Monday, May 23, 2011

Paradigm-From A Needs Based Perspective To A Rights Based Perspective

  With roots mired in the early 19th century imprint of the Monroe Doctrine, manifest destiny, and staunch protestant individualism, the social work profession's social justice framework began through working with individuals cast aside and living in the margins of society.  Both the National Association of Social Workers and the Council on Social Work Education require social workers to have an understanding and a committment to social justice in our work.  What remains unclear however is a solid working definition of social justice.  The profession's ethical codes suggest an egalitarian model in which "...the needs of all must be considered (Reichert, 2001)."  Distribution of various resources should be allocated so that the basic needs of all individuals are met equitably.  Indeed, the term is enmeshed within the profession and images of equality and fraternity surface with its mention.  However,  with its needs based paradigm and its lack of clear definitions the term is less useful to the populations that the profession seeks to enfranchise.
  American social work is unique in the world in that its focus is on social justice instead of the universal ideas of human rights.  To date, the two major social work bodies in the US lack a clear understanding of the role of human rights within the social work paradigm while the rest of the world uses human rights as the pillar for all work with vulnerable and oppressed populations.
  Human rights, meaning those rights that are endowed to individuals, groups and societies because they are essential to our humanity, have been encoded in international law through the United Nations and other intergovernmental organizations.  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, though non-binding, offers more clear definitions that the profession in the US can use to further improve the lives of all peoples.  By moving from a social justice framework to a human rights framework, social workers can advocate for the civil, social, political, economic and cultural rights of their constituents from a more substantive framework that not only illicits powerful images, but makes a profound and tangible impact on the world.  Using a human rights framework, social workers would be able to argue that not only do Americans need and deserve universal health care, but they have a fundimental right to universal health care as outlined in international law.
  Human rights insists that the profession call for an end to the busting of collective barganing groups, the creation of equitable policies in TANF, an end to the attacks on women's reproductive rights, and acts of sexism, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and other forms of hate to be viewed not just as violations of law but violations of those rights guaranteed to us by birth as human beings.
  The United States has only ratified those internatinonal treaties which focus on polictical and civil rights while ignoring economic, social and cultural rights.  The social work profession has been a great lobbying force on various issues that face disenfranchised groups. In order for the profession to advocate for the passage of these other human rights conventions, we must understand and have a committment to human rights in the same way we have done with social justice.
  In truth, it is unlikely that social justice will disappear from the social work conversation at any point in the forseeable future.  With the inclusion of human rights however, social workers will be able to more effectively and positively stand with targeted groups both here and throughout the world.

For further information on incorporating human rights into the social work profession click here

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