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Happy World Social Work Day 2016!

23rd March 2016

This relates to the second pillar of the Global Agenda for Social Work and Social Development which was launched in 2012. Each of the five Global Agenda themes runs for two years and 2016 is the second year for Promoting the Dignity and Worth of Peoples.

The theme is particularly poignant this year as we have witnessed unprecedented levels of mass migration around the world, levels of which we have not experienced since the Second World War. Images of desperate families risking their lives in an attempt to flee conflict and persecution are reported daily in the media. Many are traumatised by their experiences and face uncertain futures. In this context of human suffering it is essential to uphold the commitment to value every human life and embrace shared human experience, and social work is ideally placed to champion this approach.

Social work as a profession is underpinned by a commitment to human rights, and the current president of the International Federation of Social Work, Ruth Stark, has suggested that “Social work is a human rights discipline. It’s not just an element of it- it is the core principle.” 

Such a stance requires social workers to respect the inherent dignity and worth of every person, and this includes respect for human rights as expressed in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Such an approach is underpinned by five core notions of human rights: human dignity; non-discrimination; civil and political rights; economic, social and cultural rights; and solidarity rights (Wronka, 2007).

It has been argued that social work has often blurred the line between a focus on human needs and human rights (Healy, 2008), however there is an opportunity for social work to grasp a central role in upholding the rights of all peoples across the world. If this opportunity is taken ‘ human rights provide the profession with a clear direction for a presence at the international level, while also bridging local and national issues with global concerns’ (Healy 2008:745).

World Social Work Day provides an opportunity for the global community of social work to come together through cross-national dialogue, to promote a human rights approach which is rooted in social action as a means to uphold the dignity and worth of all peoples across the global world. We therefore should not just ‘talk the talk’ about upholding the dignity and rights of all, but more importantly ‘walk the walk’ by implementing these principles into action in everyday practice.


Healy, L.M. (2008) Exploring the history of social work as a human rights profession, International Social Work, 51, 735-748.

Wronka, J. (2007) Human Rights and Social Justice: Social Action and Service for the Helping and Health Professions, Thousand Oaks, CA, Sage.

  • NCPP Bournemouth University
    Professor Lee-Ann Fenge
    Director of the Centre of Seldom Heard Voices, Marginalisation and Societal Integration / NCPQSWPP

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