affect social change? Are we merely helping people to cope with the status quo?
I am hearing from quite a few young social workers that they are not satisfied with what our profession is doing to change present circumstances. They believe that social workers must be more engaged in our nation’s politics and so do I. So does Nancy Humphreys and Tanya Rhodes Smith. There are enough social workers to lead the charge to demand that Hillary Clinton and other Democratic candidates address economic inequality.
As Frederick Douglass said: “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
Over the past year, we have witnessed massive protests around the world spawned by human rights violations, declining labor rights, and austerity cuts to public services. The plight for many Americans struggling with poverty and located in low-income neighborhoods are not being spared the same fate in our “land of plenty”.
These protests have brought to light the use of police forces and government resources being used to further suppress the voices of the poor and what appears to be an acceptable disdain for policing communities of color. Many have predicted this period in our history will be remembered as the third reconstruction, but how will social work be remembered regarding the most important issues in our life time?
Since Ferguson and the development of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement, it is my opinion that social work leadership is failing to engage and participate in discussions on behalf of vulnerable populations with very little political power. Largely, I have been disappointed in the social work profession as whole for the lack of any organized national efforts to advocate on a range of social issues affecting the clients we serve.
However, I was able to get a glimpse of what a top down effort could look like when social work leadership leads an effort instead individuals being forced to act autonomously without social work leadership support. Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Ohio State University College of Social Work Dean Tom Gregoire who lead a #BlackLivesMatter March for their community. Here is what Dean Gregoire had to say about why it was important for him to get involved.
SWH: Why was it important for you and the School of Social Work to lead a march on the #BlackLivesMatter Movement?
We have all be moved by the events of the past year and wanted a tangible demonstration of support for our students, faculty, and staff colleagues. It is important to hold conversation about emergent social topics. But as social workers, it is also important at times to transcend talk. By marching we “walked our talk” and provided a demonstration of our concern and support that transcended conversation.
SWH: How are student’s processing in the classroom the racial tension and angst manifesting in a variety ways across the country?
I believe that a lot of our community is in pain regarding the level of racial tension and violence. We feel the need to communicate our concern and support. Although we hosted a public forum on these issues, we did not think we were doing an effective enough job of providing the vehicles for classroom attention to the issues that are manifesting nationwide. I believe that left our entire community wanting more, and looking to us for a strong statement. So we took a walk together.
SWH: How did the use of social media help to increase awareness of your school’s on the ground efforts with the #BlackLivesMatter March?
Social Media played a critical role. We made a decision to participate in the walk on Wednesday, and then marched together on Saturday, only three days later. All of our communication was via social media. Social media was important in allowing those who wanted to support the walk but were unable to attend. Via social media our impact and reach was much broader, and allowed far great involvement. To further carry the message we created a Storify to tell the social media story of our day, https://storify.com/osucsw/blacklivesmatter-march
SWH: How do you think social work institutions and members of our profession can engage in the large discussion on poverty and institutional racism within the systems we work?
Social media is an important vehicle for carrying the message. It is not constrained by traditional media, and its much more real time. We are not dependent on the mainstream for getting our message out. I also think it’s important to be open to conversation that moves us toward solution. It is important to be a witness and a voice in the face of social injustice and a voice. As social workers we need to transcend complaint alone and lean into difficult issues with an expectation of leading change. Finally,
SWH: What do you feel are the biggest barriers and challenges for social workers to engage and/or have an impact on the social issues of our day?
Courage and curiosity are two important precursors to having an impact on important social issues. Courage allows us to believe that we can make a difference, and helps us be patient for the enduring effort. Curiosity is the path to new solutions Rather than thinking we have all the answers, a willingness to see a problem in a completely different way is the only path to new strategies. We need more sentences starting with “what if?” and fewer with “yes but”.
We are often dragged into zero-sum arguments, ones that pit vulnerable groups against each other. Should limited resources go to support needy children, or older adults? Is the oppression of people of color more urgent than attacks on the rights of the LGBTQ community? When we are arguing among ourselves we are not advancing. Nothing preserves the status-quo better than when the people who need it changed are fighting among themselves.
