World Day of Social Justice was first observed globally in 2009, following a declaration at the 62nd session of the United Nations General Assembly that the Day be observed annually on February 20th. The recommendations of the Common Agenda of the United Nations are to strengthen global solidarity and to rebuild trust in government by “Overcoming Barriers and Unleashing Opportunities for Social Justice”, hence the theme for World Day of Social Justice, 2023.
World Day of Social Justice, therefore, provides an opportunity to foster dialogue with social partners and other stakeholders on actions needed to strengthen the social contract that has been fractured by rising inequalities, conflicts, and weakened institutions that are meant to protect the rights of workers and citizens.
Social justice is based on the values of fairness, equality, respect for diversity, access to social protection, and the application of human rights in all spheres of life, including in the workplace. ( https://sdgs.un.org/)
With a mandate to ensure the inclusion of non-governmental organizations in the national discussion and decision-making process, and to assist in creating a more equitable society where all people are physically and psychologically safe and secure, the Social Justice Committee was established in September 2018.
This move was in-keeping with the manifesto promise to broaden the social partnership framework to include a wide range of civil society and interest groups in a Social Justice Committee. The twenty-three-member Committee also comprises representation from the public and private sectors, and trade unions. The main objective of the Committee is to consider and make recommendations to the Government directly or through the Social Partnership on issues of social justice.
Although there are many barriers to overcome in our society; unemployment, discrimination, poverty, ill-health (physical and mental), and gender equality, the Government is making strides in addressing these issues by unleashing opportunities through consultations and legislation.
Opportunities for the Social Justice Committee and other third sector organizations have been available for input in policy and legislation to protect the most vulnerable in our society through wide consultation; namely, the general population through the Charter of Barbados, our children through proposed Child Protection legislation, our elderly with the draft Policy on Ageing, as well as draft policy to improve the lives of persons with disabilities.
These three groups and similar vulnerable groups, deserve protection, fairness, equity, respect and access to social protection. The policies and legislation will strengthen institutions and agencies that are tasked with providing services to the mentioned groups.
Social Justice means inclusiveness. The recently held consultation with faith-based organizations, an all-inclusive gathering of leaders from both “traditional” and “non-traditional” faiths led to opportunities to foster dialogue on matters that affect all segments of society.
Topics such as the National Wellness Policy, disaster relief, and the need for counsellors to address the resulting mental health issues in children post-COVID, were shared in the forum. The discussion also highlighted the tolerance of all faiths while agreeing that the main objective was to contribute to the development of a just society.
The negative impacts of global conflicts, the COVID-19 pandemic, and climate change have also cemented the importance of social justice and the need for countries to unify and stand on issues that solidify our common goals. In so doing, we can overcome barriers and unleash opportunities for social justice, thereby creating a society where all feel valued and have the ability to contribute.