On February 20th, we celebrated the World Day of Social Justice. Social Justice – not only is it a key aspect to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, but much more than that, it is what millions of people are hoping for to experience one day. Let´s take a look at some statistics of the International Labour Organization (ILO): Over 60 % of all workers lack any kind of employment contract and thus, are subject to the individual rules and commitment of their employer. Furthermore, over 600 million jobs need to be created by 2030 only to keep pace with the growth of the working age population. Lastly, one in five workers still live in extreme or moderate poverty (Source: ILO). One week after celebrating this day, the numbers haven´t changed dramatically. Well, what is actually next for us to achieve social justice?
In order to answer that question, we need to understand what social justice is. There are many different definitions on what this term means, but it essentially refers to impartial, fair and equal treatment of humans due to their inherent and equal human dignity. Consequently, there ought to be fundamental principles in any workplace like equal pay for equal job, right to education, equal opportunity, etc. As nice as all of those principles sound, they are not a reality all across the world for several reasons. The event “Closing the Inequalities Gap to Achieve Social Justice" organized by the Permanent Mission of the Kyrgyz Republic to the United Nations and the International Labour Organization Office for the United Nations was both very helpful and eye-opening to hear experts, government officials and ambassadors share the challenges they face in their particular country.
Before going into any example, it is crucial to mention that most if not all the challenges addressed in this event are highly interconnected and thus, not able to be focused on individually without touching on another issue. Throughout this event, it became very apparent that the case of the SDGs is very similar. It is almost impossible to look at eradicating poverty (SDG #1) without sustainable cities and communities (SDG #11), to achieve gender equality (SDG #5) without global partnerships (SDG #17). As much as we make of our personal heritage and country, the most serious challenges we face are global ones that require the unfiltered attention by all world leaders in order to be properly addressed. We will only achieve the 2030 Agenda if we take a holistic and systemic approach, acknowledging that we are all in this together and need each other to make significant progress.
However, in terms of social justice, the issue of gender equality was a very prevalent topic. Whether it be patriarchy, climate change or migration – whatever root cause it is, women experience disadvantageous treatment in terms of wage but also concerning job opportunity. The shocking lack of women studying or working in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) is a great example of how our society is clearly behind in closing the gender gap. Those are areas of work that will impact our future greatly and if they are dominated by men, then we are missing out on the perspective of more than 50 % of the world´s population. The trickle-down effect could be enormous and not only keep us from closing the gender gap by 2030, but also widen it once again. Unequal pay and treatment of women are all in violation of the foundational principle of social justice and the human rights agenda in general, namely equal human dignity for all. Due to its size, gender equality has been viewed as crucial part to close the inequalities gap significantly.
Lastly, the inequalities gap is a lot bigger than we think. In order to close this gap, we need to reconsider our approach. “The opposite of poverty is not wealth. It is justice!” – Bryan Stevenson. Especially in the Western world, we are tempted to confuse our basic needs with our own desires. The quote from Bryan Stevenson is actually groundbreaking. As important money and wealth are to kick-start projects, initiatives and overall change, they are neither the solution nor the goal. It hit me hard to realize that I have been confusing wealth with justice. We live in impressive cities and aspire to turn our lifestyle into a sustainable one so that no one is left behind. However, if we don´t understand such a foundational concept, can we even reach a goal like closing the inequalities gap to ensure social justice for all?
Nonetheless, we must not give up! As unjust and unequal our society has been treating women, the environment or any marginalized group, we have come a long way to have such a meeting at the UN to hear truth and exchange valuable ideas on how we can seriously close this gap. As mentioned before, our world is highly interconnected which is why the problem we face is extremely comprehensive. Let´s listen to the voices of those who have been marginalized so that we gain a better understanding of who we are as humanity and also, to understand better what we are actually striving for.
I am convinced that there is a lot more to learn about what a sustainable lifestyle looks like, what a socially just society looks like. Since nobody of us has ever lived in such a place, it remains a distant future for now. That is why we need to keep exchanging our ideas, maintain close relationships across the globe so that we can encourage each other in our defeats as well as our victories because, at the end of the day, we are all in this together.