Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Social Justice

Social justice is about:
(a) preventing human rights abuses
(b) obtaining equality for different groups
(c) overcoming the barriers that prevent some people from enjoying a better quality of life
(d) maximising everybody's welfare
(e) ensuring that different groups in the society meet their obligations and responsibilities so that the whole society benefits.
Social justice hinges on several ideas that we all share.  We believe that everybody is equal and although we are organised in different social groups, eg, based on gender, religion, age, social class, etc, we should all be treated fairly.  Each person has rights, eg, the right to life, to freely express oneself, and to worship freely.  Social justice involves notions of:
Fairness:  All social groups should be treated equally.  Groups that have been marginalised should be brought into the mainstream by having more political power.  Each group in a society should be treated fairly because all persons are equal, and as such they each have rights that must be recognised.
Welfare:  Where a society has disadvantaged groups it may be necessary for there to be put in place special measures, eg scholarships, or positive discrimination in employment to give them better access to economic advancement and to enable them to take advantage of the opportunities that exist. 
Responsibilities:  It is the essence of social justice that one should not only benefit from living in a society, but one should contribute to it.  All groups should be acting out of a sense of reciprocal transactions with other groups and with the country.  It would be unjust for one group to be given handouts over a long period of time without making any significant contribution to the country.  All citizens should be engaged in a situation of mutual responsibilities for the rights they enjoy.
Rights:  There are basic rights that all people share.  If one group is denied the ability to exercise those rights, that would be a human rights violation. 
Concepts of social justice:  There are different concepts about why there should be fairness or equity between different groups in society.  These are usually expressed as 'natural rights', 'welfare', and 'mutual advantage'.
(1) Natural rights:  All humans are entitled to enjoy the basic human rights enjoyed by others.  Natural law philosophers argue that there is a supernatural authority for this claim in that these are “God-given rights”.  Moral theorists base the claim on the moral position that natural or human rights result from valuing human life and the dignity of people.
In the 1982 Constitution of Anguilla the fundamental rights of all persons living in Anguilla are set out.  These include, the right to life, the right to personal liberty, freedom from slavery and forced labour, freedom of movement, freedom from torture and inhuman treatment, protection from deprivation of property, protection from arbitrary search or entry, protection of law, freedom of conscience, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and association, and protection from discrimination on the basis of race, religion, colour, or gender.
Social justice theoreticians divide our natural rights into categories.  These include:
(a) Civil and political rights.  Most of our fundamental rights under the Constitution of Anguilla are such rights.
(b) Economic and social rights.  These include such matters as the right to education and health care, to fair wages, to join trade unions, to safe conditions in the workplace, and to an adequate standard of living, the last being sometimes referred to as 'welfare rights'. 
(c) Ethnic rights:  This refers to the rights of minorities and any religious, linguistic, political or cultural group, to the same treatment as other groups in the society.  Such rights protect ethnic groups from murder, torture and genocide, as well as from unfair practices in employment and education. 
In addition to the provisions in our Constitutions, many West Indian governments have signed international agreements to protect rights in law.  Some of these agreements include the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Treaty of Rome which established the International Criminal Court.  Many of the international agreements that our governments have signed have not yet been made a part of our law.  Some of the rights that our governments have accepted have not been put in place because government is not able to afford it.  Governments are not willing, for example, to provide expensive social security measures that would require that certain groups be taxed more heavily to pay for them.
(2) Welfare:  Welfare is an example of distributive justice.  This concept says that the material wealth of a society should be shared around.  It is based on an understanding that there is a social contract made between a state and its people.  This means that people have given up certain of their powers, eg to be violent or to take the law into their own hands, in exchange for government meeting their needs for personal security and law and order.  Governments accept the power given to them in exchange for promising to be mindful of their responsibilities to the citizens by providing the conditions necessary for them to achieve an equitable standard of living. 
