A Celebration of the Social Justice Warriors
The 20th of February is, of course, the World Day of Social Justice — I know, I graduated not long ago with a degree in Human Rights and Social Justice and even I hadn’t heard of this one. But if we’re going to have a world day for anything social justice seems a good one to have a day for.
I’m going to boldly make the claim that most people would agree that the ideas that underpin social justice are a good thing. Yet somehow the term social justice is often said with a sneer, or ‘warrior’ tagged on the end of it like being a ‘social justice warrior’ is an awful thing to be. That fighting to make things more just in society isn’t an excellent thing to do for everyone’s sake.
What I will give the cynics though, is that social justice is a rather vague concept — which is true, in the same way morality is, a person having any kind of rights is, the same way that love is a vague concept. Just because these are unstructured, hard-to-define and universally argued over doesn’t make them bad causes to fight for.
On the 26th of November 2007 the UN decided we needed an international day in which we all have a really good think about social justice. So I wanted to give you a very short introduction into what social justice means, for those of you who might proudly wear the badge of ‘Guardian-reading, tofu-eating wokerati’ and those of you who didn’t just get that reference!
To break it down, social justice is the idea that in society, everything should be just. It should be fair for everyone, we should all have access to our rights, that society should be a level-playing field. It doesn’t take much lived experience or research to see how inequality is so prevalent in the majority of societies. This inequality can be class-inequality, gender-inequality, racial-ineqaulity, ableism, homophobia, education-inequality, the inequality between those in poverty and the elites, this sad list could go on for a few pages.
The idea of social justice rests on five key pillars (some academics suggest there’s only four but personally, I’d rather have the extra one!):
- Access: For a society to be just, everyone should have access to essentials — shelter, food, healthcare and education. When some people do not have access, for whatever reason, this affects all society.
- Equity: Not to be confused with equality! Equality is what we aim for but equity is what’s needed to get there, we don’t all need the same thing, we all need to get to the same position. Social Justice has to take into account that certain groups need more to get them on an equal footing. This graphic shows clearly why we need to focus on equity within social justice.
- Diversity: This is the pillar that sometimes gets dropped, but it’s important to recognise that society is diverse. This is something that historically has not had enough attention paid to it. An example is within a long-standing social justice movement: Feminism. I shan’t go into the history of it but there is a reason we now have the term ‘intersectional and inclusive feminism’, because it has not (and sometimes still..) isn’t!
- Participation: For a truly just society, the people within it should be able to participate within it and with the decisions that are being made for them. This is something that has often been overlooked by policy makers. As much as governments and institutions might think they know what’s best, they don’t always fully understand the reality and the idea that it might be best to ask the people affected ‘what’s a good way of solving an issue’ isn’t always on top of the priority list.
- Human Rights: Arguably the most important of the pillars, not only in terms of social justice but in society as a whole. Many of our laws, as well as our social norms and what the majority deems to be ‘morality’ coincides with the idea that (in theory) we all have certain rights that we should have access to as human beings — no matter who we are, or where we are from, or our gender, age, race, socio-economic backgrounds, sexuality etc etc. Often the terms ‘human rights’ and ‘social justice’ are used somewhat interchangeably, they are separate concepts but it is impossible to have social justice without human rights being recognised and respected.
Now, this is just a theory. How it plays out in practice can be very different, but social justice activists as well as policy makers (again, in theory..) should be aiming to work according to these 5 pillars if they are truly looking for social justice.
I know, I told you social justice is a vague concept but the reality of social justice is really very broad. What do Martin Luther King, or Emmeline Pankhurst, Greta Thunberg or Bell Hooks all have in common? Not very much to be honest, except they all fought/fight for different social justice causes. Whether it’s racial equality, advancement in gender equality, climate justice or for an existing social justice fight to become more inclusive. They have all contributed in trying to make society more equal, more just.
So I hope this World Social Justice Day makes everyone think a little more. Social justice is not something we should shrug off, yes, it’s not our reality but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be striving to get there. And no matter that some 13 year old internet troll might be out there using ‘social justice warrior’ as an insult, I’d be proud to be given that badge some day.
If you have had a think (and if you’ve made it to the end of this blog, I’m certain you have) and now you’re all pumped up and want to do something (hooray!) I’ve come up with some suggestions below, but I’m just one person. If you have any ideas or want to share how you’re going to do your bit to get involved in social justice give us a shout on Instagram, Facebook or at firstname.lastname@example.org — we’d be very happy to hear from you!
What can YOU do?
- Sometimes a good place to start is just through educating yourself — pick a cause — gender/racial/class/educational/health inequality, climate justice, migration etc. and research a bit! I find podcasts are a good place to start or documentaries. Be careful with what you watch and listen to, not everyone out there wants society to be more fair, so it’s worth trying out a few options and remember to question everything!
The social sciences department at Kingston University hold some excellent events you can follow what’s going on here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/o/faculty-of-business-and-social-sciences-kingston-university-london-1058621841
Also the London School of Economics and Political Science hold some interesting talks, events and have a great blog: https://www.lse.ac.uk/events
- If you’re already educated on your social justice issue, try to have a conversation with other people — always go in with kindness and remember to try to call people in rather than call them out. We’re not trying to shame people but help them see that maybe they could be more informed themselves? Or a little more open-minded perhaps?
- Can you spare some time to get involved physically/creatively/mentally? There are so many organisations out there, for so many different causes, so google it! Use whatever skills you already have, or perhaps ones you’d like to learn, and get involved. Good at building stuff? Awesome. Graphic designer? Amazing. Problem solver? Fantastic! There is always a way to get stuck in, do your bit for the cause and don’t even get me started on the personal and professional benefits of volunteering!
- Get involved in a campaign! A super easy way of doing this is to sign up to Amnesty’s newsletters, they often run writing campaigns and you can sign petitions and send emails to show support for some of their causes. Amnesty is by far not the only organisation that does this. Maybe next time your lecturers go on strike, you could help make placards and posters? Or join a (safe and well organised!) protest and make a show of solidarity?
Super easy ways to get involved in campaigns or petitions:
Yours in solidarity and love,