What is Social Justice? Definition, Key Principles and Examples
With the rise in protests and demonstrations calling for “social justice” many people have heard this phrase repeated in the news, from our friends and family, and online...
But, what does social justice really mean?
Social Justice refers to the view that everyone deserves equal rights, opportunities, and treatment regardless of their race, economic status, sexuality, or gender identity. Social justice also calls for people to address historical inequities in political, social, and economic systems and to provide help to those who have consistently been denied equality.
The Principles of Social Justice
There are five key principles of Social Justice. These principles are highly intertwined – Social Justice reform strives to incorporate these principles in a multitude of efforts to increase overall equality in society. The five principles of Social Justice are access, diversity, equity, participation, and human rights.
Throughout history, access to resources has been denied to people based on race, gender identity, and sexuality. When access is restricted, it prevents individuals, communities, and society from achieving equality and increases difficulties in the ability for people to live healthy and secure lives. Some examples of limited access include: access to healthy food sources for those living in rural populations, healthcare for all income and racial demographics, and quality education for opportunity.
Diversity refers to the variety of lived experiences, perspectives and social groups including race, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, and social class. Promoting diversity in educational, occupational, and social settings is a key principle in social justice. Diversity in educational and occupational settings allows for people to experience working/being surrounded by people who can challenge their own viewpoints and expand their level of thinking. A strong diversity practice can have the added benefits of promoting inclusion – thus decreasing overall stereotyping and discrimination. Diversity is not only important in education and occupational settings, but is also highly important in media. As many activists and people within the media have suggested, diversity in media can promote a better understanding of people within marginalized communities, and an increased ability for people to see themselves on screen as inspirational, strong, and independent characters.
While equality refers to equal treatment of everyone regardless of social group or classification, equity, instead, refers to providing everyone with what they may need to succeed in consideration of their circumstances and past and current inequities. Equity requires policies to address past and current restrictions to accessing resources, by providing additional or specialized resources to those who have previously been denied them. Policies that can provide equity could include increasing access to affordable housing, social welfare programs, educational opportunities for marginalized communities and individuals.
Social justice requires the participation of all, and in particular, the participation and elevation of marginalized voices. If changes are made, without the participation and the voices of those who have historically been treated unjustly, those changes and solutions often fail to address the issues most needed to be addressed. It is important to allow those who have been most impacted by the lack of social justice to speak and participate in the search for social justice. Participation of marginalized voices is critical in all social spaces including politics, activism, and education.
Human rights are rights that inherently belong to every person. These rights are based on shared human values which can include fairness, equality, respect and independence. Human rights are not to be restricted by government or individuals. Human rights can also refer to peoples rights to pursue a healthy and happy life, with limited restrictions from government and individuals.
Examples of Social Justice Issues
Since the War on Drugs began in the 1980’s, mass incarceration in the United States has been a pervasive social justice issue addressed by activists, academics, and policy makers. The United States currently has the most people incarcerated in state and federal prisons per capita compared to any other country in the world.
Additionally, Black and LatinX people in the United States are extremely overrepresented in the incarcerated population. Black people are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of White people and nearly double the rate for LatinX people. People of color and communities that are widely populated by People of Color are also policed at a much higher rate than communities that are mainly populated by White people, and People of Color are much more likely to be arrested and convicted of a crime than White people.
Racial inequality is one of the most widely discussed and known social justice issues in the United States and around the world. People of color have historically and are currently, denied access to education, employment, and housing, are incarcerated and experience police brutality at a much higher rate, and experience insufficient access to and experiences in healthcare. Recently, the Black Lives Matter movement has famously sought to address racial inequality in police brutality cases and unequal treatment in other social settings and this is joined by many other movements and social justice organizations seeking to address issues in racial inequality.
Although the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in all fifty states in 2015, LGBTQ+ individuals and the community still face widespread discrimination and same-sex marriage remains illegal in multiple countries around the world. LGBTQ+ people are currently denied housing, employment, and service in some states within the United States. Additionally, members of the LGBTQ+ community can face discrimination and violence at much higher rates than those who do nog identify as LGBTQ+.
Social Justice is an Ideal that we Must Continue to Strive For
Social justice has not been achieved in the United States or other countries despite the continuous efforts from activists and others to work towards social justice. To reach social justice it is important to address the issues like LGBTQ+ discrimination, mass incarceration, and racial inequality. However, there are many more issues that need to be addressed and marginalized voices need to be heard in order to find solutions. To achieve social justice, the principles of access, diversity, equity, participation, and human rights must be addressed and achieved. Social injustice for few is social injustice for all, and the fight for social justice continues as many within society seek to achieve it.