Failing to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, erasing the State’s earned income tax credits for low wage working, eliminating tax deductions for contributing to your child’s college funds, and cuts to public education are just a few examples of how women and children are being impacted by the 2014 election.
While many middle class and low-income families are paying more in taxes, the wealthiest North Carolinians received a $10,000.00 per year tax break. Programs such as Meals on Wheels and other in-home care programs for seniors have also been cut in addition to increasing their tax burden because the medical expense deduction was also removed.
Republicans also introduced House Bill 465 which seeks to ban abortion training in medical schools across the state. Both activists and medical professionals agree this legislation will not only affect access to reproductive services, but it will also comprise the training of medical students and residents throughout the state.
In an interview with Tara Romano, President of North Carolina Women United (NCWU), I had the opportunity to learn more about the challenges specifically impacting women in our state.
SWH: Tell us about North Carolina Women United (NCWU) and your work to improve outcomes for women.
Tara: North Carolina Women United (NCWU) is a coalition of progressive organizations and individuals working to achieve the full political, social, and economic equality of all women across North Carolina. Since the late 1980’s, NCWU’s goal has been to bring women’s voices to the policy table. With women still making up less than 25% of elected and appointed public officials, lawmakers need to hear from women about their experiences and concerns to inform policies that will benefit women and families across NC. We see our role as bringing a gender lens to state policies, and also looking at how multiple issues intersect to affect women, bringing those intersections to policy decisions. For example, it is critical to adequately fund domestic violence crisis services, but regressive tax cuts that leave the state short on revenue will impact that funding; also, without adequate safety net programs in place – such as affordable housing and health/child care, access to paid family leave, and jobs that pay living wages – many domestic violence victims may stay with their abusers because they can’t afford to leave.
NCWU is a non-partisan, all volunteer, nonprofit that includes members and supporters from across the state. Our focus is on educating women on how to be effective citizen advocates; this includes issues education as well as education on how to be fully engaged in our democratic process, from the importance of voting to the role citizens play in creating government policies. Our members provide us with our issues expertise, and we cover four main issue areas: violence against women, access to health care, civic participation and equality, and economic self-sufficiency. It’s a large umbrella, and we are always looking for new partners and supporters who can let us know what other issues may be important to women and that we need to consider.
SWH: What legislative and policy issues do NCWU Support, and what actions are you taking to effect change in North Carolina?
Tara: We advocate for the full equality of all women across North Carolina and take a progressive approach to the policy solutions we look for. We believe that women still face barriers in society because we are women, and we look for policy solutions to remove those barriers. As caretakers, breadwinners, mothers, educators, workers, and partners, women fill multiple diverse roles in NC in 2015, and we need policies that recognize those realities; affordable child care and housing; protection from discrimination on the job; access to affordable, quality, comprehensive health care; pay equity; increased protections from sexual and domestic violence; and an accessible way to bring our voices to our democracy are just a few ways we can support women to achieve our highest potential. We also believe women face additional barriers due to race, ethnicity, immigrant status, sexuality, age, and disability status; we are committed to an agenda that is anti-racist and anti-oppression as the means to lift up the status of all women across North Carolina.
Our member organizations provide us with the expertise on specific policy issues to help us develop our agenda every other year during the North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA) long session. Our members are service organizations, advocacy groups, and member organizations that use research and constituency feedback to develop positions on proposed and anticipated legislation coming from the NCGA. On Women’s Advocacy Day (WAD), women from across the state come to Raleigh for a day of issue education, advocacy training, networking, and the opportunity to bring our voices to the policy table. Also on WAD, we will be discussing our 2015 legislative agenda and top priorities. Whether you are a regular at the NCGA, or are speaking to your lawmakers for the first time, WAD is an engaging and impactful day.
