“When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for,” Nobel Prize-winning author, Toni Morrison, used to tell her students, “just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.”
This is what the fight for social justice boils down to: an unshakeable belief that all individuals everywhere should have equal access to rights, opportunities, and resources, and the grit and optimism to achieve that.
A concept that has gained increased attention and prominence in recent years, particularly in the wake of movements such as Black Lives Matter and Me Too, at its core, social justice is about ensuring fairness and equality for all people. It seeks to address systemic barriers and inequalities that exist in society, such as racial inequality, gender inequality, and class inequality, among others, which prevent certain groups of people from accessing the same rights and privileges as others.
Here’s a little primer on all things social justice.
3 Examples of Current Social Justice Issues
Racial inequality is an issue worldwide. Racial disparities range from unequal access to health care and education, to experiencing increased state violence such as police brutality and unfair treatment by criminal justice systems.
Ethnic minorities, such as the Tatars, in Russia “face governmental and societal discrimination and harassment,” according to Freedom House. In Laos, 80% of children under five in the majority Lao-Tai ethnic group have their births registered, compared to just 59% of the minority Mon-Khmer ethnic group. From Brazil to Britain, Black people are more likely to be stopped, searched, and arrested by police, and are more likely to be given longer sentences than white people convicted of the same crimes. The list goes on.
Not only is this inequality glaringly unjust, it costs lives.
In Australia, the suicide rate among Indigenous children is five times that of non-Indigenous youth. Black women are three times more likely to die in pregnancy and postpartum than white women in the US. In 2020 in the US, George Floyd died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for over nine minutes, despite Floyd's repeated pleas that he couldn't breathe. The same month in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 14-year-old João Pedro Matos Pinto, was shot in the back by police during a raid on his home. In April of the same year, Collins Khosa, a 40-year-old Black man, was beaten to death by soldiers and police officers in South Africa.
The way things stand, it could take close to 300 years to achieve full gender equality at the current rate of progress.
The global COVID-19 pandemic, conflict, climate change, and a harsh backlash against women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights have erased a lot of progress towards gender equality.
Violence against women remains high, the majority of the world’s poor are women, 1.2 billion women and girls live in places where safe access to abortion is restricted, 30 million girls remain out of school worldwide, and one woman or girl is killed by someone in her own family every 11 minutes, to give a few examples of how gender inequality persists around the world.
The LGBTQIA+ community faces high levels of violence and discrimination at home, in the workplace, and at school.
At least 67 countries still have national laws criminalizing same-sex relations between consenting adults. Unsurprising, then, that 83% of LGBTQIA+ people worldwide hide their sexual orientation.
In recent years, the trans and non-binary community has experienced a surge of discrimination, which is already leading to violence and a rollback of rights.
In 2022, there were 327 reported murders of trans and gender-diverse people in the world as a result of anti-trans violence. In the US, more legislation was filed in 2022 to restrict the lives of trans people than at any other point in the nation’s history. Meanwhile, in Ghana, MPs in 2021 proposed what could be world's toughest anti-gay laws with a harsh, sweeping anti-LGTBQ+ bill that would criminalize identifying as LGTBQ+ and having a gay relationship, among other restrictions.
How Do You Solve a Problem Like Social Injustice?
Before you start thinking we’re quoting The Sound of Music (cue a great rendition of “How do you keep a wave upon the sand?”), social justice isn’t some utopia we’ll never achieve. A tall order indeed, but we’ve got to start somewhere.
Step 1: Acknowledge the problem
Recognize that social justice issues exist and are pervasive in many areas of society, including education, health care, employment, and criminal justice. Understand the ways in which historical and systemic factors have contributed to these inequalities. Identify your own intersecting privileges and discriminations you face, examine your own biases and prejudices, and decide how you are best placed to challenge the status quo. Not sure where to start? Head to the Global Citizen app and take our "Equity Hero" challenge.
Step 2: Education
Learn about the root causes of social justice issues and the experiences of marginalized communities. This includes reading books, watching documentaries, listening to podcasts, and attending workshops and events.
Step 3: Listen, Amplify & Speak
Listen to marginalized voices and amplify the perspectives and experiences of those who are most affected by social justice issues.
Step 4: Take Action
Engage in advocacy and activism to raise awareness about social justice issues and work towards change. This can include organizing and attending protests, signing petitions, contacting your elected officials, and supporting advocacy organizations. We've made it easy for you to start taking action today.