Since 2009, the World Day of Social Justice has been celebrated on February 20th. The United Nations General Assembly adopted the resolution to recognize that date. The day is an opportunity to remember that social justice is necessary for peace, security, and development around the world. In its resolution, the UN recognized the need for more international efforts on poverty education. The promotion of gender equality and social well-being are also top priorities. Every February 20th, what should the world remember about social justice?
Social justice: a definition
Social justice is about fairness. It encompasses basic needs, opportunities, wealth, and every other system within society. Closely aligned with human rights, social justice is about ensuring equality for all people. By looking at two of the past World Day of Social Justice themes, you get an idea of what social justice focuses on. In 2019, the theme was “If you want Peace and Development, Work For Social Justice.” The International Labor Organization estimates that 2 million people live in situations defined as “fragile and conflict-affected.” Violent conflict and its impacts greatly affect efforts for social justice. Less than 40% of people have careers or access to jobs that could increase their incomes.
In 2020, the day’s theme was “Closing the Inequalities Gap to Achieve Social Justice.” Globally, one in five workers lives in moderate to extreme poverty. Gender discrimination, stagnant wages, and geographical disparities contribute to harmful economic inequalities. If inequalities could be addressed, social justice and development would become a reality.
Major social justice issues affecting the world today
For social justice to be realized, the world needs to face an intersecting web of factors. Here are examples of the biggest issues facing threatening social justice:
Systemic racism in societies around the world has resulted in significant inequalities. Job opportunities, housing, healthcare, and legal representation are all affected. Dismantling structures based on racist thinking and practices is a challenging task. Addressing culturally-ingrained racism is also necessary for social justice. While forms and targets of racism vary depending on the country, the impact is always harmful to society. Even in countries considered the “least racist,” like Britain, racism is still prevalent. Progress may even be trickier in these areas because the population doesn’t see racism as a real problem.
Recent estimates reveal that if things keep going the way they are, it will take 100 years to reach gender equality. Discrimination based on gender affects education, jobs, and healthcare. Women and girls are also vulnerable to human trafficking and intimate partner violence.
Around the world, the LGBTQ+ community is uniquely vulnerable to violence and discrimination. Progress has been made in places like Denmark, which was the first European country to allow new gender identity documents without a mental disorder diagnosis or invasive surgeries. Equal marriage laws are also becoming more common. However, even in progressive countries, challenges threaten the safety and well-being of queer folk. Discrimination impacts legal protections, marriage equality, healthcare, and job opportunities.
Poverty reduction is a major goal for social justice advocates. Many areas have seen progress, but extreme poverty remains an issue. According to the World Bank, over 700 million people live on less than $1.90 per day. That’s the line for “extreme poverty.” In the wake of COVID-19, the World Bank estimates that between 40-60 million could slip below the line in 2020. Addressing economic inequalities would have a huge impact on social justice.
Unequal access to education
More often than not, education is the key to unlocking better job and income opportunities. However, accessing good education is very challenging for certain populations, including girls. In areas like South-Eastern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, wide disparities still exist. Lower-income people are also often barred from certain educational opportunities because of cost.
In recent years, it’s become clear that fighting climate change aligns with social justice goals. More extreme natural disasters, droughts, floods, and more lead to food insecurity, conflict, and sickness. Developing greener technologies are one solution to the problem, but social justice concerns shouldn’t be forgotten. Who will work these new jobs in the eco-friendly sector? Will employment be accessible for those who lost their jobs in the transition process?
What’s the purpose of a “World Day?”
The fight for social justice is ongoing. Acknowledging it isn’t limited to a single day. What’s the purpose of the World Day of Social Justice? International days educate the public on the things that matter. Besides raising awareness of what needs to change, international days celebrate progress. These types of international days existed before the UN was even established. The UN and various organizations use world days as advocacy tools. To recognize the World Day of Social Justice, organizations hold events and provide resources to anyone interested in learning more about why social justice is so important.