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Social Work and Human Rights


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Social Work and Human Rights Essay
The recent news of the two aboriginal teenagers with their contrasting stories caught my attention. One was of a 17 year old, Ms. Victoria Lansen, an aboriginal single mom, who after facing much struggle, completed her Year 12 graduation from Gunbalanya School in West Arnhem Land on January 21,2016. The second was of another aboriginal teenager from Goldfields-Esperance region, Western Australia, who took his own life just two days after, becoming one of the at least five people in the Goldfields-Esperance region who have committed suicide in the past two months leading up to Christmas.
The journey of the 17 year old Ms. Lansen, who comes from a remote Aboriginal town, has not been easy but in the interview to (1) ABC News she stated that she could cope owing to the support from family, friends and range of core local services. Her environment was in contrast to that of the troubled youth whose death highlights the sense of hopelessness, radicalized and economic inequality.
The deceased youth’s uncle, Trevor Donaldson, is demanding a safe house set up for troubled aboriginal youth in Goldfields, Western Australia.
The human rights issue which can be seen in the light of just these two unbiased media reports is how presence or absence of some core local services can change the direction in which the life takes the Aboriginals in this case.
(2) Western Australia leads the Aboriginal suicide rates, with 35.8 per 100,000 Aboriginal populations, the major drivers for suicide among Aboriginals being disempowerment, poverty and racism.
The Issue
The bigger human rights issue that I see here is exclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples from Australia’s Constitution. The fact that, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are the oldest living civilization of the world, and despite having Australia, one of the richest countries of the world, as their home , are still struggling to get their rights and feel empowered.

As Harold Ludwick, a Bulgun Warra man from Cape York rightly puts it, (3) “If the Constitution was the birth certificate of Australia, we’re missing half the family”.
(4) Mr. Donaldson, the uncle of the deceased youth rightly adds, “We have men's refuges and women's refuges. But our Aboriginal young people [in the Goldfields] don't have a place to call their own”, points out in his interview to ABC News.
Media reports like the two mentioned above highlight that while it is necessary to recognize Indigenous rights in the international arena, it is also important that the same rights are acknowledged and granted in our own backyards.
In order to guarantee the Indigenous peoples’ rights that constitutes the minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the world, the United Nations on September 13, 2007, adopted an international instrument – United Nation Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
(5)Canada, United States, New Zealand along with Australia, the four countries who have similar colonial histories, refused to sign UNDRIP over their common concerns.
Over 2009 and 2010, Canada, United States of America, New Zealand and Australia recognized the rights of their Indigenous people. While Canadian Constitution, expressly recognizes the rights of Indigenous people, stating: “The existing Aboriginal and treaty rights of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed.” the US negotiated almost 390 treaties with its American Indian tribes and NZ’s Treaty of Waitangi encapsulated many of the rights of Maori, some critics believe that Australia though supports the UNDRIP, its commitment remains lukewarm at the best.
(6) In Australia’s April 2009 official statement, example, Member of Parliament Jenny Macklin called the Declaration (4) “historic and aspirational”.

