Member blog: World Day of Social Justice: Demanding Social Justice in the SDGs era

This blog post was written by Youth Coalition member Alan Jarandilla Nuñez. Alan is an activist and advocate for human rights and international issues. He has worked on projects to raise awareness among young people about sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and international issues and to enhance youth participation at the national and local levels.

The origins of the concept of social justice date back to the middle of the 19th century, where protests against the capitalist exploitation claimed for justice and better human conditions. Over time, this concept has evolved and gained importance in the international arena. The ILO Constitution, adopted in 1919, literally recognizes that (sic) “universal and lasting peace can be established only if it is based upon social justice”. Later, at the World Summit for Social Development (WSSD) in 1995, the Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development and the Programme of Action of the World Summit for Social Development were adopted. Both documents aimed to consolidate social development commitments and included a strong emphasis on social justice. However, the Millennium Declaration, adopted five years later, barely mentions social justice in its text. The Millennium Declaration was one of the most important development commitments that not only defined international cooperation financing, but also national development plans of developing countries.

Gradually, mentions to social justice in United Nations documents decreased (in the 2005 World Summit Outcome document, it disappeared). In spite of that, the International Forum for Social Development emerged as an initiative to follow-up the discussions around social progress. This three-year project resulted in informal dialogue spaces between different stakeholders and no strong or even formal commitment came out of it. In this scenario of social justice oblivion, in 2007 the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed February 20th as World Day of Social Justice, inviting Member States to promote activities related to the World Summit for Social Development (1995) and the 24th special session of the United Nations General Assembly or Social Summit+5 (2000), and the Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization was adopted within the ILO in 2008.

The Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization is turning 10 years old this year and apparently constitutes the most recent international commitment towards this universal aspiration. What about the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development? Although the Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development document does not include explicitly social justice, it is a fundamental rationale of it. The leaving no one behind promise and the transformational aim of the 2030 Agenda cannot be understood on the margins of social justice. The Sustainable Development Goals include important commitments to advance social justice such as end poverty and hunger, ensure inclusive and equitable quality education, achieve gender equality and empower women and girls, reduce inequality, promote decent work for all, combat climate change and its impacts, among others. To achieve social justice, we need to make sure our governments fulfill their commitments by keeping them accountable.

In a time of increasing inequalities, regressive policies and low progress towards long-term global climate goals, we need to advocate and take action with greater energy to achieve economic, reproductive, social, and climate justice. To this end, we need to tackle the root causes of global issues and look far beyond the symptoms addressed in the 2030 Agenda. Systemic changes are needed and there is a long way to accomplish them.