Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Challenges in Human Rights

Challenges in Human Rights: A Social Work Perspective

Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 304
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Challenges in Human Rights
    Book Description:

    By using human rights as a guidepost, social workers can help create social welfare policies that better serve societal needs. However, in applying human rights to contemporary situations, social workers often encounter challenges that require thinking outside the box. Bringing together provocative essays from a diverse range of authors, Elisabeth Reichert demonstrates how approaching social work from a human rights perspective can profoundly affect legislation, resource management, and enforcement of policies. Topics include the reconciliation of cultural relativism with universal human rights; the debate over whether human rights truly promote economic and social development or simply allow economically developed societies to exploit underdeveloped countries; the role of gender in the practice of human rights; the tendency to promote political and civil rights over economic and social rights; and the surprising connection between the social work and legal professions.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51034-9
    Subjects: Sociology, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction: Social Work Perspectives on Human Rights
    (pp. ix-xvi)

    Until recently the social work profession in the United States and other countries has been reluctant to integrate concepts of human rights within social work policies and practices. Although social work academics may give lip service to human rights as an important element of the social work curriculum, the reality often shows that social work has yet to fully embrace or acknowledge the significance of human rights within the profession.

    One of the challenges within the social work profession, particularly in the United States, is to encourage the profession to give more than passing attention or an obligatory nod to...

  5. 1 Human Rights in the Twenty-first Century: Creating a New Paradigm for Social Work
    (pp. 1-15)

    Basic concepts underlying human rights offer little that is new to the social work profession, which, historically, advocates for education, equality, health care, housing, and fairness, all of which fit neatly under the umbrella of human rights (National Association of Social Workers [NASW], 2003; van Wormer, 2004; Wronka, 1998; Staub Bernasconi, 1998; Ife, 2001). The social work profession, by any standard, has a commonality with human rights that should guide the profession in both policy and practice.

    In the United States, however, the social work profession has yet to establish a clear connection to human rights both in curricula and...

  6. 2 Human Rights in Social Work Practice: An Invisible Part of the Social Work Curriculum?
    (pp. 16-43)

    Contemporary social work claims to be rights-based and interested in delivering social justice (Ife, 2001; Reichert, 2003; Dominelli, 2004). This orientation is also clearly evident in the international definition of social work jointly agreed on by the profession’s key international associations, the International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW) and the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW). Thus we would expect human rights to have a high profile in social work curricula. The place of human rights teaching in the curriculum, however, except as a general commitment in social work’s value base or code of ethics, is more often...

  7. 3 Global Distributive Justice as a Human Right: Implications for the Creation of a Human Rights Culture
    (pp. 44-75)

    The purposes of this chapter are to convey with select data the increasing seriousness of the crisis of global distributive justice; examine global distributive justice, as a solidarity right within the context of the human rights triptych; and suggest social action strategies that would have implications for the creation of a human rights culture. In brief, global distributive justice, a solidarity right, asserts ultimately that the poor countries of the world have a right to the overall prosperity of the richer countries. It calls for brotherhood, that is, fraternity,¹ among all peoples of the world, as asserted, in part, in...

  8. 4 Cultural Relativism and Community Activism
    (pp. 76-96)

    The problem of universalism versus cultural relativism is central to understanding human rights, and poses difficult questions for researchers, theoreticians, and practitioners. It is one of the first problems raised by anyone interested in human rights, and is associated with an extensive literature (Douzinas, 2000; Bell, Nathan, & Peleg, 2001; Meijer, 2001; Bauer & Bell, 1999; Van Ness, 1999; Lyons & Mayall, 2003; Caney & Jones, 2001).

    Human rights that are understood simply as “universal,” or self-evident, do not consider cultural difference, and therefore will be applied in the same way regardless of context. This simplistic approach has led to...

  9. 5 Development, Social Development, and Human Rights
    (pp. 97-121)

    Development—widely defined as the economic and social changes driven by industrialization—has been a prominent concern in the social sciences and in the world of public policy for more than a century. Defining “development” in this way, of course, is based on the historical experience of the Western countries that underwent economic modernization in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The ramifications of development have also inspired governments in many developing countries in Africa, Asia, and Central and South America as they have sought to foster economic growth and raise standards of living.

