It is now 72 years since the UN adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The UN theme for this year is Recover Better – Stand up for Human Rights.
These are difficult times – in 2020 the lethal and global COVID-19 pandemic exposed and intensified structural inequalities pushing more than 72 million people back into poverty and further deepening gender and racial inequality. People are struggling worldwide with the most affected living in countries without adequate health and social service systems.
The challenges are compounded with the climate crisis and the geo-political rise of nationalism as populations vote for or endure authoritarian figureheads that promote the rights of one section of society over another or one nationality against the interest of others. Resulting only in widening gaps of inequality and undermining the vast majority of people´s rights in their own countries and beyond.
On this day of International Human Rights, IFSW calls for debate on new models of global ethics and advances its professional principles to help us all work through the issues of competing human rights in our search for social justice.
The social work profession grew in response to the aftermath of war, disasters and in response to inequality and oppression. During this time, we have learnt from our worldwide practical knowledge and experience that to transform contexts of poverty and oppression into thriving inclusive sustainable environments everyone´s involvement in co-design and co-building of our shared futures is required. One of the key principles in achieving social transformation is the recognition of all people´s rights, coupled with accepting that we also have responsibilities to act in defense of each other’s rights.
Social work has demonstrated success in assisting families, communities and societies to rise out of poverty, to build peace in times of conflict, to advance the rights of marginalized peoples; and more recently, in facilitating social solidarity to significantly reduce the spread of COVID-19. What now is needed is to take these learnt experiences and apply them to new global regulations that guide social development and the realization of people´s rights. Social work principles include:
- Celebrating diversity and recognizing the strengths and contributions of all people.
- Championing the rights and responsibilities of all peoples to self-determination in the context of shared futures.
- Balancing competing rights equitably between peoples as well as ensuring the sustainability of the environment.
Based on the profession´s learnt experience, IFSW proposes that to make human rights a reality for all, a paradigm shift in global development dynamics must occur. A shift that looks beyond the UN member states (governments), that recognizes communities and populations as key actors in development. A shift that involves applying the principles of ´shared rights – shared futures´ in all aspects of life.
Next year´s 2021 World Social Work message, which will focus on this paradigm shift, is Ubuntu: I Am Because We Are. A theme from indigenous knowledge that recognizes our interdependence and the way forward for rights and sustainable shared futures.
Issued by Rory Truell, IFSW Secretary-General & Colleen Lundy, IFSW Human Rights Commissioner.