On World Day of Social Justice, these human rights issues deserve our attention.
The United Nations General Assembly has designated February 20 as World Day of Social Justice. The date is an opportunity to recognize social and economic injustices in the world — and to find ways to help those affected.
World Day of Social Justice aims to break down the barriers created by gender, class, race, sexuality and religion to create a world that promotes health, opportunity and justice for all.
The following six causes deserve our attention on February 20 and every other day of the year. World Day of Social Justice offers the perfect opportunity to become informed and then take action to create change. I spoke to experts on these issues, and they shed light on each and offered simple steps we can take each day to promote social justice at home and abroad.
1. Access To Clean Drinking Water
Access to clean drinking water is a basic human right that’s essential to our survival, but the World Health Organization and UNICEF estimate that approximately 2.1 billion people worldwide don’t have access to safe drinking water in their homes. Lack of safe drinking water is the number-one killer of children worldwide.
“We know that one child under five dies every 60 seconds from diarrheal disease as a result of unsafe drinking water,” John Lyon, president of World Hope International told me. “Plus, many children spend six to eight hours a day fetching water and 90% of the clean water burden falls on women. That time could be spent in school or on other income-generating activities.”
Organizations like World Hope International and Thirst Project have focused their efforts on drilling wells and setting up sanitation facilities in communities across the globe, thereby boosting local economies.
In addition to World Hope International and Thirst Project, the following nonprofits are working to make clean drinking water a reality for all:
2. Human Trafficking
The International Labor Organization estimates that human trafficking is now a $150 billion industry worldwide. The commercial sex trade accounts for $99 million of that number, and the remaining $51 billion is from forced labor.
“Human trafficking has surpassed the illegal sale of arms and weapons and is soon expected to eclipse the sale of illegal drugs,” Dr. John DeGarmo, leading foster care expert and director of the Foster Care Institute told me.
He said that a common misconception about human trafficking is that it doesn’t occur here in America — but that couldn’t be further from the truth. “Child sex trafficking is an ugly secret that many in America refuse to accept or refuse to acknowledge. It is disturbing, it is horrific, and it is something that most pretend is not happening in our nation,” DeGarmo said, noting that some studies suggest up to 300,000 American children per year are victims of sex trafficking.
To help fight human trafficking at home and abroad, consider getting involved with one of the following organizations:
3. Education Access
Poverty is a vicious cycle, and a lack of access to education makes it all but impossible to escape. Worldwide, 59 million school-age children aren’t in school or receiving any form of education. This issue disproportionately impacts girls and members of the world’s poorest communities.
“Teaching as we know it today hasn’t changed much in the last 1,000 years. The problem with that is there aren’t enough excellent teachers for disadvantaged children, which then perpetuates cycles of poverty and lack of access,” explained James Song, CEO of ExsulCoin, an ed tech company working to solve the global refugee crisis.
Song created the Exsul education app, which provides free basic education to refugees in the Kutupalong Rohingya Refugee Camp on the Burma-Bangladesh border. Exsul is the first app to use advanced predictive analytics to improve learning outcomes for disadvantaged children. “We are surrounded by all this amazing technology — it’s about time we used it,” Song said.
In addition to Exsulcoin, the following organizations promote equal access to education for everyone:
4. Child Labor
According to a UNICEF report, approximately 25% of children in the world’s poorest countries are engaged in “paid and unpaid forms of work.” Worldwide, there are over 200 million child laborers, 73 million of whom are under the age of 10.
The majority of these children work on farms producing products such as cocoa and coffee, and around 20 million child laborers work in factories that produce clothing, toys and household items.
The most effective — and easiest — way to help child laborers is to be conscious of where we purchase everything from our morning coffee to our favorite clothes. “The simplest way for people to help and have an impact on changing the situation is to be more conscious of their purchases,” Debbie Moorehouse, cofounder of the International Society for Sustainable Fashion told me. “Shop locally, look for the fair trade mark on foods, be more mindful of how products are made, and consider more socially responsible companies or product alternatives.”
Unfortunately, some of the most popular brands and companies in America continue to use child labor. A list of these companies can be found here.
The following nonprofits strive to make child labor a thing of the past, and they could use our help:
According to data collected in 2016, over 500,000 Americans are homeless. Children account for 25% of that number. Veterans who have put their lives on the line to serve our country represent between 20% and 25% of the homeless population, and around one-third of homeless people are suffering from an untreated mental illness.
“While the most visible populations are the chronically homeless, who frequent shelters or prefer to be more independent, the largest populations are economically homeless. Much of the population lives paycheck to paycheck and are one job loss, disaster or medical emergency away from being homeless,” said Dana Marlowe, founder and executive director of I Support the Girls.
I Support the Girls works with refugees, survivors of natural disasters, domestic abuse victims, and individuals dealing with physical and mental medical problems. Marlowe said homelessness has increased among youth and families, and LGBTQ+ teens are at an even higher risk. I Support the Girls focuses on providing feminine hygiene products and bras to homeless individuals — a necessity that Marlowe noted is stigmatized and thereby not given enough attention.
In addition to I Support the Girls, the following nonprofits offer aid to the homeless population:
6. Mental Health: Stigma & Access to Treatment
According to statistics gathered by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five adults will suffer from a mental illness each year. Nevertheless, mental illness remains a taboo topic and people living with it are frequently stigmatized. Treatment can vastly improve a person’s quality of life, but there are major barriers. For example, as previously cited, a significant number of people with mental illness are homeless and don’t have access to treatment. For individuals who can afford psychiatric help, stigma presents a significant roadblock.
“For many people suffering from mental health disorders, one of the most difficult parts of their circumstances can be the insensitive ways they are treated by their peers,” said Dr. Bryan Bruno, medical director at the New York City–based clinic Mid City TMS. “Most have stories of friends or family pleading with them to just try to ‘change their attitude.’ This point of view perpetuates the stigma that holds so many people back from seeking professional help, even when that is what they need the most.”
The following organizations work to provide treatment options for everyone and to bust the mental illness stigma: