We are living in an era of contradictions. While we should focus on building a unified approach towards fighting a global pandemic, we are more divided than ever. We are more connected than ever before in human history, yet are unable to understand the plight of others. We see an evolution of human rights, but see no end to conflict. We are more willing to accept differences, yet discrimination is on the rise. We are living in an era where we have greater freedoms than ever before, yet we see no end to injustice. So where do we go from here? Is there a way to heal the world? Social justice may be the answer.
Be it opinions on immigration, abortion, the Black Lives Matter movement, climate change or the war on terrorism; clearly there are a great many issues that divide us as a nation. This division has resulted in great mistrust, stunted social and economic growth, and, even, violence. Social justice is a broad concept that can help rid us of our divisions. However, we need to realize that we must achieve it together. Perhaps, that’s where the solution lies – in a unified struggle to be better.
Social Justice: A Definition
In order to understand why achieving social justice is desirable, we, first, need to understand what it means. Research will show you that different organizations, scholars and authorities define it differently, albeit with some common characteristics:
i) The United Nations defines social justice as an equitable, fair and compassionate distribution of “the fruits of economic growth.”
ii) The National Association of Social Workers defines it as fairness in access to economic, political and social rights and opportunities.
iii) The Center for Economic and Social Justice believes that social justice encompasses economic justice and is a concept of fairness that guides human interactions with institutions and each other. It is a tool that can help us achieve personal, social and economic growth.
Merely defining the concept, however, is not enough. It is important to make sense of it in a way that it accounts for differences in beliefs and opinions. Therefore, true social justice needs to follow the following principles:
i) Equity – There should be fairness in the distribution of wealth and resources. There should be no inherent discrimination based on race, ethnicity etc.
ii) Access – Everyone should have fair access to socio-economic opportunities, education, and healthcare etc.
iii) Participation – People should be provided a fair opportunity to engage in discussions and participate in decisions that affect their lives and well-being.
iv) Rights – Everyone should have the same legal, political, and economic rights and liberties.
Social justice, in other words, is about fairness and equality as well as ensuring that the same freedoms and liberties are available to all members of the society. According to John Rawls, a truly just and fair society will ensure that everyone has access to:
i) Freedom of thought
ii) Freedom to practice any religion or philosophy within the bounds of social justice
iii) Political liberties such as the freedom of speech, representation and right to protest
iv) Freedom to form relationships
v) Freedom of association
vi) Freedom to live a life of dignity and integrity
vii) Freedom of movement
viii) Freedom to choose an occupation
ix) Freedom from discrimination
x) All other rights and liberties guaranteed by law
Social Justice: 10 Reasons Why It Is Important
If you ask enough people, you will get differing ideas about what social justice entails and why it is important. On the surface this may present a problem – if we can’t agree on what it means, we cannot achieve it. However, this difference of opinion may actually be important in becoming a society that is inclusive, integrated, and considers differences as an opportunity to learn and grow. So how can social justice affect our lives and our surroundings positively? Here’s are a few reasons:
i) Better Educational Opportunities – Access to quality education can be a great equalizer. It can allow people to gain knowledge and develop skills that can result in greater economic opportunities and growth. Missing out on quality education due to economic circumstances or geographic barriers is one of the greatest examples of social injustice in the world today.
ii) Better Access to Quality Healthcare – Needless to say, healthcare is a necessity. However, it is, often, too expensive or, even, geographically inaccessible. Social justice, in this case, can be the difference between life and death. Healthcare programs and plans should be easily accessible to ensure that the same quality of care is widely available.
iii) Protection of people with disabilities – People with disabilities have been largely ignored and neglected by society. Social justice can ensure that disabled individuals are provided reasonable opportunities, and that their rights are protected and they are provided adequate support to improve their lives.
iv) An end to discrimination – We’re all humans, yet we keep finding ways to discriminate against each other. We commonly discriminate based on race, ethnicity, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, gender and many other reasons. Social justice could bring about an end to discrimination, or at least reduce it, and bring an end to many conflicts and divisions.
v) Reduce poverty – Social justice can reduce the massive gap in the distribution of wealth by providing fairer and greater access to economic opportunities.
vi) Freedom from injustice and stereotypes – Social justice means that we are all equal and have the same rights and protections in the eyes of the law, regardless of our race, religion, gender, economic statues and other social and physical differences. We need to protect each other from being stereotyped and profiled negatively. We need to be able to live without the fear that we may be subjected to injustice because of who we are.
vii) Economic growth – Social justice can be great for the economy. When there is greater literacy and knowledge in the society, and when people have greater economic opportunities, are not restrained by social barriers, and are healthier, it can have a lasting positive impact on the whole economy. We can see unprecedented economic growth by achieving social justice.
viii) Unity and peace – We live in a world of divisions. Divisions result in conflicts. There can be no growth without unity, cooperation and cohesion. We need to be united as Americans and as humans. However, unity also means acknowledging that differences exist. We need to understand that everyone’s opinion matters. Appreciating our differences constructively can help achieve true unity.
ix) Responsibility towards – Achieving social justice would result in a society where people care for each other’s wellbeing. If we all strive towards making the world a better place, not only will we be protecting each other, but we will also be able to protect the environment for future generations.
x) Improvement in the overall quality of life – We cannot choose where we are born or the circumstances we are born into. However, social justice can ensure that we all have the power to change and improve the circumstances if we so desire. Having the same freedoms, opportunities and rights as everyone else can ensure that this country truly becomes the land of dreams.
How We Can Contribute
There can hardly be a debate on the importance of social justice. If everyone worked towards achieving it, we would rid the world of wars, poverty, debt, inequality, fear and division. Perhaps, the first step in bringing about change is to acknowledge the need for change.
While we need to be united in the belief that change is necessary. Different races exist. Different genders exist. Different opinions exist. Different needs exist. Different beliefs exist. In fact, there are so many differences that it would be difficult to list them all. However, instead of using these differences to oppress, restrain and discriminate, we can use them to learn, grow, integrate and adapt.
Political participation is essential for democracy. We can chose who represents us. Therefore by engaging in discussions with our leaders and representatives, we can be a part of social and economic policies. We can protest against the negative elements and take part in constructive and peaceful debates to let our opinions be known.
Change can start with you. You can contribute to social change by implementing the changes in your own life first. You can start or join worthy causes, donate, help others and implement the principles of social justice in your own life. Be fair in your social and economic interactions, and who knows – maybe you can inspire others to bring about social justice.