THE INDIAN JOURNAL OF SOCIAL WORK Tata Institute of Volume 75,...
THE INDIAN JOURNAL
OF
SOCIAL WORK
Tata Institute
of
Volume 75, Issue 4
Social Sciences
October, 2014
The Convergence of Social Work and Human
Rights
Analysing the Historical and Ethical Foundations of
Allied Disciplines
AbdulAziz Albrithen And dAvid K. Androff
Social work and human rights are related yet distinct disciplines. Recent scholarship
has emphasised their mutual importance; however, the foundations of each discipline
have as yet remained relatively unexplored. This paper investigates both social work
and human rights for areas of overlap and convergence. Specific points of convergence
identified include their shared historical context, congruence between their ethical and
value positions, and their shared purpose and role in society. This paper concludes with
implications for further integrating human rights into social work, the relevance of hu-
man rights to social work practice, and implications for social work education.
Abdulaziz Albrithen is Associate Professor with the Department of Social Studies
(Social Work), King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; and David K. Androff is
Assistant Professor with the School of Social Work, Arizona State University.
INTRODUCTION
Human rights permeate the daily lives of people in every society.
Its themes have been linked to political science, law, and social work.
Since its establishment, social work has highlighted human rights issues
through humanitarian activities with individuals, groups, and community
activities in both institutional and voluntary work. Human rights issues
are connected to the defence of disadvantaged groups such as the poor,
the disabled, and those vulnerable to violence such as women, children
and the elderly. Accordingly, social workers are likely to engage in human
rights work in the fields of social and human services, health care, and law
and justice jurisdictions.
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536 Abdulaziz Albrithen and David K. Androff
Human rights pioneers agreed that the purpose of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was for protecting and safeguarding
of human dignity, not to bring charges or convictions. This is a clear and
fundamental point of convergence between the human rights discipline’s
humanitarian approach and the social work profession’s contribution to the
welfare of communities. Further, human rights are necessary to safe-guard
and maintain a healthy human life, free from prejudice and persecution.
Irrespective of the type of human rights, be they political or economic,
the prevention of violations and protection of these essential basic rights
needs to be taken seriously.
Indeed, there is growing attention to human rights within the social work
profession. However, there remains a significant gap in the literature that
leaves human rights disconnected from the consciousness and practice
of many social workers. This paper seeks to strengthen the relationship
of human rights and social work by examining several domains to assess
the relationship between the disciplines, including the historical context,
the ethical and value foundations and the purpose of both fields. Through
a comparative analysis of the historical development, guiding principles,
animating values, and key texts, common linkages between human rights
and social work will be identified and presented. This paper concludes with
implications for social work practice and education to take lead on human
rights. This inquiry into the commonalities between social work and human
rights will strengthen their relationship and provide a nuanced appreciation
for the context of emerging rights-based approaches in social work.
POINTS OF CONVERGENCE
Social work has, from its conception, been a human rights profession (UN, 1994,
p. 3).
Historical Context
The emergence of the social work profession from charitable and
philanthropic activities to alleviate human suffering in the late 1880s was
shaped by the industrial revolution and resulting urban concentration of
poverty, social disruptions, injustice and oppression, and the failure of
policies to address these problems. From this context social work emerged
out of charity and service to humanity. These original concerns also
contributed to the emergence of human rights. The roots of social work
include the broad fields of ‘social policy’ and ‘social welfare’, which also
gave rise to human rights, further establishing a historical convergence.
IJSW, 75 (4), 535–552, October, 2014

The Convergence of Social Work and Human Rights 537
The advocacy of peace and its preservation has been a vital area
supported by the social work profession since the 1930s. In one particular
event, as many as 75 social work professionals met and signed a document
to prevent war in the United States. Their document stipulates that social
workers and lawyers are advocates of lasting peace. Additionally, the
document expresses legitimate human rights concerns such as the right to
freedom of expression and freedom of publication, among others (Social
Work Today, 1940). During its delegate conference in 1947, the American
Association of Social Workers (AASW) proposed a platform of civil
rights in social work: “All social workers should have as a major concern,
those broad human rights and civil liberties that are the birthright of every
individual” (AASW, 1947: 53).
Professional associations also worked to prevent racial discrimination.
The International Federation of Social Workers, (IFSW) formally
supported anti-discrimination on the basis of race in South Africa. For
this humanitarian purpose, the IFSW suspended the membership of South
Africa in 1970, and then eliminated its membership conclusively in 1976.
