On February 20, at the initiative of the UN, the World Day of Social Justice is celebrated all over the world. The concept of “social justice” at first glance seems to be absolutely understandable and transparent, but, as often happens, people sometimes put different content into it. Meanwhile, this concept remains extremely popular and is often mentioned in the speeches of politicians and civil activists, in the media and social networks, in public comments, and in academic articles. Social justice tops the list of values that are in demand in the societies of different countries, both democratic and those that strive to build democratic institutions.
A brief historical excursus shows how the content of the concept of justice has changed over the epochs. So, Plato said that justice is a harmonious force, the relationship of people in society [Bhandari, n.d.]. Later on, justice was mentioned quite often in Enlightenment magazine articles, and in modern and recent times, social justice has become an object of close attention in American political and legal philosophy. Finally, the founding document of the International Labor Organization stated that “peace can only be established if it is based on social justice” [ILO, 2010].
This means that an abstract and moral concept, somewhat similar to concepts such as “goodness” and “mercy”, is moving into those areas where it can be evaluated and measured in more stringent economic and legal parameters. Social justice began to be measured by criteria for the distribution of wealth, the presence or absence of equal opportunities, and social privileges, that is, access to material resources and institutional power. As an accurate numerical indicator of social justice, the Gini coefficient or “equity index” was introduced, which assesses the degree of stratification of society. The closer its value is to zero, the closer absolute equality is, and the closer it is to one, the less fair income is distributed [Kommersant.ru, 2015].
However, there has been a gradual shift in focus in the public interpretation of this phenomenon. While social justice was originally focused on issues such as the distribution of capital, property, and wealth due to extreme inequality and economic crises, today social justice is moving towards a stronger focus on human rights and improving the lives of disadvantaged and marginalized groups who historically experienced discrimination in society on the basis of gender, age, ethnicity, health status, social status, religion, and other parameters. Experts identify five main universal principles of social justice that are paramount for a better understanding of the concept: access to resources, equality, participation, diversity, and human rights.
Access to resources refers to the extent to which different socio-economic groups are given equal opportunities to have an equal start in life. We are talking primarily about such areas as health care, food, housing, education, climate and ecology, and opportunities for recreation.
Equity implies that people are provided with the tools appropriate to their needs and socioeconomic status to move towards similar outcomes. In this context, it is important to understand that offering everyone the same tools to achieve the same result is not equality. People are too different from each other; their needs and abilities are also different.
Participation means that every member of society is given the right to vote and the opportunity to express their opinion, as well as to participate in any decisions that affect their lives. When a small group of people makes decisions for a large group, it is understood as socially not fair.
Understanding diversity and considering differences between different social groups helps empower marginalized or disadvantaged groups and overcome discriminatory practices.
Finally, human rights form a fundamental part of the concept. This means that, ideally, every person can fully exercise their civil, economic, political, cultural, and legal rights. They should be enforced by the International Criminal Court and the United Nations Human Rights Council [Yorku, 2022].
It is assumed that the actual implementation of social justice policy should be carried out by the government, non-profit organizations, foundations, or bureaucratic institutions. Such organizations are responsible for the formation of public policy to address issues of social justice, their effectiveness – success or failure – depends on the degree of people’s trust in these organizations. Social justice initiatives can be implemented through many different types of government programs through wealth and income redistribution, government subsidies, protected employment status and even legitimized discrimination against privileged groups through fines and taxes [CFI, 2022]. Thus, social justice includes political, cultural, religious, and sexual freedoms and aims to free society from all unjust social, political and ideological restrictions [CFI, 2015].
However, not every society is ready for this activity, and therefore the prospect of a conflict between groups of people and parts of society opens up. This conflict often centers either on supporting the interests of certain population groups that the initiators consider to be oppressed or on confronting and directly attacking groups that they consider to be oppressors. The fundamental assumption of conflict theory is that dominant political institutions and cultural practices favor dominant groups and individuals [Hays, 2022].
Inequality of opportunity, which does not depend on talents, the intensity of work, and entrepreneurial activity, degrades the dignity of a person, causes negative life expectations, and deviant behavior, and undermines faith in social justice [Kormishkina et al., 2020].
Public rallies and demonstrations, the media, social media activity, as well as charitable donations, and volunteer movements aim to change state policy in this area. There are also more radical situations when the demands of social justice are transformed into direct threats, violence, and destruction of property and infrastructure. Although, as we have already mentioned, the understanding of social justice in different contexts is somewhat different, nevertheless, common stabilizing elements can be found in them: the obligation of the state to distribute certain vital benefits, the protection of human dignity, and the promotion of equal opportunities for everyone [Pérez-Garzón, 2018].
To conclude our thoughts we can say that it is important that the desire for social justice remains a driver of human development, influencing both the motivation of social and demographic groups “from below” and the response of decision-makers “from above”, otherwise this development process could be slowed down and enter into a stagnation and cannot be fully beneficial for further development.
Bhandari, Dinesh (2018). 20th WCP: Plato’s Concept of Justice: An Analysis. Retrieved from https://www.bu.edu/wcp/Papers/Anci/AnciBhan.htm. Accessed on 23.06.2022.
CFI (2022). Social Justice. A political and philosophical theory that focuses on the concept of fairness in relations between individuals in society Written by CFI Team Updated May 8, Retrieved from https://corporatefinanceinstitute.com/resources/knowledge/other/social-justice. Accessed on 23.06.2022.
CFI (2015). Social Justice: Historical and Theoretical Considerations (Kathleen Maas Weigert, in International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences (second edition), 2015. Accessed on 23.06.2022.
International Labor Organization (2010). ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and the mechanism for its implementation. Adopted by the General Conference of the International Labor Organization at its 86th session, Geneva, 18 June 1998. Retrieved from https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—ed_norm/—declaration/documents/publication/wcms_467653.pdf. Accessed on 23.06.2022.
Hays, Adam (2022). Conflict Theory. Retrieved from https://www.investopedia.com/terms/c/conflict-theory.asp. Accessed on 24.06.2022.
Kommersant.ru (2015). What is the Gini coefficient? Retrieved from https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/2738854. Accessed on 23.06.2022.
Kormishkina, Lyudmila, Kormishkin, Evgenii, Koroleva Lyudmila and Ermakova, Eka (2020). European experience in measuring social justice. Retrieved from https://nbpublish.com/library_read_article.php?id=32084. Accessed on 23.06.2022.
Pérez-Garzón, Carlos Andrés (2018). Unveiling the Meaning of Social Justice in Colombia. Mexican Law Review: journal. vol. 10, no. 2. 27—66 pp.
Yorku.ca (2022). UN World Day of Social Justice Commemoration. Retrieved from https://www.yorku.ca/colleges/mclaughlin/2022/02/16/un-world-day-of-social-justice-commemoration-february-18-2022/. Accessed on 22.06.2022.
Note: The views expressed in this blog are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the Institute’s editorial policy
Nadirova Gulnar Ermuratovna graduated from the Oriental Faculty of Leningrad State University, in 1990 she defended her thesis on the Algerian literature at the Moscow Institute of Oriental Studies, in 2006 doctoral thesis - on modern Tunisian literature at the Tashkent Institute of Oriental Studies, Professor.