Applicability of the Human Rights Approach to Social Work

Contemporary human rights are based upon the ideal of social justice, a concept so central to social work that it is considered “fundamental” in the IFSW definition of the profession. All people should be equal under the law and should have equal opportunities to develop to their potential.

The UDHR can serve as a guide to putting into operation the often vague concept of social justice. Skegg (2005) suggests that an approach to social work based on human rights and empowerment tells oppressed people that they have rights to the basics for life, as opposed to regarding assistance as a charitable handout. In addition, self-determination, a concept for which social workers often advocate, is protected under the UDHR. Focusing on violations of human rights can help social workers focus on social justice as opposed to individual pathology (Healy, 2001).

The concepts and theories typically used in social work can aid in analyzing the issues to be discussed in this text. The systems perspective that is central to the social work perspective will continue to be valuable here. We regard the individual as the micro level, the family as the mezzo level, and communities or nations as the macro level. Try to assess in each chapter how the individual is affected by events occurring on higher levels and how the macro system is affected by events occurring on the mezzo and micro levels. For example, the family of an individual who lacks access to education will be more likely to live in poverty and struggle to meet their basic needs, and it impedes the development of the nation if its workforce is uneducated and struggling with social problems. The macro level will in turn affect the micro level because when the nation is struggling economically due to the lack of development, it will have difficulty affording adequate education. As you read each chapter, you will see the linking of these issues. An issue in one chapter will often make reference to issues described in detail in other chapters. Just as human rights are universal and indivisible, unfortunately so are the problems. But as discussed in the final chapter, fortunately, so are the solutions.

The following chapters will examine various violations of human rights. These are not the only violations occurring, nor are these the only countries in which they occur—they are simply an illustration of the violations that occur all too often. Using the human rights framework, this text will examine the social issues, how culture has affected their development, and what people are doing to try to solve the problems.

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