This was due to the dominant rise of racist political groups at the time. In
addition, the International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW)
played an official role against racial discrimination in South Africa. The
IASSW imposed conditions on the schools of social work in South Africa
for violations of the rights of black South Africans (Healy, 2008a).
The history of social work is well documented with regard to the
rights of children from its first years of recognising the status and rights
of children when professional efforts were undertaken to protect children
from violence, abuse, neglect and labour exploitation. Such efforts had an
evident impact with the emergence of organisations, government agencies,
legislation and services in many nations around the world. The efforts of
the social work profession had a particular impact in the development
and signing of the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) and its
applications in many countries in the world (Healy, 2008a). In another
example, social workers in Jamaica coordinated government and non-
government activities, which strengthened the rights of the child through
the documentation of policies, with campaigns, popular direction and
guidance, as well as develop and provide care and assistance services to
the needy children (Healy, 2008a).
The history field of social work scholarship also confirms the link
between social work and human rights. The first social work article with
‘human rights’ in its title was published in 1948, in one of the oldest
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538 Abdulaziz Albrithen and David K. Androff
social work periodicals. The article addressed the efforts of the United
Nations Commission on Human Rights to adopt a Convention on Human
Rights (The Survey, 1948). The term ‘rights’ first emerged in a lecture
delivered in 1948 in one of the schools of social work in Brazil. The
lecturer highlighted that social workers should consider the rights and
duties of individuals (Junqueira, 1948). After a year and a half of adopting
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and also during the
Paris conference, a key-speaker (Donald Howard) stated two articles (21
and 25) would have a major impact on people’s achieving stability and
prosperity (Howard, 1950). At the same conference, another speaker also
emphasised human relationships, and the importance of the UDHR as a
guide to further serve humanity (Billimoria, 1950).
In 1988, the IFSW established a Commission for Human Rights
to defend the oppressed, including social workers. The committee
participated directly in East Timor, where they defended social workers
who were subjected to violence and abuse in the delivery of humanitarian
services. The committee also worked to protect professional social workers
in the United States, South Africa, Malaysia, Guatemala, and Columbia.
The presence of the IFSW in Switzerland has provided an opportunity for
closer ties with the United Nations (UN) in Geneva. For example, Ellen
Mouravieff-Apostol, IFSW secretary general during 1975–1992, remained
an active representative to the UN in Geneva.
Since the start of the 21st century, there have been outspoken claims
among social workers asserting that social work is a human rights
profession (Solas, 2008; Healy, 2008a). This trend has continued as
social workers apply the human rights lens to a variety of social issues
affecting people’s welfare. Rights-based approaches have been articulated
in social work literature, in response to problems such as violence and
reconciliation (Androff, 2010), human trafficking (Androff, 2011) and
immigration (Androff, 2012). Recent social work texts emphasise the
relationship between human rights and social services (Healy and Link,
2012; Wronka, 1998, 2008; Ife, 2008; Mapp, 2008; Healy, 2008b; Reichert,
2003; 2006; 2007). The IFSW and NASW have issued statements such as
Human Rights and Social Work – A Manual for Schools of Social Work
and the Social Work Profession (IFSW, 1994), Social Work and the Rights
of the Child (IFSW, 2002), Standards in Social Work Practice Meeting
Human Rights (IFSW, 2010a), Human Rights Manual (IFSW, 2010b) and
the International Policy on Human Rights (NASW, 2012).
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The Convergence of Social Work and Human Rights 539
Ethics and Values
The 2008 International Conference of Social Work marked the sixtieth
anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
(UDHR) by the UN in 1948. Although all rights in the UDHR are indivisible
and interdependent, Healy (2008a) noted that social work has been involved
in all three generations of human rights. These are represented in the eight
major international conventions which have elucidated and expanded upon
the rights contained in the UDHR. These include the 1966 International
Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the 1966 International
Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the 1969
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
(CERD), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination
Against Women (CEDAW), the 1984 Convention Against Torture (CAT),
the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, the 1990 International
Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and
Members of Their Families (CMW) and the 2006 Convention on the
Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Together, these international
conventions provide the basis for the human rights principles of participation,
accountability, non-discrimination, transparency, peace, freedom, and self-
determination, all of which are social work values.