SWH: What are some of the challenges and barriers NCWU faces in connecting with North Carolina women?
Tara: As an all-volunteer and somewhat “virtual” organization, a big challenge for NCWU is getting our information out to women across the state. With our members’ expertise, we are able to provide informative and useful documents and tools for advocacy, but it’s not as easy for us to get it out to women. Also, women face numerous barriers and issues across the state, and we know there are issues that we do not have deep expertise on, and therefore aren’t highlighting them as much as we may need to. We are always looking for new members and partners, which is why we officially joined the HKonJ coalition (the organization behind the Moral Mondays movement). It can also be a challenge, as we join with other coalitions, to keep certain issues considered “women’s issues” – like child care – on the overall movement agenda.
SWH: How can women and other allies both in and outside of North Carolina support and engage with NCWU?
Tara: As an all-volunteer organization, we try to do a lot on limited resources, and we feel the women of North Carolina (and our allies) are our biggest resource. There are many ways to be involved with our work, including joining us on the board or on our committees, donating to our work, supporting us financially with donations, amplifying our message on social media, coming out to our members’ events, or bringing your voice with us to the General Assembly. Join us for Women’s Advocacy Day at the North Carolina Legislative Building on April 21, 2015.
You can also watch the interview with President Tara Romano, Directors of Policy Emma Akpan, and Felicia Willems for all you need to know about WAD including more on how we put together our agenda and what to expect during the day.
“Stigma is a five dollar word for a two dollar concept. It’s prejudice.”
Stigma, a set of negative stereotypes tied to behavioral health conditions, is not a new problem. Results of a recent survey suggest that views may be changing when it comes to mental illness. Advocacy efforts are getting results, and the public is beginning to recognize that mental illness is, in fact, a health condition.
We need a similar evolution to start when it comes to substance use disorders. Public perception of what it means to be addicted hasn’t shifted significantly. This is a problem.
In a study of Americans conducted by Johns Hopkins University, only 22% of people surveyed were willing to work closely with someone suffering from drug addiction, yet 62% were willing to work closely with someone suffering from mental illness.
Every person struggling to manage a substance use disorder, and every family stigmatized while supporting a loved one, are part of this broader landscape. Our current culture of stigma creates resistance to funding prevention and treatment. Belief that persons with substance use disorders are immoral, not ill, reduces support for behavioral health-centered policy.
Funding for treatment of substance use disorders isn’t commensurate with the scope of the problem. If substance use were recognized by the public as a health issue, it’s likely that prevention would be a higher priority.
We must help each other, and our communities, reshape the distorted image of substance use disorder as criminal and deviant. A person with a substance use disorder remains a person first. Examples of person-first language for substance use are included in this chart shared by Michael Botticelli, Director of Office of National Drug Control Policy. Note: Mr. Botticelli is himself a person in long-term recovery.
Of course, stigma-free language is only one step and changing a stereotype takes time. We should see this as part of the process of removing structural roadblocks to health. As we break the persistent stigma that clings to substance use disorders, we’ll turn the focus instead to very real opportunities that exist for health and recovery.
President Barack Obama, in what may be his most eloquent and thoughtful speech, helped us to understand the profound place in history held by those who crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965 in pursuit of social and economic justice. In Selma, Alabama 50 years later, it was their encounter with the forces of bigotry and hate that helped change the course of history.
It was the determination of the protesters to endure the most vile and despicable slurs imaginable, to withstand flailing police batons, ferocious dogs, and battering waves of water pouring from hoses, that moved the needle ever so slightly from oppression towards freedom. We are constantly reminded by injustice in Ferguson and other places that the battle is far from over.
As the President stated, this is no time for cynicism, no time for complacency or despair. Many Americans of good will believe the social contract that the Framers had in mind was not one that favored a few who would reap a disproportionate share of the benefits of a society whose prosperity depends on the work of many.
