Social justice is a complex and contested term (Morgaine, 2014). Although it is universally accepted and adopted in community work it holds different meanings and interpretations (Watts & Hodgson, 2019). According to Morgaine (2014), social justice refers to the view that every individual deserves the same economic, social, and political rights and opportunities. This definition is consistent with the one described by Austin (2014) that social justice involves arranging economic, social, and political organizations in a manner that allows all individuals, including the oppressed, vulnerable, poor, and marginalized to be able to accomplish their developmental and basic needs. Austin (2014) further suggests that for social justice to be achieved the same civil and political freedoms, fair opportunity equality for a socioeconomic political sphere is necessary. On the other hand, it has been defined as a framework of political goals trailed through economic, social, political, and environmental strategies founded on accommodation of diversity and divergence, and directed by principles concerned with embracing equal worth and dignity, practicing fairness, forging every individual’s self esteem (Taylor, Vreugdenhil, & Scneiders 2015). Social justice thus acts as a central organizing value for community work but its meaning has not been agreed upon (Stewart, 2013). In this regard, although a common definition of social justice has not been agreed upon, there are certain themes that appear in all definitions.
As an ethical value, social justice theory is a recent concept (Watts & Hodgson, 2019). However, attempts have been made to make the concept clearer. According to Cournoyer (2014), social justice constitutes of different orientations, namely, (a) distributive justice, (b) retributive justice, (c) restorative justice, (d) procedural justice, (e) intergenerational justice, and (f) environmental justice. Distributive justice refers to just and fair allocation of opportunities, resources, and burdens of the community (Taylor, Vreugdenhil, & Scneiders 2015). Retributive justice is evenhandedness and impartiality linked with chastisement and reimbursements for the harm experienced b y others. Restorative justice involves compensating or rehabilitating for encountered damage while procedural justice involves just and fair decision making manners in institutions and policies (Jost & Kay, 2010). On the other hand, intergenerational justice and environmental justice concerns with burdens or benefits left from generation to generation and who can access the clean environment respectively. Evidently, all these types of social justice have a common theme suggesting equitable and fair treatment of all individuals (Ruger, 2004). Further, social justice is a multidimensional, sociopolitical and intricate concept that emphasizes the right of people to access to both tangible (wealth and income) and non-tangible materials (opportunities, prospect, and involvement) as outlined by Taylor, Vreugdenhil, & Scneiders (2015).
Historical Events Relevant to Current Social Justice Principles
The history of the social justice concept is long and has evolved from Plato and Socrates justice and rights’ accounts and across different religious frameworks (Taylor, Vreugdenhil, & Scneiders 2015). Social justice materialized in the late eighteenth century in the political philosophy literature (Jackson, 2005).
Social justice is about making sure that every Australian – Indigenous and non-Indigenous – has choices about how they live and the means to make those choices. Social justice is grounded in the practical, day-to-day realities of life.
An example for the Historical event is what happen to the Aborginal and Torres Strait Islander children were removed from their families by Australian Federal and State government agencies and church missions between 1910 and 1970 and it was called The Stolen Generations.
The children who were separated from their families are forced to adopt the white culture. This policy was legal, the reason behind this was to make less population of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, It was believed these children would be more easily assimilated due to their lighter skin.
These kids were unable to speak their traditional languages or name themselves in their family names. These kids were forced to study but with very low education and make them work as domestic servants at there very young age with very low wages.
As a Report of the Senate Legal and Constitutional References Committee Inquiry published in 2006 named Unfinished Business, recorded these actions and reported that these Indigenous peoples wages where stolen.
During 13 February 2008, the Australian Government formally apologized to the Stolen Generations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People. Kevin Rudd, the Prime Minister of Australia at the time, delivered the speech in Parliament House.
Current Ethical and Legislation Requirements
The pursuit of social justice is protected in practice standards, ethical codes, and literature. As noted by Taylor, Vreugdenhil, & Scneiders (2015) the focus of implementation of social justice has been on the values and principles of social justice and how they form a context for practice. Social justice is a fundamental core value in the National Association of Social Worker’s code of ethics. Similarly, the code of ethics of the Australian Community Workers Association exists to help in the promotion of social justice in three dimensions, namely, cooperative, professional, and compassionate services (Chenoweth & McAuliffe, 2017). What is more, social justice has been incorporated into the Australian Association of Social Workers’ mission and vision. The vision of this body is to work together with the sole aim of offering social justice and excelling professionally (AASW, 2018). The association seeks to enhance the social work profession, advance social justice, and uphold standards of member (AASW, 2018). As Austin (2014) outlines social justice is one of the five core values that act as the foundation of the distinctive principle and perspective of social work. The community and social work profession emphasize that social justice is a central obligation which should be upheld societies with the community striving to offer protection and utmost benefit for all members (Chenoweth & McAuliffe, 2017). Further, social and economic justice is deemed as the organizing value for social work as a profession (Watts & Hodgson, 2019).
Social justice is a principle that underpins the definition of community work as a profession, its practising standards, and code of ethics. Although it is a complex and contested term it is universally accepted and adopted in community work. The concept has evolved since the eighteenth century from Plato and Socrates justice and rights’ accounts and across different religious frameworks to the currently embraced principle in community work as evidenced by its incorporation in the Australian Association of Social Workers and Australian Community Workers Association’s practice guidelines and code of ethics.