Relevance to me and the country
I feel that the human right issues resulting from the exclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples from Australia’s Constitution needs to be fixed.
It is relevant to me as I am a woman of African Heritage and dark skin (black). I was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The constitution of that country has been under scrutiny as there was a proposal to tweak it and allow the President to stay in power for longer than two consecutive terms currently permitted.
The Constitution of Australia is also under scrutiny and needs tweaking for the better. It should include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution and we need to remove discrimination – like the section of our Constitution that says people can be banned from voting based on race.
I am a mother of two children aged 6 and 9. The children are born in Australia and are of mixed race (black + white) as their father is of Caucasian race (white) of English heritage like many Australians.
As Martin Luther King Jr. once said “I have a dream”, this statement deeply resonates with me as I do have a dream , that of my children and their children living in a society that would not discriminate them because of the color of their skin. I want my children and my grandchildren to be proud to live in a country where equality, respect, tolerance and cultural differences will be welcomed and appreciated. I also have a dream that one day my children and their children will be honored by the First Nation Peoples and that they will never have to talk about who has got more rights or fewer rights in the Australian society. They will be living here equally as Australians, one nation one people.
This issue is also relevant to the Australian Society as SONIA WATERS, Director of Aboriginal Services, Anglicare has to aptly pointed out, (7)“Our nation’s Constitution will be inherited by our children and future generations – let’s fix it now, and not leave this work to them. Let our children know that when we had the opportunity to advance Australia fair, we did.”
Constitution is a fabric that holds us together so non inclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in our constitution does not send across the right message to the rest of Australia.
The positive effect it will bring to the self-esteem of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, to the value of our culture and history and its ripple effect can make real differences to the lives of indigenous Australians everywhere.
My contribution towards the issue
As we know it is not easy to change the Constitution. It takes years of campaigning, to win hearts and minds, as well as a whole army of dedicated people all coming together to form a massive groundswell of public support.
It took thousands upon thousands of voluntary campaigners who worked tirelessly for a decade, educating a nation, towards a referendum Australia had to have, which was held on 27 May 1967.
With the hope of attempt I have not only signed up as one of their 2, 86339 supporter of the RECOGNISE movement but have also been spreading the word and requesting my family, friends and colleagues to sign up.
I have also signed up with the Australian Human Rights Commission campaign-‘Racism-It Stops With Me’ as an individual supporter. Reading about how to stand up for self or for others without putting my physical safety at risk has been helpful too.
Besides, I have studied various websites and social media applications in an attempt to gain a greater knowledge of the First Nations Peoples of Australia. I have become involved in the Blackfella Revolution Facebook page to which I contribute on a regular basis. My aim is to further enhance my knowledge about their culture and their views on different aspects of the non-indigenous cultures to which they are exposed to.
One resource I have found particularly useful is the Creative Spirits website ( which has a vast array of information relating to such things as Dreamtime, poems, songs, pictures of cave drawings and much more. As a student who is learning what Social work entails, my scope is currently limited in what I can become involved in. My lack of experience at this time precludes me from getting further involved. I simply do not yet have the skills necessary to enable me to assist the Aboriginal People or any other group.
My goal for the future is to learn all I can about the Aboriginal Peoples of Australia, their culture and, if possible, some of their language. To be able to converse with them in their own language would be an asset, which could stand me in good stead and assist in gaining their trust.
Critical Assessment
Lastly while I take time to critically assess my actions as a student of Social work as measured against social work/social welfare human rights based practice position, I realize that there is lot I have to do.
Social work, according to the Australian Association of Social Workers’ Code of Ethics, (8) is a profession that is built on the pursuit and maintenance of human well-being. Social work aims to maximize the development of human potential and the fulfillment of human needs.
While researching about this issue I came across a very insightful definition of human rights by Professor Jim Ife and his work on human rights and social work. He says, (9) “Human rights are often categorized as first, second and third generations. First generation rights are civil and political rights, like the right to vote, freedom of speech and freedom from discrimination, fair trial etc. Second generation rights are economic, social and cultural rights, like the right to health, housing, social security and education. Third generation rights are collective rights, such as the right to development and self determination.”
I learnt that a social work practitioner can make effort to secure the prominent human rights by any of the three ways. (10) They could either work to prevent abuses from occurring, work to stop or mitigate abuses that have already begun or act after hostilities have ended to ensure that they do not erupt again.
These learnings showed the long journey which is underway for a social worker like me to get justice for the Indigenous people. I came to a conclusion that human rights and social issues should be the core of my practice. I will dedicate my practice to advocate for people's rights by making sure that no one’s needs are violated and I will strive to provide support for these people to the best of my ability.
Communication will also play a key role, whether it is by writing informative columns and articles for local, regional and national newspapers or spreading the word through various relevant social media platforms. This will empower others to discover and fight for the rights of Aboriginals.
Though my knowledge is currently expanding primarily by doing research about the issue on the internet, as a social worker, I would like to participate in fundraising events and volunteer for campaigns like National Close the Gap Day. This year it is being held on March 17, 2016. It is an initiative by the Australian Human Rights Commission to make sure that by 2030 any Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander child born in this country has the same opportunity as other Australian children to live a long, healthy and happy life, is just another way of exercising the dedication towards this cause.
Organizing local events to raise awareness, holding workshops on teaching human right in tertiary institutions (as advertised by Australian Human Rights Commission on their website and sparking conversation with the like minded people are means with which a social worker would stay connected and at the same time be informed about the latest developments.
To summarize the issue and the solution, community development needs a human rights based framework if it is to be successful, and human rights needs a community development framework if they are to be realized.

References from the internet

1.: ABC News, Gunbalanya student driven to year 12 graduation by promise of better life viewed on 24 January,2016 2. Creative Spirits, Aboriginal suicide rates viewed 23 January,2016 3. Recognise, Why Recognise viewed January 22,2016 4. ABC News, Suicide of nephew will never leave Aboriginal elder-Trevor Donaldson, who wants safe house, viewed 23 January, 2016 5 and 6. Indigenous Foundations, The University of British Columbia, UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, viewed 22 January,2016. 7. Recognise, Why recognise? viewed Jan 24,2016 8. Australian Human Rights Commission, The role of social workers as human rights workers with Indigenous people and communities, viewed 22 January,2016:
10. Beyond Intractability, Protecting Individual and Group Rights for Practitioners, viewed 24January, 2016 Reference from Library:
9. Ife, J., 2001, Cambridge University Press
Human Rights and Social Work.

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