    A major problem is that economic development...

  10. 6 Using Economic Human Rights in the Movement to End Poverty: The Kensington Welfare Rights Union and the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign
    (pp. 122-137)

    This chapter argues that economic human rights should have the same legal and moral status as civil and political rights. No subset of human rights can be realized without promoting and protecting the entire set of human rights.

    When Robin and her three young children lost their apartment because Robin couldn’t pay rent and utilities from her $8 per hour job, she and her children moved in with her sister while Robin looked for affordable housing. After three months the sister’s landlady said she would have to evict the entire household because of overcrowding if Robin didn’t leave, as the...

  11. 7 Economic and Social Rights: The Neglected Human Rights
    (pp. 138-161)

    A primary conception of human rights is that they are indivisible and interdependent, meaning that no single human right is more or less important than another. In practice, however, individual human rights have been anything but equal: economic and social human rights continually occupy a second level of rights, especially below political and civil human rights. In the words of Steiner and Alston (2000, p. 238):

    [There is a] shocking reality . . . that States and the international community as a whole continue to tolerate all too often breaches of economic, social and cultural rights which if they occurred...

  12. 8 Human Rights and Women: A Work in Progress
    (pp. 162-187)

    Concern for social justice has been documented ever since Hammurabi’s Code of Laws, in Babylon, and later espoused in certain quarters of ancient Chinese, Greek, and Roman cultures. The religious tomes of ancient Jews, early Christians, and Moslems all honored the dignity and worth of human beings. Great Britain’s Magna Carta in the Western world followed suit in 1215 (Falk, 1998; Laquer & Rubin, 1979; McKinney & Park-Cunningham, 1997; National Association of Social Work (NASW, 2000); Wronka, 1994, 1998).

    The French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, and the U.S. Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights...

  13. 9 Human Rights Violations Against Female Offenders and Inmates
    (pp. 188-214)

    Anyone familiar with the scene inside the U.S. prison system would not be surprised by the shocking revelations of inmate abuse at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo. Several prison guards in Iraq who were photographed psychologically torturing the detainees received their work experience as correctional officers in American prisons.

    According to The Fire Inside, the newsletter of the California Coalition of Women Prisoners (2004, p. 3), the women striving to survive (emotionally and physically) inside the Chowchilla, California, prison walls were not stunned at the Abu Ghraib photographs. As one inmate sarcastically reported, “So what is new? They do this to...

  14. 10 Children’s Rights as a Template for Social Work Practice
    (pp. 215-238)

    The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is closely connected to social work practice and is useful in addressing issues concerning the well-being of children. In his introduction to the 2003 State of the World’s Children, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan invited the voices of children into the UN General Assembly and expected adults to make room for the children’s views and experiences. The record shows exuberant pictures of young people under the age of eighteen, some younger than ten, finding their feet and sharing the microphone to discuss the Convention on the Rights of the Child:


  15. 11 Globalization, Democratization, and Human Rights: Human-Made Disasters and a Call for Universal Social Justice
    (pp. 239-257)

    The design, structure, and function of the global community are enshrined in a Vedic motif, Vasudhaiva kutambh kum (The universe is a family). Indeed, it does take a village to raise the human animal. This metaphorical allusion involves a symbiotic relationship between a village and the child “who is father to the man.” The implicit reference to the child-community relationship on a global level involves an elemental truth that has become a victim of civilization’s own success. My premise is that human development and social development are inseparable; social development bereft of human development, and the reverse, is a body...

  16. 12 Law and Social Work: Not-So-Odd Bedfellows in Promoting Human Rights
    (pp. 258-276)

    Many lawyers, at some point in their work, will cooperate with social workers, usually regarding child abuse or neglect, or child custody hearing, with social workers investigating and making recommendations for a court proceeding. Lawyers, in these cases, often defer to the expertise of social workers and readily acknowledge the importance of the social workers’ contribution.

    Although many issues in court involve the human rights of parents and children, rarely does the term human rights itself enter court proceedings, at least within the United States. The vague legal concept of “best interests of the child” generally prevails (e.g., Illinois Domestic...

  17. Contributors
    (pp. 277-280)
  18. Index
    (pp. 281-286)