Social justice as work-in-progress

Every morning when I get home from walking the dog, I sit at the kitchen table to read the paper and eat breakfast, wondering how I will manage when there is no longer a paper to read. Sometimes the reading is more like skimming, but very often it raises issues of social justice, usually in terms of some lack thereof.

Social justice is work in progress towards social equity. A bit like hope, beauty and friendship, it may be most recognisable in its absence. When I was growing up in Melbourne, for example, the White Australia Policy was still in place; Indigenous Australians were not yet counted as citizens, and the Stolen Generations were in the process of being stolen; women’s place was in the home, with a Bex, a cuppa, and dinner on the table at 6.00; people with serious mental illness, physical or intellectual disabilities were warehoused in institutions; homosexuality was a diagnosable mental illness; children were to be seen and not heard, and violence was meted out as discipline.

We have come a long way.

And, yet, asylum seekers are still corralled on impoverished islands, locked up in detention centres and retraumatised in adversarial processes; Indigenous Australians still have relatively low life expectancy and are over-represented in prisons; women are still sometimes described as ‘asking for’ rape and violence, continue to be under-represented in Board rooms, earn less than men, and do most of the unpaid domestic labour; people with mental illness or disabilities are less likely to be institutionalised but may be living in tram shelters or under bridges; gay men and women are still fighting for marriage equality and experiencing other forms of discrimination, overt and covert; and children still have unequal access to education and too many are still abused.

And that’s the shortlist, at a local level.

We have a long way to go.

Looking beyond our own privileged borders, the effects of war, persecution, and poverty take issues of social justice to overwhelming proportions.

What can I do, I ask myself, from the comfort of my home-office? Storming the Bastille is off the agenda, and not my style anyway, but I do have my computer and I can write about the things I care about and maybe even start conversations. I hope so. In days past, I would have written letters to the paper, but now I can blog instead. And, I strongly believe that ideas and conversations about ideas are the foundations of change, including change that promotes social justice and moves us in the direction of social equity. This is the way I think about social justice, and it is very much a work-in-progress.

Written by Joan Beckwith, PhD
SJS Contributor

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