I came of age in the 1960s, and it was a turbulent time—Vietnam, the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Jr., Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King. There were riots, uprisings on college campuses, and, yes, black men were still being lynched. Yet through the turmoil there was always a sense of community—a belief that people were better off if we stuck together. We were told that we either swim together or drown alone. Events like Woodstock brought thousands of young “hippies” together for marathon sessions of the best that music can be. Not surprising, the 1960s was the heyday of community social work.
We hardly got into the next decade when another turning point arrived in a tragic day at Kent State University. It occurred one day before my 20th birthday on May 4, 1970—four unarmed students were shot dead by the National Guard and nine others wounded. The age of law and order had arrived with a vengeance. After all, it was the slogan that propelled Richard M. Nixon into the White House. He was soon to be followed by President Ronald Reagan and a new era of conservatism that swept the country. Community was too close to communism and socialism to be an acceptable form of lifestyle. It was the individual that was paramount.
Robert Ringer’s Looking Out for Number One—the tome du jour—became a New York Times #1 bestseller, and supply-side economics heralded Ayn Rand’s great man theory. Unions and collective bargaining began to wilt from constant attacks from corporations and their Republican allies. We were all competing for the American Dream when we should have been working together to achieve it universally.
The President reminded us that the single most powerful word in our vocabulary must be we. We can get a lot more done than me. At the risk of sounding like Rodney King, it is time that we put aside our differences and begin to look for common solutions to major problems. The commemoration of the historical Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama is cause for neither celebration nor despair. It should, however, energize us to go the extra mile—as the old folks used to say—to see what the end’s going to be.
We must believe that things can get better. We must believe that we can have a more egalitarian society. Economic inequality reaches a point where it becomes evil because it robs so many children of their chance for a meaningful future. The only weapon we have to fight this injustice is political power. We must use it or lose what little hope we have today of achieving some measure of social and economic fairness.
New York-The Radical Age Movement held its first public event last evening at the New York Ethical Culture Society. One hundred people came out in the freezing cold to hear about what it takes to “leverage the power of age”.
Alice Fisher, founder of The Radical Age Movement, then talked about the need for people who don’t like the way that old people are portrayed and regarded in what she described as the “youth oriented culture of the United States” need to speak up. Alice told of her deep interest in longevity and its multiple effects on society and how this led her to the founding of The Radical Age Movement.
“I came to the realization that the extra years many of us will be living are not tacked on to the end of our lives. Rather, a whole new stage of life has opened up along the life span, and those are people between approximately 60 and 80 years of age who are still a vital and relevant part of our society.” “We”, said Fisher who is 69 years old, “are not ready to throw in the towel.” After being asked, “how do you change an entire culture”, her response was “with a movement. It’s the only way we’ve ever done it.” Right then and there the seed for The Radical Age Movement was planted.
After working for over a year with a small 10 person steering committee and launching a website a few months ago, The Radical Age Movement was ready to come out. “When people leave their career positions, whether by choice or not by choice, they walk into a void”, she said. “There is no role for us in society, unless we want to accept the description of old just because we are collecting social security.” People of this age, although older, are not ready to be consigned to the rocking chair. “Nobody even knows what to call us. Sometimes we’re the old boomers or the young seniors. We don’t even know what to call ourselves”, said Fisher.
The original agenda for last evening’s event included a participatory demo of what it is like to be part of an age-oriented consciousness raising group. Not expecting such a large turnout and without enough facilitators to guide the number of groups that would be necessary to run this part of the program as planned, Radical Age decided to let the program run with interactive discussion. After a presentation about ageism by Joanna Leefer, 65, a care-giving consultant, three people gave personal testimony about their own confrontation with ageism, while two others testified to the effect that participating in consciousness raising around the topic of age has had on the way they are experiencing ageing.
Corinne Kirchner, 79, who is a sociology professor at Columbia University and who experienced two strokes in her 70’s, talked about the way that people constantly try to give her too much help. She described Thanksgiving dinner where a nurse who was a guest at the dinner followed her around, prepared to catch Corinne should she fall. Understanding that the nurse was trying to be kind, Corinne was very polite but “inside I was so angry that this person was treating me like a child learning to walk.”
