Social Work & Human Rights

Manila Bulletin, January 29, 2011 | Go to article overview

Social Work & Human Rights


MANILA, Philippines - The links between social work and human rights are explicit. Social workers are human rights workers. A human approach to social work education provides the students a framework for their advocacy, direct service and community development efforts. A human rights perspective gives social work practitioners the ability to transform knowledge into empathy, and empathy into action.

Knowledge Empathy Action

1. Knowledge - also referred to as Human Rights Literacy. This means knowledge of the philosophical foundations and principles of the human rights field. It means familiarity with the documents girding the human rights field. One such document worth looking into and studying is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). There are succeeding nine core international human rights treaties.

These include the following :

ICERD - International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination - Dec. 1965.

ICCPR - International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights - Dec. 1966.

ICESCR - International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights - Dec. 1966.

CEDAW - Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women - Dec. 1979.

CAT - Convention against Torture and Other Cruel , Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment - Dec. 1984.

CRC - Convention on the Rights of the Child - Nov. 1989.

ICRMW - International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families - 1990.

CRPD - Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability - Dec. 2006.

CPED - International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance - Dec. 2006.

2. Human Rights Empathy. Knowledge alone is not enough to give life to the social work profession. One needs to develop empathy. Empathy has been defined as the ability to relate to other persons. It is the ability "to put oneself into the experience of other people." It is plain concern for the other person. Empathy is what will motivate the social work professional to take action. It is the bridge between knowledge and action.

Empathy can be taught. A wealth of reading materials can provide insights on the principles of empathy. At the same time, reading and watching movies on real-life situations can help the student develop empathy. But the most important strategy is immersion, that is, immersing the student in environments and situations where she gets first hand experience.

3. Human Rights Responsibility. It is taking responsibility for the clients. It is determining what action could be taken and taking such action. It is transforming knowledge into something tangible and concrete.

Discussions on the case of Baby George can expand knowledge on the issues of child abuse, discrimination, poverty, and supplementing this with real-life experiences from resource persons can inspire empathy. However, this should not stop here, the questions are: How can the infant and the mother be helped? What could be the long-term solution so that both mother and child can lead a normal life? In this case, intervention is not limited to the infant and the mother, but will also involve the husband, the family and the entire community.

In taking action, the social work professional should feel that doing so can make a difference in a person's life, or in the life of a family, or of a community. …

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