Human Rights and Social Work

Human Rights and Social Work

§  The United Nations (UN) was established following World War II (1939–45) in June 1945 with 50 member states. The UN plays an important role across the globe in assuring security and human rights for all people. December 10, 1948, marks a very important day in history because of the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In embracing the Declaration, 48 nations asserted their strong obligation that all humans deserved to be treated with respect and dignity, and with peace in the world.

The social work profession shares a close relationship with human rights, because it adheres to values such as respect, dignity, and self-determination - values that are strongly embedded in the code of ethics for all practitioners. The client-social worker relationship has long been celebrated. The profession is highly regarded for challenging the inhumane treatment of vulnerable people, its commitment to challenge anti-oppressive practise, and most importantly, ensuring that vulnerable people are given a voice! Human rights are particularly important for social workers when making decisions that concern the future care needs of individuals.

§  Based on established concepts and definitions of human rights, Social workers can readily identify a connection between human rights and their profession. The social work profession concerns itself with helping people. Human rights cover an entire range of political, economic and cultural needs required to form a human society. Social work practice based on human rights is no panacea for discrimination, inequality, poverty and other social problems, knowledge of human rights can help the profession better understand its role as a helping profession.

§  Human rights are "commonly understood as inalienable fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being. Human rights are thus conceived as universal (applicable everywhere) and egalitarian (the same for everyone). These rights may exist as natural rights or as legal rights, in local, regional, national, and international law. Social Work is the professional activity of helping individuals, groups, or communities enhance or restore their capacity for social functioning and creating societal conditions favourable to this goal. Social work in its various forms addresses the multiple, complex transactions between people and their environments. Its mission is to enable all people to develop their full potential, enrich their lives, and prevent dysfunction. Professional social work is focused on problem-solving and change.

§  The term "human rights" refers to those rights that are considered universal to humanity, regardless of citizenship, residency status, ethnicity, gender, or other considerations. “The social work profession promotes social change, problem solving in human relationships and the empowerment and liberation of people to enhance well-being. Utilising theories of human behaviour and social systems, social work intervenes at the points where people interact with their environments. Principles of human rights and social justice are fundamental to social work”. (International Federation of Social workers, IFSW: 1982)

§  Social workers should promote conditions that encourage respect for cultural and social diversity within the globe. Social workers should promote policies and practices that demonstrate respect for difference, support and expansion of cultural knowledge and resources, advocate for programmes and institutions that demonstrate cultural competence and promote policies that safeguard the rights and confirm equity and social justice for all people.(NASW,1996: Page27) (These are very similar to Human Rights).

§  The centrality of human rights in Social Work: They help people undertake a social analysis of where they are now. They are often the catalyst for helping people find and achieve change in their lives. The process of change is through building up trust and the social relationship with the person making that change in their lives.

Social workers adopt a human rights approach by:
  • Meeting and balancing need, risk and human rights in everyday practice
  • Undertaking professional social work tasks with individuals, families and groups by helping people achieve change and helping people to undertake a social analysis of where they are now.
  • Operating as social catalysts to encourage the process of the change via building trust and social relationships with those people with whom they work.

The IFSW position, which states that social work is a human rights profession, is accepted but has raised considerable debate (Ife, 2001). Healy (2008) provides a critical appreciation of this from a variety of perspectives that helps us to understand some of the uncertainties that demand professional engagement and judgement from social workers.

Human Rights are inseparable from Social work theory, values and ethics, and practice. Rights are corresponding to human needs. Have to upheld and fostered and they embody the justification and motivation for social work action. Advocacy of such rights must, therefore, be an integral part of social work, even if in countries living under authoritarian regimes such advocacy can have serious consequences for Social work professionals.

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