Saturday 10th December 2016 is World Human Rights Day a day when the ideals behind the 1948 UN Declaration of Human Rights, and the subsequent Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which provide a “common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations”, towards which individuals and societies should “strive by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance” are commemorated.
On a day like today social workers find themselves drawn to the observations of those who argue that the most powerful human rights are not loud and shouty, but are almost mundane in their quiet nature. To quote Eleanor Roosevelt:
“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world… Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”
What does this mean for social work practice? Well, for starters it means that human rights are universal in nature – rights are for all. No exceptions. No qualifiers. The only test to have human rights is to be human. Secondly, however is the observation that without concerted citizen action to uphold people’s rights, the inherent dignity and equal and inalienable nature of human rights is placed at risk. Social workers know that in practice, on a day to day basis, people’s dignity is not respected and as a result their rights are breached.
An example of this is the impact on people’s right to be a part of democratic life in their country. During the 2015 General Election social workers worked to support people to get involved and register as a voter, which is a right protected by Article 29 CRPD – the right to participate in political and public life. They found that for adults with a learning disability, however this right was not a given. Every day decisions were being made, mundane/ordinary in nature, by managers and support workers that prevented people from having their Article 29 rights upheld. Decisions based on assumptions that people with a learning disability are not fully human and therefor their rights aren’t the same as other people’s. As observed by a social worker colleague – we have a long way to go before inherent dignity is’ a universally lived experience.
So what can you do as a social worker? Well, you can think about is this something you want to get involved with, you can ask yourself, do you want to shape your practice in terms of social justice? Do you want promote citizenship, uphold the inherent dignity of the people you are priviledged to serve and protect their right to be human? Are you willing, on World Human Rights Day to take the Eleanor Roosevelt’s challenge and think about how you can influence human rights in the small places?