A Statement by Rory Truell, IFSW Secretary-General
Today is the International Day of Peace with the 2018 theme: The Right to Peace.
The modern international profession of social work was born in the context of acting for peace. The relationships that emerged between social workers of different countries during and after the WWI was marked by their united voice for peace and their responses to support the millions of refugees who needed to rebuild their lives.
Since the formation of the modern profession, social workers throughout the world have continued to make sustainable contributions to peacebuilding during times of war and maintaining peace when parts of society threaten conflict. Their work stems from the belief that peace is more the absence of war: Peace is achieved when all people have equal rights, dignity and ability to exercise their views in an inclusive, tolerant society.
There are numerous outstanding examples especially in settings where the profession is regarded as independent of the political structures, or they are identified as advocates for oppressed and marginalised peoples. In these contexts, social workers have been able to facilitate substantial civil society movements away from conflict and towards a sustainable peace based on all people’s rights.
In situations of war, it is common that social workers create safe spaces that allow communities to reflect on their rights and lack of them. They help people to identify a journey that extends beyond the end of violence and to actively work towards a new society in which they would want their children to grow.
Social workers use multidimensional approaches to assist people to rebuild their hope, love of life and role in contributing to a new society. These include social worker’s facilitating informal self-led community social services after the official services have been bombed. Supporting community-led economic development when the country’s economy has collapsed. Creating therapeutic environments where traumatised families can learn to help one another. Running workshops for teenagers that steer them into a life course of non-violent resistance rather than the revenge cycle of an eye-for-an-eye.
Yet perhaps the most challenging of all in the social workers’ role in peacebuilding is their work in humanising their societies opponent. Social workers defend the principle that all people have equal rights and that future peace, co-existence and security sit in this recognition. Consequently, in situations of war social workers have brought divided communities together to build common civil society actions that advocate for the end of violence and the transition to sustainable peace.
On this day of international peace, it is time to call on all global bodies and governments to recognise the role civil society plays in active peacebuilding. To include social workers and other community leaders that build peace in the broader strategies of peace negotiation, and to recognise that locally-led solutions provide the best outcomes.