(3) Mutual advantage:  The idea of what is socially just is based on the idea of the social contract between the state and its citizens.  Welfare provisions for the poor must be reciprocated by the poor taking advantage of welfare and growing out of poverty.  In this view, what is fair is the mutual arrangement between state and citizen to reinforce each other's strengths.  So, an unemployed person on welfare should commit to finding a job, undertaking training, or accepting temporary employment.  He ought to show that being unemployed is not going to be a permanent situation.  This is a view of social justice based to a certain extent on merit rather than need or rights.  So, this conception of social justice criticises the welfare model.  It suggests that welfare can lead to dependency, and in doing so will not be fair to anyone.  However, the critics of this model say that it is too generalised and lumps all people on welfare together as if they were one uniform group.  There is disagreement between those who see welfare as the major avenue for establishing fairness in society and those who see welfare as being without controls.
Caribbean societies have grown out of a set of historical circumstances involving conquest, slavery, colonialism and the plantation system.  The result has been an entrenchment of social injustice, and a legacy of social stratification and unfair practices based on class, religion, race and colour prejudices.  Additionally, women, minorities, the disabled, the elderly, and youth all suffer some form of inequity.  The result is the coming into being of prejudice, discrimination and stereotyping.  “Prejudice” and “stereotypes” refer to attitudes we have, while “discrimination” refers to acts that are unfair in some way. 
A 'prejudice' is an attitude based on the belief that another social group is inferior, or superior, in some way.  It is based on a 'pre-judgement' about others.  It is a tendency to think of them and decide about them in advance of a situation, without knowledge of the people or the situation.  So, some of us believe that the rich and famous are also intelligent.  Or people may hold prejudices which are based on negative stereotypes. 
A 'stereotype' is a rigid set of ideas about a group of people that typifies them as having certain well-defined traits.  So, we may hear someone say that black people have no head for business, or that Chinese are all gamblers, or that Indians are misers with their money.  Those are stereotypes. 
Both prejudices and stereotyping arise as a result of our socialisation through the agencies of the family, the peer group, the church, the school and the mass media.  We simply accept as true the dominant emotions, feelings, judgements and orientations which our friends and family have for some group.  Prejudices and stereotyping are usually caught rather than explicitly taught.  There seems to be a common urge to judge others in terms of our own reference points, lifestyles, beliefs and values. 
'Discrimination' refers to acts or behaviours that treat others unfairly.  If you believe that young black men are lazy and prone to engage in violence, ie, a stereotype, then as an employer you are not likely to hire them and will prefer another age, gender or race group.  This would be an act of discrimination as it is an unfair practice that is based on a belief that is not justified.  Or, you may hold such a prejudice but hire members of the group because you think it politically prudent to do so.  Or, you may have no prejudice but believe that your clients would prefer to deal with others, in which case you do not hire young, black men.  This would be a case of discrimination without holding a prejudice. 
In some cases, the institutions of society may discriminate.  In some countries women can be members of the armed forces, but will not be permitted to face actual combat.  This arises from prejudices about women as the 'gentler sex' and as 'reproducers' of the human race and in need of 'protection'.  The result is that a woman wanting to serve her country is restricted from prejudice.  Ethnic discrimination is prevalent is some Caribbean societies.  Skin colour still is associated with seemingly unrelated character traits as diligence, courtesy and intelligence.  The result is that lighter skinned persons tend in some countries to be awarded jobs, contracts and prestigious positions based on the belief that their skin colour confers on them superior traits.  This is racism and is an act of discrimination against others who cannot access such rewards.  We also find acts of discrimination against older persons, ageism, women, sexism, the disabled, ableism, religions, creedism, socio-economic class, classism, and other attributes such as rural residents.  These all exacerbate social injustice in society.  These acts are based on attitudes of prejudice and stereotyping.  Social injustice heightens conflict in society and severely impacts development. 