Specific articles in the UDHR relate to social work’s ethical mandate. For
example, articles 22 to 27 highlight social, economic and cultural rights.
Moreover articles 22 and 25 discuss the importance of an individual’s
social and economic rights to meet their social welfare needs and access
to social services. Article 22 emphasises the right of every member of
the community to have access to social security, in addition to being able
to maintain dignity and attain their full human development. Article 25
contains the right to an adequate standard of living so as to maintain
health, social protection and social welfare.
The social work code of ethics issued by the National Association of
Social Workers (NASW, 2008) contains six basic values and principles,
which are: (1) human service, (2) social justice, (3) dignity and worth of
the person, (4) importance of human relationships, (5) integrity, and (6)
competence. The social work code of ethics promotes anti-discrimination,
self-determination, and human dignity. The final two values, integrity and
competence, hold social workers accountable to high professional practice
standards. The language of the ethical code aligns with the ideals and
principles adopted by human rights agendas.
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540 Abdulaziz Albrithen and David K. Androff
The following table presents the results of an analysis of both human
rights and social work core texts: the 1948 Universal Declaration of
Human Rights and the NASW Code of Ethics (2008). This analysis links
specific social work ethical principles to the UDHR’s individual articles
(UN, 2013). Each of the 30 articles that comprise the UDHR was analysed
for its association with social work ethical principles, and is listed below in
Table 1. This table makes explicit the connections in the ethical foundations
between the fields of human rights and social work, and identifies points of
convergence between the fields’ ethics and values.
Table 1: Ethical Connections between Human Rights and Social Work
Social Work Code of Ethics
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Principle 3: Dignity and worth of the
Article 1: All human beings are born free
person
and equal in dignity and rights. They are
endowed with reason and conscience and
should act towards one another in a spirit of
brotherhood.
Principle 2: Social justice
Article 2: Everyone is entitled to all the
rights and freedoms set forth in this Dec-
laration, without distinction of any kind,
such as race, colour, sex, language, reli-
gion, political or other opinion, national or
social origin, property, birth or other status.
Furthermore, no distinction shall be made
on the basis of the political, jurisdictional
or international status of the country or ter-
ritory to which a person belongs, whether
it be independent, trust, non-self-governing
or under any other limitation of sovereign-
ty.
Principle 3: Dignity and worth of the
Article 3: Everyone has the right to life, lib-
person
erty and security of person.
Principle 3: Dignity and worth of the
Article 4: No one shall be held in slavery or
person
servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall
Principle 4:
be prohibited in all their forms.
Importance of human
relationships
Principle 3: Dignity and worth of the
Article 5: No one shall be subjected to tor-
person
ture or to cruelty, inhuman or degrading
treatment or punishment.
Principle 3: Dignity and worth of the
Article 6: Everyone has the right to rec-
person
ognition everywhere as a person before the
law.
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The Convergence of Social Work and Human Rights 541
Social Work Code of Ethics
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Principle 2: Social justice
Article 7: All are equal before the law and
are entitled without any discrimination to
equal protection of the law. All are entitled
to equal protection against any discrimi-
nation in violation of this Declaration and
against any incitement to such discrimina-
tion.
Principle 2: Social justice
Article 8: Everyone has the right to an ef-
fective remedy by the competent national
tribunals for acts violating the fundamental
rights granted him by the constitution or by
law.
Principle 3: Dignity and worth of the
Article 9: No one shall be subjected to arbi-
person
trary arrest, detention or exile.
Principle 2: Social justice
Article 10: Everyone is entitled in full
equality to a fair and public hearing by an
independent and impartial tribunal, in the
determination of his rights and obligations
and of any criminal charge against him.
Principle 2: Social justice
Article 11: (1) Everyone charged with a pe-
nal offence has the right to be presumed in-
nocent until proved guilty according to law
in a public trial at which he has had all the
guarantees necessary for his defence. (2) No
one shall be held guilty of any penal offence
on account of any act or omission which did
not constitute a penal offence, under nation-
al or international law, at the time when it
was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty
be imposed than the one that was applicable
at the time the penal offence was commit-
ted.
Principle 3: Dignity and worth of the
Article 12: No one shall be subjected to
person
arbitrary interference with his privacy, fam-
ily, home or correspondence, nor to attacks
upon his honour and reputation. Everyone
has the right to the protection of the law
against such interference or attacks.
