What Does World Social Justice Day Mean for Canada?
February 20th is the UN’s World Day for Social Justice, and this year, we’re reminded that despite extraordinary global strides towards eliminating poverty, equitable distribution of income and access to greater opportunities, we still have a long way to go.
In Canada, 1 in 7 people lives in poverty. For every seven people you walk by on the street, at least one struggles to put food on the table. At least one worries about having a roof over their heads during harsh Canadian winters. At least one is concerned that they might not be able to afford their prescription, or daycare for their children, or their monthly phone bill. And people aren’t equally vulnerable: gender, age, religious, culture, ethnicity, disability can all make people more susceptible to social injustices.
Such inequalities are fundamentally unacceptable in Canada and around the world. Recognition of such issues is the first step in redressing them, and Canada has an obligation to play its part. The reality of social inequalities in Canada do not match the values of those who live here. If even one person lives with social injustices and their basic needs are not being met, then their human rights are denied and that reflects upon us all.
The facts are sobering. According to the UN, over half the world’s population lives on less than $2.50 a day. 3.1 million children die a year because of poor nutrition, and one billion people worldwide do not have enough to eat. Globally, hunger is the greatest risk to health – more than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. These terrible figures represent the importance of social justice, and the understanding that even if we have not experienced such turmoil ourselves, we have an obligation to help and support those who do. Hunger, disease, thirst, exposure: in the 21st century, these causes of death are preventable. We simply need to find the will and the courage to do it.
Until then, the violation of human rights that social injustices entail is a stain on our global consciousness. Legally, morally, socially – we have an obligation to address poverty, both globally and in Canada.
Promises for government action have come and gone, but the importance of a national anti-poverty strategy in Canada remains clear. People living with disabilities are twice as likely to live below the poverty line. Twenty-one per cent of single mothers are raising their families below the poverty line, and fifteen per cent of elderly individuals live in poverty. Three million Canadians live in precarious housing situations, and forty per cent of Indigenous children live in poverty. UNICEF ranked Canada 17th out of 29 wealthy countries because of the number of children in Canada living in poverty. Clearly, Canada is falling behind, and on the World Day for Social Justice, we must remind ourselves of our obligation to improve. A national anti-poverty strategy would be a welcome first step.
Social justice is imperative to society. The people that make up societies owe much to that community, and in turn, that community has responsibility for the individuals that create it. If human rights and standards of equality are violated, the very foundations of society are challenged. We owe it to others – and ourselves – to better our society and make strives towards a more just and equal world.
Tamar Harris is a fourth-year journalism student at Carleton University and a communications volunteer with Canada Without Poverty.