Hope Reiner, 70, the founder of “Hope Cares”, a companion service that provides one-on-one stimulation, socialization and engagement to older adults, talked about her abrupt dismissal from the consumer magazine publishing world where she worked for over 33 years. “Despite the magazines’ high ratings and high revenue and my standing as the #1 salesperson for much of that time”, she told the audience, “my career ended. I can only assume my dismissal was based on my age.”
Next it was Rodger Parsons’ turn to talk about his personal experience with ageism. Roger, 68 years old, does voiceovers for Radio, TV, Cable commercials as well as author voiceovers for other venues. He spoke about how ageism is especially relevant in the Voice Over world and ways of dealing with it. “It is especially important to confront situations as directly as possible to get outcomes that make it clear that access to work should be based on the talent of the performer not the performer’s age.”
After each of these testimonies, lively discussions from the audience ensued. People shared their own experiences or commented on the testimony they had just heard.
Alice then took the podium and gave a brief description of the consciousness raising process that The Radical Age steering committee has been using. “The one advantage to participating in this process”, she said, is providing participants the space and time to examine our own ageist tendencies”. “After all”, said Fisher, “we did grow up in this youth oriented society.” The Radical Age Movement is developing a guide for people who want to start their own consciousness raising group around the topic of age. This guide will be posted to The Radical Age Movement’s website, www.theradicalagemovment.com, in the coming weeks and be distributed at their next event on February 21st.
Barbara Harmon, 72, a speech language pathologist, and Jon Fisher, 70, artist and real estate broker, then testified to the changes that participating in the consciousness raising process has made for each of them.
Barbara spoke of how she came to accept the graciousness of those who offer her seats on crowded subways after coming to the realization that her own ageist attitude was getting in the way of her being able to accept aid when offered. “Accepting a seat acknowledges the fact that my age is recognized; but because of the discussion and support of my peers, I now feel comfortable with the recognition”.
Jon talked about his career in the ad business where everything had to be new and fresh, including the people. “I had the mindset that I had to look, act, and feel young; and I carried that with me into my personal life. When I was invited to join the consciousness raising group, I really didn’t think that my ideas about ageing would ever change. Now, I also feel more comfortable in my age. The consciousness raising process has made a major imprint on who I am and who I am becoming”.
Remarks and conversation continued until it was time to leave. Alice asked everyone to take a save-the-date for The Radical Age Movements next event on February 21st. This will be a 4 hour workshop entitled “The Age Café.” Through this process, those who attend will have the opportunity to help plan Radical Age’s agenda going forward.
Reacting to Alice’s expression of disappointment at not being able to proceed as planned, one attendee said that the evening was one huge gestalt consciousness raising session. Another comment by a member of the steering committee was, “I think we have the start of a real movement here.” That expression was echoed by many who attended the event.
Recent reports out of the United States raise important concerns about the soaring rates of children living in poverty which is too often accompanied with homelessness. The National Centre on Family Homelessness states there were 2.5 million children who were homeless for at least part of the year in 2013.
Neglect, one of the most common issues that child protection faces, is driven in very many respects by poverty. The reasons are many, but can include:
• inadequate shelter places children at risk of illness;
• many families are forced to find space in high crime, high risk areas;
• parents may be forced to leave children with inadequate caregivers while they try to hold on to marginal wage jobs;
• homelessness makes it hard to get kids to school;
• there is a lot of stress on parents trying to manage homelessness increasing risks of various forms of maltreatment;
• children may be recruited into petty crimes like shoplifting as a way to try to get food and other necessities;
• children lose connections to friends and community programs as families wander from place to place;
• parents find it hard to meet the emotional needs of their children.
When child protection becomes involved, parents are seen as neglecting children. However, this is not the kind of neglect that typically is related to a parent’s lack of desire to do the right thing for their child. Rather, it is the reality of living without resources.