Principle 3: Dignity and worth of the
Article 13: (1) Everyone has the right to
person
freedom of movement and residence within
the borders of each state. (2) Everyone has
the right to leave any country, including his
own, and to return to his country.
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542 Abdulaziz Albrithen and David K. Androff
Social Work Code of Ethics
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Principle 3: Dignity and worth of the
Article 14: (1) Everyone has the right to
person
seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum
from persecution. (2) This right may not be
invoked in the case of prosecutions genuine-
ly arising from non-political crimes or from
acts contrary to the purposes and principles
of the UN.
Principle 2: Social justice
Article 15: (1) Everyone has the right to a
nationality. (2) No one shall be arbitrarily
deprived of his nationality nor denied the
right to change his nationality.
Principle 4: Importance of human
Article 16: (1) Men and women of full age,
relationships
without any limitation due to race, national-
ity or religion, have the right to marry and
to find a family. They are entitled to equal
rights as to marriage, during marriage and at
its dissolution. (2) Marriage shall be entered
into only with the free and full consent of
the intending spouses. (3) The family is the
natural and fundamental group unit of soci-
ety and is entitled to protection by society
and the State.
Principle 2: Social justice
Article 17: (1) Everyone has the right to
own property alone as well as in association
with others. (2) No one shall be arbitrarily
deprived of his property.
Principle 3: Dignity and worth of the
Article 18: Everyone has the right to free-
person
dom of thought, conscience and religion;
this right includes freedom to change his
religion or belief, and freedom, either alone
or in community with others and in public or
private, to manifest his religion or belief in
teaching, practice, worship and observance.
Principle 2: Social justice
Article 19: Everyone has the right to free-
dom of opinion and expression; this right
includes freedom to hold opinions without
interference and to seek, receive and impart
information and ideas through any media
and regardless of frontiers.
Principle 1: Human service
Article 20: (1) Everyone has the right to
freedom of peaceful assembly and associa-
tion. (2) No one may be compelled to be-
long to an association.
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The Convergence of Social Work and Human Rights 543
Social Work Code of Ethics
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Principle 1: Human service
Article 21: (1) Everyone has the right to
take part in the government of his country,
directly or through freely chosen repre-
sentatives. (2) Everyone has the right of
equal access to public service in his coun-
try. (3) The will of the people shall be the
basis of the authority of government; this
shall be expressed in periodic and genuine
elections which shall be by universal and
equal suffrage and shall be held by secret
vote or by equivalent free voting proce-
dures.
Principle 1: Human service
Article 22: Everyone, as a member of so-
Principle 2:
ciety, has the right to social security and
Social justice
is entitled to realisation, through national
effort and international co-operation and
in accordance with the organisation and
resources of each State, of the economic,
social and cultural rights indispensable for
his dignity and the free development of his
personality.
Principle 2: Social justice
Article 23: (1) Everyone has the right to
work, to free choice of employment, to
just and favourable conditions of work
and to protection against unemployment.
(2) Everyone, without any discrimination,
has the right to equal pay for equal work.
(3) Everyone who works has the right to just
and favourable remuneration ensuring for
himself and his family an existence worthy
of human dignity, and supplemented,
if necessary, by other means of social
protection. (4) Everyone has the right
to form and to join trade unions for the
protection of his interests.
Principle 2: Social justice
Article 24: Everyone has the right to rest
and leisure, including reasonable limitation
of working hours and periodic holidays with
pay.
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544 Abdulaziz Albrithen and David K. Androff
Social Work Code of Ethics
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Principle 1: Human service
Article 25: (1) Everyone has the right to a
Principle 2:
standard of living adequate for the health
Social justice
and well-being of himself and of his family,
including food, clothing, housing and medi-
cal care and necessary social services, and
the right to security in the event of unem-
ployment, sickness, disability, widowhood,
old age or other lack of livelihood in cir-
cumstances beyond his control. (2) Mother-
hood and childhood are entitled to special
care and assistance. All children, whether
born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the
same social protection.
Principle 1: Human service
Article 26: (1) Everyone has the right to
Principle 2:
education. Education shall be free, at least
Social justice
in the elementary and fundamental stages.
Elementary education shall be compulsory.
