What is social justice? Take a minute to reflect on how you define it.
On the 20th February the UN celebrates the World Day of Social Justice. We will come together as a global community united by a term which we may all understand and interpret differently.
“We should be treated as human beings. We should not be discriminated against.
People should talk to us with the same kind tone that they talk to other children.
(Beeru, ragpicker, 14, member of child workers union, India)
There is no one definition of social justice. Different Christian traditions and theologies place emphasis on aspects of social justice that best fit within their worldview. From addressing social structures and political systems through a rights lens, to leaning on the church rather than government to provide social safety nets for the poor enabling Christians to channel their wealth and time to do what s/he can to help ‘the least of these’.
Youth defining social justice
I wonder how the young people I met last week in a cold, crumbling school building in a poor village in Georgia understand or experience social justice. They spoke of loneliness; a lack of love and emotional attachment with their families; being afraid of speaking up; being labelled and detached from society; a poor physical environment; financial and health problems and poor educational opportunities.
Perhaps the articulation of their dreams can give us a picture of what social justice looks like to them:
- A positive and caring family and community environment
- Having a soul mate and friends
- An open and welcoming society where they feel integrated
- Helping others less fortunate than them and enabling them to flourish
- Having respect for and acting on their ideas
- Valuing them for who they are, rather than trying to change them
- A proper education
- Access to resources that can connect them to the world
Children experience social justice in their homes and community. In the institutions that provide health and education. In the playground and streets of their community. In the neighbourhoods they live in. They are also actors and partners in promoting social justice through their concern and desire to uphold the rights of the most vulnerable children.
Kenyan child reporter Wendy visited a primary school where children shared poems and posters about the work World Vision was doing in their community. Photo by May Ondeng
For World Vision, the pursuit of justice is as much a desire to see policies that benefit vulnerable children and their families as it is to see relationships transformed and restored in the communities we work in. Our revised promotion of justice policy emphasizes the need to include ‘the participation of children according to their evolving capacities’. We have seen significant contributions of children into the post 2015 debate and other policy arenas as a result.
At the heart of children's vulnerabilities lie the more intangible relational, identity and protection issues that shape their daily lives and experience of social justice.
World Vision’s health, education and economic development programming can respond to several of the issues raised by children. But at the heart of their vulnerability lie the more intangible relational, identity and protection issues that shape their daily lives and experience of social justice. Addressing the root causes of broken relationships, violence and discrimination requires a shift in cultural practices and beliefs – lifting up the positive and challenging the harmful.
Transforming social norms and traditional practices that harm or discriminate against children is a key part of our work and Christian identity. If children are protected, cared for and participate they are more able to benefit from better health, education and economic development.
Our development programme approach begins its journey with a focus on the most vulnerable children, and engaging young people in the prioritization of issues that affect their well-being. The Child Protection and Advocacy project framework enables children, families and faith communities along with local government to strengthen care and protection. Within this approach the use of social change models that challenge gender norms and discrimination - Channels of Hope, C-Change, Celebrating Families - and curricula such as the Peace Road provide unique ways of building the kind of caring, safe and empowering environment where children can experience the love of God and His restorative justice.
To be just it is not sufficient to be aware of injustice and analyse root causes. Children’s creativity and concrete actions can move the adult world to become more responsive to injustices in powerful and transformative ways.
Let us celebrate the UN world day of social justice by listening to and acting together with the most vulnerable children to reach their dreams.