Human Rights and Social Justice

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Human Rights and Social Justice Integrated Paper
Vicki MacWhinnie-Ilundain
Fordham University

Viewpoint and Concepts that Best Clarify the Dilemmas in Hugo’s Case
Hugo’s story highlights the value conflicts that social workers face in every-day practice. The policies that dictate the funding, the scope of services, and the eligibility for the services that Hugo may need in order to actualize his basic human rights were developed within a system that continues to practice within the Rawlsian theory of social justice frame work. Therefore, these government policies tend to support the concept that people are only entitled to their “fair and due share” of services and/or access to resources if they are working to enhance the good of the over all society (Banerjee, 2005, p. 13). In Hugo’s case, there are psychological, cultural and physical factors that may impact his ability to maintain gainful employment. These individual aspects of Hugo’s life situation are not taken into consideration in determining how long he can receive supports, or what types of supports he receives. The state-funded financial benefits that Hugo requires in order to have his very, basic needs met; such as food, clothing and shelter, have a five-year limit. Because there is no consideration to human rights behind the 5-year limit, Hugo has unmet human rights. This creates a value conflict for Hugo’s social worker, who is working within a system that has Rawlsian infused policies; yet, is mandated by the National Social Work Code of Ethics to promote social justice in a manner that respects the unique strengths and dignity of the individual (NASW, 2008). The social worker working from a human rights-based perspective; where according to Ife (2008) “there is a obligation on every member of society to respect and support people’s rights”, will address Hugo’s unmet needs that stem from this 5-year limit policy as unfulfilled rights rather than assessing them as needs for which Hugo may or may not qualify to receive services (p. 113).

Adding to the complexity and value conflict of the social worker’s role is the need for the social worker to partner with Hugo to identify not only his assets; but to also identify the barriers he faces. The social worker can develop a more in-depth understanding of Hugo’s barriers by exploring the levels of oppression Hugo experiences and his positionalty vis-à-vis all the systems and individuals he interacts with in society. Hugo is experiencing oppression at a structural level as a result of his position as an immigrant from Haiti who has experience trauma. Hugo has psychological and physical impairments as the result of past trauma, he is of an ethic background that is not part of the privileged class in the United States, and he was born outside the United States. These characteristics, which Hugo inherited through birth and via traumatic life experiences, tend to lead to discrimination in the United States. As a result of systematic discrimination, Hugo belongs to a subordinate group in the society and is oppressed by the dominant group. Mullaly (2010) explains that this “web of oppression …occurs for the most part because of the sanctioned ways that social institutions, laws, social policies, and social practices all work together to benefit the dominant group at the expense of subordinate groups” (p. 197).

Challenges in Social Work Practice as a Result of a Paradigm Shift
In this process of identifying assets and barriers, the social worker may face further value conflicts that impact their ability to empower Hugo to claim his human rights: The social worker has a moral and professional obligation to help Hugo advocate for his human rights. This will include supporting Hugo’s desire to participate in a lawsuit against the US government, who created the 5-year limit on public financial support. In Hugo’s circumstance, the legal mandate that limits the total...
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