Technical and professional education shall
be made generally available and higher edu-
cation shall be equally accessible to all on
the basis of merit. (2) Education shall be
directed to the full development of the hu-
man personality and to the strengthening of
respect for human rights and fundamental
freedoms. It shall promote understanding,
tolerance and friendship among all nations,
racial or religious groups, and shall further
the activities of the UN for the maintenance
of peace. (3) Parents have a prior right to
choose the kind of education that shall be
given to their children.
Principle 4: Importance of human
Article 27: (1) Everyone has the right to
relationships
freely participate in the cultural life of the
community, to enjoy the arts and to share in
scientific advancement and its benefits. (2)
Everyone has the right to the protection of
the moral and material interests resulting
from any scientific, literary or artistic pro-
duction of which he is the author.
Principle 2: Social justice
Article 28: Everyone is entitled to a social
and international order in which the rights
and freedoms set forth in this Declaration
can be fully realised.
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The Convergence of Social Work and Human Rights 545
Social Work Code of Ethics
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Principle 4: Importance of human
Article 29: (1) Everyone has duties to the
relationships
community in which alone the free and
full development of his personality is pos-
sible. (2) In the exercise of his rights and
freedoms, everyone shall be subject only
to such limitations as are determined by
law solely for the purpose of securing due
recognition and respect for the rights and
freedoms of others and of meeting the just
requirements of morality, public order and
the general welfare in a democratic society.
(3) These rights and freedoms may in no
case be exercised contrary to the purposes
and principles of the UN.
Principle 5: Integrity
Article 30: Nothing in this Declaration
may be interpreted as implying for any
State, group or person any right to engage
in any activity or to perform any act aimed
at the destruction of any of the rights and
freedoms set forth herein.
This analysis, encapsulated in the above table, reveals that the second
social work ethical principle, social justice, is the most relevant ethical
value to the UDHR as it is related to as many as 14 articles. While 10 articles
pertain to the value of dignity and worth of the person, the importance of
human relationships can fit with four articles, and five articles dealing with
human service. This analysis finds that all thirty articles are compatible
and in alignment with the fundamental values and principles promoted
by the social work profession. Also, human rights at all levels and in all
declarations do not conflict with social work ethics. The profession exists
within premises of the declarations of human rights.
Purpose and Role in Society
The disciplines of social work and human rights share similar purposes
and goals. The Preamble to the NASW Code of Ethics states “the primary
mission of the social work profession is to enhance human well-being and
help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention
to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed,
and living in poverty” (NASW, 1996: 1). Social work is committed to:
a) working toward a more just society, b) addressing people’s needs, and
c) protecting vulnerable groups. On the other side, the official human
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546 Abdulaziz Albrithen and David K. Androff
rights movement is concerned with developing policies, legislations, and
procedures to protect human rights. Human rights purpose and roles in
society can be found in the framework of human rights declarations and
conventions. The common role and function of social work and human
rights are clearly visible. Social work is the only profession imbued with
social justice as a core value and concern. Human rights also encompass
social justice in the protection of basic life-sustaining human needs
(NASW, 2012).
Social work has formally acknowledged human rights as a professional
priority. In 2008 the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)
announced the special significance of human rights to social work and
introduced advancing human rights to social work curriculum as a core
competency (CSWE, 2008). In their ethical documents, both the IFSW
and IASSW list the seven international conventions of human rights as
especially pertaining to social work and its practices (IFSW and IASSW,
2012). NASW declared the natural alliance between social work and
human rights (NASW, 2012). The UN has defined social work as an
essential profession for promoting and advocating human rights issues.
Furthermore, the UN Centre for Human Rights published a manual on
human rights and social work.
The human rights goals of overcoming oppression and promoting the
fulfilment of human needs and human development is akin to the goal of
social work (NASW, 2012). The UN Centre for Human Rights states that
“more than many professions, social work educators and practitioners are
conscious that their concerns are closely linked to respect for human rights”
(UN, 1994: 5). Human rights priorities such as preventing and combatting
gender inequality and violence; discrimination and social exclusion;
protecting the rights of women, children, ethnic and cultural minority
groups, immigrants and refugees, older people, disabled individuals; and
preventing war and genocide are social justice concerns of social workers.
