From the 18th to the 25th of March, Irakli Tusiashvili and Adedamola Nadi attended the United Nations Human Rights Council session in Geneva, Switzerland, on behalf of Liberation, where they also attended the World Social Work Day 2017 (Social Work and Sustainable Development) event organised by the UNHRC, to which Liberation has always stood in solidarity. The following is a brief summary of their report.
Social Work and the United Nations Agenda: Overview in the Relation
The importance of the international social work organisations has become central to the UN international development agenda since the focus of their activity has been widened from local work activities to incorporate wider national and international perspectives. Consequently, they strive to cooperate with leading international organisations in search of political solutions for international problems.
The United Nations attaches high importance to social work and pays attention to it and supports some of the leading organisations in the field through granting them UN Consultative Status at ECOSOC. Through this status, international social work organisations at the UN are able to emphasise: human rights, social justice and social development, fields in which social work has much to offer. They continue to orient and base their activities and policies upon Human Rights, the UN conventions and programmes.
- Over the years representatives of international social work and social welfare organisations have participated in many UN Conferences and presented reports and declarations.
- Since 1983 World Social Work Day is celebrated at the UN in New York and since 2017 in Geneva.
- In 2012 social work and social welfare organisations adopted the Global Agenda for Social Work and Social Development: A Commitment to Action, which aims to promote social and economic equality, the dignity and worth of people, and community and environmental sustainability.
The World Social Work Day 2017 event in Geneva highlighted the important contribution that social work has made and continues to make to the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda in its social, economic and environmental dimensions.
Welcome and Opening Statements
Joelle Libois, Director of The Geneva School of Social Work (HETS), Switzerland’s largest professional training network, opened the World Social Work Day 2017 by welcoming all the guests and participants and highlighted the importance of the event by underlining the essential interconnectivity between issues in Social Work and other spheres of work, particularly politics. Her brief welcoming statement included an overview of how social work has matured to engage with other professions. This includes issues around the environment and sustainability.
Annamaria Campanini, President of International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW), opened the World Social Work Day 2017 by emphasising the requirement for education in the field of Social Work to further develop social workers to make use of appropriate tools and measures to effectively carry out work to contribute to the development of wider societies.
Notes of presentations from participants at roundtable discussion:
Christina Behrendt, Social Protection Department, ILO. Christina highlighted the work covering a broad range of sustainable development issues in relation to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) including:
- Ending poverty in all its forms everywhere by implementing nationally appropriate social protecting systems in its primary goal to achieve substantial coverage of the poor and vulnerable.
- Achieving gender equality and empowering women through the provision of national public services, primarily in the promotion of shared responsibility within the household and the family as nationally appropriate.
- Promoting tendencies of sustainable economic growth globally.
- Reducing inequality within and among countries in the goal of progressively achieving greater equality.
Christina also spoke about other social protection systems such as access to clean water and sanitation and affordable and clean energy, emphasising all the time the importance and the key role of social work in social protection priorities such as facilitating access to basic goods and services and facilitating a just transition towards environmentally sustainable economies.
In this context, she continually highlighted the important role that social workers play and emphasised the key role social workers have in realising all social and economic rights, and in promoting sustainable development.
Lena Dominelli, Professor of Applied Social Sciences, Durham University. Lena presented perspectives on her work on Green Social Work, Environmental Justice and the Global Agenda. She spoke about social work that has prided itself in being the person-in-the environment; (although this understanding of the environment has primarily been defined as the social environment). Its interest in environmental issues is more recent, and reinforced the idea that currently environmental issues are closer to the field of Social Work more than many may think. This closeness, she explained, is represented through engagement with the physical scientists who have dominated discussions about: climate change, natural and human disasters. Lena traced some of this development in her contribution, and argued that green social work today encompasses not only the renewable energy agenda, but an approach that encompasses everyday life practises that form the foundation of social work practice that are strongly linked to demands for the inclusion of environmental justice in social justice discourses. This approach, she argued, necessitates strengthening a critique of neoliberal forms of socioeconomic development and governance structures.
Elena Gaia, Senior Advisor, World Vision International. Elena’s presentation explored the role of social workers in contributing to protecting children from all forms of violence and the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the overall agenda 2030 objective of ‘leaving no child behind’, and emphasised the important work the NGO World Vision International work experience.
In this context, the importance of the World Vision’s declared mission was expressed through the greater needs of attention to address the violence that children experience every year – a universal challenge from which no country is spared.
Elena offered an overview of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that includes specific targets to eliminate violence against children set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international human rights treaties.
Considering the global level, this presentation emphasised the implementation of some solutions on the ground to end violence against children including: abuse, neglect, exploitation, and other forms of violence. These were designed by a number of institutions and credited the social workers involved in more than half of such programmes. Such a level of involvement on the ground enables them to act as bridge between the children left behind and the formal systems of public social support.
As a recommendation, the report credited the recognition of the benefits of the community social workers in contributing to the improvement of children’s’ well-being, and advised national and local governments that the model of paid and trained community social workers service should be institutionalised.
Katja Hujo, Senior Research Coordinator, the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD).
In her presentation entitled ‘Transformative Change for Sustainable Development: Implications for Social Work’ Katja offered brief bullet points of the institution’s work which aims to ensure that social equity, inclusion and justice are central to development thinking, policy and practice. The institution’s motto is “Research for Social Change”. It defines social development as a process of change that leads to improvements in human rights and welfare in social relations which are compatible with the principles of democratic governance and justice.
To reinforce the key role the social workers play in the implementation of the SDGs at national and local levels, Katja briefly spoke about UNRISD’s recently published report on Policy Innovations for Transformative Change: Implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It aims to display the concept of transformative change which is at the heart of the new global compact the UN and its member states are building.
This concept of transformative change attacks the root causes of poverty, inequality and environmental destruction. As a solution, it proposes the requirement of making fundamental changes in economic, social and political structures, and emphasises the necessity of both individual agency and collective action by societies.
In terms of outcomes, she spoke about the report’s findings which might lead to: visible and measurable economic and political empowerment of disadvantaged and vulnerable groups, greater gender equality, more equal redistribution of wealth, and change in North-South power relations, social and environmental goals to economic policies at national and global levels, which need to be improved.