Ageism:  Ageism is an attitude to older people that treats them as objects of not much worth.  It is a prejudice which is built up through a number of stereotypes we have acquired about older people through our socialisation.  We think of them as not being able to take care of themselves, of being weak and ill, as being immobile, losing their faculties, slowing down, unable to learn new skills, forgetful, and mentally ill.  It is unfair to apply these stereotypes to all older persons who belong to a diverse group.  As a result, older persons tend to be excluded from social activities and become home-bound.  Other ageist behaviour include media stereotyping where older persons are depicted as 'the wicked stepmother' or 'the grouchy old man';  making old people the butt of jokes with aspersions on their hearing, seeing and memory functions;  neglecting medical research into geriatric problems due to the prejudice that older persons may be more expendable than others; and the reluctance in the workplace to hire older persons due perhaps to the attitude that they will be harder to fit in, that they may be technologically slow, or that they will not have innovative ideas.
Ageism is a form of social injustice which affects the development of Caribbean countries.  It reduces the possibility of healthy, mutually respectful relations between the generations.  The older generation has much to contribute in homes, workplaces and public life.  They have accumulated knowledge, experience and wisdom in their life.  Instead, the majority are side-lined, made to retire, and not seen as a resource.  The result is that in such a society equity and productivity, as well as sustainability of the development effort is thwarted.  Ageist practices entrench unfairness which can then be easily extended to other groups with minority status, eg, women, ethnic groups such as Rastafarians, and the poor.  Where there are such entrenched inequities, human development is not advanced.  Human development requires that people are put at centre stage for the development effort.  Younger members of society are socialised into such prejudices and stereotypes via their friends, family and the media, and accept and participate in discriminatory acts against the aged without thinking about it.
Sexism:  Sexism refers to prejudices, stereotypes and acts of discrimination against people based on their gender and not on individual merits and failures.  The assumption that the man is the breadwinner in a house, or even the head of the household is sexist when the only criterion used to conclude that is that he is a man.  Religious teaching by uneducated and insensitive preachers promote patriarchal ideologies.  Feminist lobbyists and agitators are mainly concerned with ways of reducing social injustice through developing a gender-just society.  Just as ageism results in a breach of social justice, so too is sexism unjust, with negative implications for Caribbean development. 
To justify the belief that one sex, the male, is superior to the other, the female, biological, religious and historical evidence is commonly offered.  The male has certain physical characteristics of physical strength and endurance, which most women cannot demonstrate.  This is why sports are segregated.  It would be unfair competition to pit men, clinically proven to be stronger, against women in the sporting arena.  So, it seemed logical to conclude that women as the 'weaker sex' should be confined to the home environs and not have to deal with the pressures of going out into the world to make a living.  The assumption is that she should be dependent on her husband to take care of her.  In return, she as the child-bearer should be the homemaker, providing a nurturing and stable home environment for rearing children and catering to the needs of her husband.  The criticism of this sort of thinking is that it is sexist, reducing all men and women to essentialist categories, where if you are male or female then that suggests what you should be doing and what you should be concerned about.  This thinking is unjust as it does not entertain the idea of equality of the sexes.  Acts of discrimination have become more pronounced as the feminist movement has gathered steam over the past 30 years.  It has led to the 'war of the sexes' and charges of misogyny and misandry.
Sexual discrimination is any unfair action motivated by whether a person is a man or a woman.  To promote a man because he is a man is sexist.  It is in the labour market that women typically feel the effects of sexual discrimination and experience social injustice.  The lowest paying jobs are usually reserved for women.  The few men present in the roles of clerks, secretaries, receptionists, store attendants, servers in retail and fast-food outlets are the ones usually selected for promotion.  In jobs where many women are present, employers tend to feel that a man should be in charge.  Men dominate in the highest-paying jobs.  Women who rise to high levels in the corporate structure seldom make it to the top.  They are obstructed not only by the sexist attitudes of those making the selection but also by their own internalised sexist attitudes.  They may not bid for the highest position because they feel it may be unseemly.  This phenomenon has been called the 'glass ceiling' and it limits women's opportunities.  Most blatantly, men are often paid more for their services than women in the same job.  This is true of lawyers, doctors, economists, and business executives.  To be underpaid because you are a woman is to be dehumanised. 
Sexual harassment is a form of sexual discrimination where an individual is targeted for unwelcome sexual advances, promised job promotions for sexual favours, subject to inappropriate touching or other physical contact, made to listen to sexist jokes, and stalking.  These are all examples of sexual harassment.  Both women and men can be harassers, but in the overwhelming majority of cases the harasser is a man and the victim is a woman.  It is a form of sexual discrimination when it is perpetrated on a woman just because it is a woman. 
