Social justice marks the difference between patronizing charity and a firm rights-based approach to development and human wellbeing. Effective social justice transforms altruistic gestures into justiciable rights, particularly for the benefit of the most vulnerable people.
The quest for social justice is as old as humanity itself. It has been part of philosophical reflection and political discourse for centuries and it has deserved the attention of some of the greatest minds of diverse cultures who established the intellectual foundations of the diverse domains of UNESCO’s work. Visions of social justice have generally guided social transformation, resulting sometimes in brilliant outcomes such as the universal recognition of human rights, which is today’s accepted principle for building a better world.
Social justice is a term profusely utilized in academic, political and ordinary discourse although it is not commonly defined with clarity. Nevertheless, the severity and extension of current social ills, including but not limited to massive global poverty, wide-spread social inequality, and untenable environmental degradation, clearly indicates that the lack of fairness and the extended violation of rights attempt against recognized underpinnings of justice. Many contemporary societies are usually perceived as unjust societies for a good reason: what people regard as their legitimate entitlements, including the right to life, the most fundamental of all rights, are infringed on a daily basis.
Technological advances, globalization and economic growth cannot be identified with progress if they fail to reach the most vulnerable, which in many countries constitute absolute majorities, especially women. Governments should not point to processes outside of their immediate control, such as global recession, to abdicate their responsibilities with the rights-based wellbeing of their citizens. Poverty, inequality and social injustices within as well as between countries should be fought and that would need to address power asymmetries and the reduction of the privileges of global economic and financial players. New global partnerships should be based on rights, democratic negotiation and the delivery of global public goods.
UNESCO is committed to a universal agenda for social justice based on solidarity, interdependence, respect to cultural diversity, the attainment of social outcomes arising from participatory processes, and the operation of accountability mechanisms. The Organization has included in the Social and Human Sciences programme a major new initiative on global justice and poverty eradication that is currently being launched within the framework of UNESCO’s new Medium-Term Strategy (2014-21) and Programme (2014-17) as adopted by the General Conference in November 2013.
In that context, an expert meeting on “Global justice, poverty eradication and the post-2015 development agenda”, will be jointly organized with the International Social Sciences Council (ISSC) to be held in Paris, 28 and 29 April 2014. The meeting aims at producing high-level input to two on-going processes: a) the elaboration by the international community of a development agenda looking beyond 2015; and b) the preparation of the 3rd World Social Science Forum, to be held in Durban, South Africa, in September 2015, and of the next edition of the World Social Science Report, to be published in 2016.