Taking children into foster care may be the limited solution available in many cases, but it is a poor solution. It adds unnecessary pressure to the child protection system in the form of increased case loads and heavier demands on placements.
The National Centre on Family Homelessness provides awareness on possible solutions which can include increasing access to low cost housing, subsidized day care so parents can work, feeding programs, and improving educational opportunities for parents. There can also be family oriented shelter programs such as the Inn from the Cold program in Calgary, Alberta.
The long terms costs of homelessness is evident when children are not being able to get a quality education and find themselves entering the vicious cycle of poverty as a result. Homelessness perpetuates the cycle of poverty and the damage to society is long term. The City of Medicine Hat in Southern Alberta and other cities have reported they are on the brink of eradicating homelessness within their boarders. For these efforts to be successful, a targeted approach must be utilized both in prevention and activation of resources for families.
As a group of students, staff, and faculty at the University of Utah College of Social Work, we join our voices with those of other schools, agencies, and communities against recent acts of racism and violence in Ferguson, Cleveland, New York, Phoenix, Saratoga Springs (UT) and elsewhere. We recognize our varying experiences with and participation in systems of power and privilege, oppression and discrimination, which make this conversation complex, risky, and uncertain.
We recognize that racial biases are often unconscious, and that even well-intentioned individuals may lack awareness of our own biases. Thus, this conversation and related actions are necessary aspects of raising our consciousness with respect to racism, systemic violence, and injustice, and taking steps toward healing in our communities and our nation. We are compelled to speak out for justice by our personal convictions and our professional values and ethics; to remain silent in the face of injustice is a privilege that we reject as collusion.
In 2009, African Americans comprised 13% of the U.S. population but 42% of inmates on death row. These national patterns are often reflected in Utah, as well. In Salt Lake City, the rate of arrest for black residents is more than four times that of non-black residents. Minority youth in Utah are significantly more likely than non-minority youth to have aggravated sanctions and longer sentences, while non-minority youth were more likely to have mitigating sanctions applied to their cases, leading to shorter sentences.
Media portrayal of recent events of racism and violence has contributed to a polarization of this issue in which those standing in solidarity with victims of violence are deemed to be anti-law enforcement. We reject this polarizing view of these events, and openly recognize that we are all socialized and implicated within a larger system of racism in our country. Aspects of structural and institutional racism occur within law enforcement, as well as within other professions and the social, political, and economic institutions in the U.S.
We unite as students, staff, and faculty to stand in solidarity with those already working toward racial justice through continued action to reduce racism and violence. Specifically, we seek to examine and change, where needed, the work that we do in our profession and education. We ask that the College of Social Work discuss and develop the following actions:
• Promote and implement College-wide activities that center social justice and equality in the culture and educational aims of the CSW.
• Develop and support dialogue between law enforcement, the criminal justice system, service providers and communities to help heal the wounds of violence and injustice, and to build bridges among participants.
• Collaborate with campus units, local agencies, colleges, and communities on anti-racism and social justice work.
• Encourage the BSW and MSW Program Advisory Committees to develop action plans to address current pressing social justice issues in classroom discussions in a timely fashion.
• Establish regular professional development for campus and field faculty with regard to implementing critical dialogue about privilege, power, oppression and racism.
• Establish an Anti-Racism Task Force within the College of Social Work.
We have grave concerns about observed and documented patterns of racial violence by law enforcement agents across the U.S., historically and currently. As Rev. Meg Riley has noted, “We are buried up to our necks in a history of violence and brutality against people of color.” We know that communities of color and other minority groups are disproportionately stopped and arrested by law enforcement, and prosecuted and incarcerated by the criminal justice system. Across this country we have witnessed too many incidents in which some law-enforcement agents have harassed, beaten, choked, and/or shot civilians – particularly black men – and it has been done with impunity.