Domestic violence involves a wide range of abuse, including inflicting physical, sexual and psychological trauma on another person in the family or household.  It includes withholding economic support and wielding power over a person who becomes afraid for his or her personal safety or for that of loved ones.  It is usually perpetrated by men on women, but children and the elderly can become victims as well.  Abuse tends to occur in home where a man is addicted to drugs or alcohol, where he is unemployed, or there is a suspicion of infidelity.  The root cause is the acceptance by the male partner that the woman is subordinate and that his wife or partner is his property.  Many women in such abusive relationships are powerless because they rely on their abuser for financial support.  The use of power, violence and aggression are tactics that are used by some men to keep women, children or the aged under control. 
Side-lining and marginalising women through sexist prejudices and stereotypes have far-reaching effects for Caribbean societies.  Whether the sexism occurs in the job market or is a case of rape, it is an example of social injustice and a human rights issue.  When women suffer injustices these are passed on to children and affect the future generation.  Denying women equal pay for equal work means that whole families are affected, because in the Caribbean female-headed households are prevalent.  Sexual harassment, sexual violence, spousal abuse and child abuse in homes are likely to adversely affect generations of Caribbean people.  Victims of child abuse usually grow up to be abusers themselves.  Children who may not have been abused themselves but have observed their mothers being violently abused are likely to grow up with problems of relating meaningfully to others. The result is that levels of violence in Caribbean societies are likely to increase.  The economic cost for the country cannot be underestimated.  The mother who works infrequently because of abuse will earn less, impacting negatively on the health and wellbeing of herself and her family.  Her buying power, and thus her contribution to economic life, is reduced.  When the resulting children are apathetic, hungry and living in fear, the investment of government in education is nullified.  Productivity in the society is reduced, as is the capacity of the citizens generally to take advantage of opportunities that arise.
Racism, Classism and Creedism:  A person's race, social class, or religion indicates his or her ethnic or cultural identification.  Discrimination occurs when groups are targeted because of their culture. 
'Racism' is the negative or positive value placed on a group of persons who belong to a particular race or have a certain skin colour because they are believed to be inferior or superior.  'Creedism' refers to any form of prejudice, stereotype or act of discrimination based on religion.  Such beliefs and actions are based on a belief that a particular religion is inferior or superior in some way.  Shouter Baptists, Myal and Revivalism have in their time been considered inferior to the established religions.  'Classism' refers to the negative or positive ways that persons of a particular socio-economic group are portrayed.  Those of a high socio-economic standing tend to be regarded as articulate, beautiful and having good breeding.  Those of poorer or working-class background tend to be seen as rough, loud and needy.  Chinese people, to a prejudiced way of thinking, think of little else but money.  When discrimination becomes institutionalised the children of the poor, even when the state pours resources into education, may receive an education not fitted to their needs and interests. 
Creedism is not normally thought of as a major social justice problem in the Caribbean, compared with ageism, sexism, racism and classism.  All of our countries subscribe to freedom of religion as a basic human right.  There will be incidents where individuals will show examples of religious prejudice and stereotyping.  At an institutional level we can detect examples of religious intolerance.  In some denominational schools while members of other religions may not be prohibited from entering, little provision may be made for these students to deepen their own religious life. 
Racism, classism and creedism are all forms of prejudice and discrimination based on ethnicity that result in breaches of social justice.  The development needs of the region are threatened by unfair practices based on prejudices, stereotypes, and discrimination.  Where groups of persons become marginalised they have little chance of acquiring social and economic parity with other groups.  They suffer loss of productivity and a decrease in the quality of their lives.
21 April 2010.

[1]    A lecture delivered to Ms Jan Challenger’s Caribbean Social Studies class at the Albena Lake-Hodge Comprehensive School, The Valley, Anguilla, and based on the text Caribbean Studies: An Interdisciplinary Approach by Jennifer Mohammed (Macmillan Caribbean, 2007).