The discipline of human rights is not a profession per se, and does not
have practice specialists. Therefore, the priority of practising human rights
is an important social work role. Social workers, more than any other
professionals, know the basic rules of work such as the indivisibility of
rights, the definition of human rights standards, as well as the complicated
issues of humanitarian needs. Moreover, social work has a mission to enact
policies to protect the fundamental rights of individuals, groups, and the
society as a whole. The person-in-environment perspective across practice
levels, enable social workers to advocate for people’s human rights to
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The Convergence of Social Work and Human Rights 547
health care, education, adequate food, shelter, employment and well-being
(NASW, 2012).
IMPLICATIONS AND CONCLUSION
Human rights are inseparable from social work theory, values and ethics,
and practice. Rights corresponding to human needs have to be upheld and
fostered and they embody the justification and motivation for social work
action. Advocacy of such rights must therefore be an integral part of social
work (UN, 1994 : 5).
This analysis confirms the strong involvement of social work with
human rights, emerging over time. Indeed, social work has the precession
of adopting human rights and principles even by the UDHR. The analysis
of the history of social work and human rights finds a strong correlation
during certain years (1970–1979), while a stronger link presented during
specific periods imposed by private global events (1945–1980) (Healy,
2008a). The alignment of specific UDHR articles and social work ethical
values further explicate the common foundation of shared goals across
both disciplines.
Integrating the Disciplines
This analysis also reveals several arguments for better integration between
the two disciplines. Social work’s adoption of human rights issues
and human rights’ emphasis of social work practice may have positive
implications. This would include contributing to the stability and welfare
of individuals, families, and communities, the enhancement of allied
theoretical and practical applications, increased legitimacy through the
adoption of shared values and language, increased advocacy for social
justice, and complementary institutions and communities of scholars,
advocates, and defenders. Further analysis is required to ensure careful
coordination between the two disciplines, and to identify potential
limitations of this approach to be mitigated.
Relevance to Practice
This analysis of the allied disciplines finds that social work practice is
relevant to human rights. Social work practice is generally classified as
micro practice (individuals and families), or practice at the macro level
(communities and societies). All levels of social work practice concern the
human rights of individuals. Human rights issues of poverty, oppression,
injustice, and violence, also fall within social work practice fields. As
IJSW, 75 (4), 535–552, October, 2014

548 Abdulaziz Albrithen and David K. Androff
stated by the IFSW, “human rights are at the heart of social work” (IFSW,
2003: 4). Healy (2008a) confirms that social workers are front-line human
rights workers in securing individual and community rights.
Macro practice, especially community organising, has been linked to
human rights (Ife, 2008; Reichert, 2003). Community organising focuses on
community issues and needs, overcoming problems and promoting social
justice among individuals, groups, families and communities. Community
organisations go beyond these purposes in achieving therapeutic goals
through professional approaches and interventions at the level of the entire
society. Macro social work practice is also concerned with the way society
is organised from a developmental perspective where the community,
its members and institutions are stakeholders. Thus, macro practice and
community organisation promotes and protects human rights.
Implications for Education
Social work educators realise the importance of the social worker’s role
in the promotion of human rights and the development of its applications
in real life human situations. Contemporary social work educators have
placed human rights on the agenda of social work education (Healy,
2008a; Ife, 2008; Reichert, 2011; 2001; Witkin, 1998). However some
have called for greater attention to human rights in social work curricula
and syllabi to better prepare practitioners to promote and protect human
rights (Dominelli, 2007: 21). Others have developed tools for measuring
human rights engagement and exposure in social work (McPherson and
Abell, 2012), based on a concern that “if social work students are not
educated about our professional commitments to human rights, how will
they learn to identify as human rights workers?” (McPherson and Abell,
2012: 2).
To prioritise human rights in global social work education, a recent
initiative was undertaken by social work scholars from five countries to
establish an ‘Institute for Human Rights Studies’ within the UN High
Commissioner for Human Rights. The mission of the institute is to
organise and deliver a short series of professional training and professional
development opportunities for social work educators, administrators and
researchers aiming to teach, discuss and exchange knowledge about
the practical ways of adapting human rights principles into social work
curriculum.
What needs to be reiterated with social work and human rights is
that they are complementary and entwined approaches. Social work has
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The Convergence of Social Work and Human Rights 549
typically focused on ‘need’ while human rights deal more exclusively
with ‘rights’. However, they do in fact share in the advocacy of the whole
individual; the individual’s needs and rights are interrelated concepts.
Both needs and rights support and seek decent living conditions for all
individuals, to achieve justice for groups, and to disseminate peace within
communities and across the globe.
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