As a school of social work, we are professionally mandated to center social justice and anti-oppressive practice for the improvement of human and social well-being. We join colleagues at Smith College School for Social Work in listening deeply and compassionately to the pain, grief, anger, fear and loss in families and communities struggling with these events. We join Portland State School of Social Work and others in continuing to transform our professional work into efforts that promote socially just, anti-racist services, programs, policies, and change.
Dr. Christina Gringeri | Ph: 801-581-4864 | email@example.com
University of Utah College of Social Work
Press Release: Social Work Helper Magazine was not involved in the creation of this content.
New York– Many in the New York social work community honored the reclaiming of Dr. King’s legacy, also known as the Day of Resilience and the Pledge of Resistance, by announcing the launch of Social Workers Against Criminalization (SWAC).
The emergence of SWAC is an acknowledgement of the ways in which social workers have often participated in and perpetuated institutional racism and state violence while simultaneously recognizing the capacity and responsibility that social workers have to support the already existing resilience of oppressed communities, through trauma informed care, political education, policy, and organizing initiatives. SWAC promotes the professional obligations of social workers to dismantle the structures that perpetuate state violence and mass criminalization while increasing our accountability to those most directly impacted.
Ferguson Action, activists, and community groups nationwide have come together to declare 2015 as the Year of Resistance and Resilience, directly confronting state violence against communities of color. In reclaiming the true legacy of Dr. King, Ferguson Action announced January 15th as the day to take the Pledge of Resistance; January 18th as a Day of Resilience; and January 19th as a Day of Action.
We join collectives and organizations led by directly impacted communities such as the people of St. Louis fighting for freedom, in lifting up the call for resilience, healing and sustained organizing efforts needed for the long road of resistance to state violence, mass incarceration, and mass criminalization.
“State violence against communities of color is directly linked to the oppressive system of mass incarceration in the United States, our systemic practices of over-policing and criminalizing people of color, and the inhumane use of the death penalty in this country. The nexus between these three things can no longer be denied or ignored as Black people lose their lives every 28 hours at the hands of vigilantes or law enforcement. Social Workers are bound by a Code of Ethics that compels us to respond to torture and mass trauma experienced by communities of color, both historically, and in our present day reality,” said Shreya Mandal, Founding Member of SWAC and longtime human rights advocate in New York.
“The dominant narrative in this country is that terrible things would not happen to people of color if they would simply not ..resist arrest.. or fill in the blank. We all have been socialized to internalize this message that places responsibility for these tragic consequences, whether it’s murders, child removal or school suspension, solely on the individual. For instance the message is that Michael Brown and Eric Garner died while resisting arrest, and were therefore responsible for their own demise. It is hard for many to accept that people of color are arrested for what goes mostly ignored when committed by whites. The work of SWAC is to create opportunities for our profession to reflect upon the messages that we receive and interrupt the idea that responsibility of these acts rests solely on the individual,” said Sandra Bernabei, President of NASW-NYC.
“Humanity must learn to respect the differences among each other and leave one another alone. If we can just accept our differences, I believe that life would be a whole lot better than it is today. We must learn to respect each other and to stop antagonizing and bullying each other. SWAC promotes this goal in its initiatives,” said Larry Coldwell, Founding SWAC member and NYC Social Worker.
The visibility of state violence has reached a boiling point. Americans have awoken to the long history of police violence and extrajudicial killings of Black people evidenced by the recent deaths of Mike Brown in Ferguson, MO; Tamir Rice in Cleveland, OH; Eric Garner in Staten Island, NY; and Akai Gurley of Brooklyn, NY. As social workers we have a responsibility to stand up to injustice and to support the texture of this conversation, including the elevation of the lesser known names of Aiyana Jones of Detroit, and Shantell Davis and Kyam Livingston of NYC.
These incidents and thousands of others are reflective of the systemic problem of institutional racism and the continued criminalization of Blackness and poverty by the very institutions that are sworn to serve and protect. SWAC is proud to stand in resistance against mass criminalization and supports the efforts of social workers to build upon the resilience of communities of color.