Social justice is built on the pillars of human rights, equity, participation, and access. When a society is just, everyone is respected, supported, and protected. Achieving social justice isn’t easy as there are many issues that need to be addressed. Here are 15 examples:
#1. The gender pay gap
Around the world, the gender pay gap is one of the slowest-moving social justice issues. There’s been progress, but according to the World Bank’s Women, Business, and the Law 2022 report, around 2.4 billion women of working age aren’t getting equal economic opportunities. 95 countries don’t ensure equal pay for equal work. When it comes to lifetime earnings, how big does that gap end up being? Globally, The World Bank Managing Director of Development Policy and Partnership says women make about $172 trillion less than men. Some areas are doing better than others. According to the WE Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, only five countries got scores higher than 0.800 on wage equality for similar work: Albania, Burundi, Algeria, Iceland, and Singapore. Unfortunately, wage equality for similar work has gone down since 2021 in seven countries, including China and Cambodia.
#2. Income inequality
The gender pay gap contributes to income inequality, but it’s not as if all men are doing well financially. Income inequality concerns people within states and the wealth between states. When the pandemic struck, global income inequality got worse and even undid some of the progress of the past 20 years. While the global economy rebounded in 2021, the World Bank estimated that global growth would decelerate from 5.5.% in 2021 to 3.2% in 2023. Inflation is also a major issue. However, while people fall into poverty, the world’s ten richest men more than doubled their fortunes during the first two years of the pandemic, earning an average of $1.3 billion a day. It’s hard to think of something more unequal than that.
#3. Climate change
Many factors drive climate change, such as agriculture, offshore drilling, fracking, and more. Despite decades of warnings and serious events like drought and hurricanes, fossil fuel emissions are not improving. The past seven years were the warmest on record. Scientists agree that if significant change isn’t made, temperatures will continue to rise. Extreme weather events will become more frequent and billions will be at risk. Fighting climate change is important because it affects other issues, such as food security, poverty, gender equality, and more.
#4. Food insecurity
With climate change, supply chain issues, and inflation, food insecurity is an ever-present issue. Things got especially dire in 2022 when Russia invaded Ukraine and blockaded Ukrainian ports, cutting off grain exports to the rest of the world. While events like war trigger food insecurity, increased hunger has been on the rise for years. The 2022 edition of The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) report found that hunger affected around 828 million people in 2021, which reflects a 46 million people increase.
#5. The refugee crisis
According to the UN Refugee Agency, over 2 million refugees will need to be resettled in 2023. That’s a 36% increase from 2022. There are a few reasons why, including the pandemic, climate change, conflict, and more. Women and children are especially vulnerable to trafficking and violence. According to a report from Save the Children, “likely all children” migrating to Europe through the Balkans faced violence. Police and smugglers were the most common perpetrators. Both the resettlement and safety of refugees as they migrate are must-address social justice issues.
#6. Universal healthcare
“Good health and well-being” is the third Sustainable Development Goal. It’s closely linked to other goals such as clean water, sanitation, and zero hunger. To achieve this goal, universal healthcare is essential. The need for it was made blatant during the COVID-19 pandemic, but healthcare systems around the world were already failing many people. According to the WHO, over 930 million people spend at least 10% of their household income on healthcare. Because of out-of-pocket spending, 100 million people fall into poverty each year. Universal healthcare, which ensures everyone has access to all the healthcare they need without financial hardship, is one of the most urgent social justice issues.
The world has been trying to deal with poverty for many years, but according to the World Bank, it’s unlikely to end extreme poverty by 2030. COVID-19 was a big reason why. In 2020, 70 million people fell into extreme poverty. This number represents the largest one-year increase since 1990 when the world started monitoring global poverty. Extreme poverty, which is defined as earning less than $2.15 a day, concentrates in areas where it’s hard to address, such as rural areas, Sub-Saharan Africa, and areas with conflict. Ending poverty is complex and involves addressing other social justice issues, such as low-quality education, inferior healthcare, gender inequality, and so on.
#8. Gender-based violence
Gender-based violence is a global issue. According to the WHO, about 30% of women have endured physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime. Most violence is perpetrated by an intimate partner. This type of violence affects a person’s sexual, mental, emotional, and physical health. The violence can also be fatal. Around the world, around 38% of murdered women were killed by their intimate partners. Reports, like the one released by the United States Institute of Peace, found that COVID-19 made gender-based violence worse. How can gender-based violence be addressed? It requires a multi-faceted approach. Improved gender equality, early education, better legal protections for women, and more are essential pieces of the puzzle.
#9. State violence
Violence perpetrated by the state is a growing concern. We’ve seen several examples in just a few years. In 2020, U.S. protests against police brutality were met by more excessive force in places like New York City, where police officers trapped protesters. Unable to leave, the protesters were trapped until the start of the city-wide curfew, after which the police began attacking them without warning. A report by Human Rights Watch stated that “the police response to the peaceful Mott Haven protest was intentional, planned, and unjustified.” In 2022, Iran (which already has a long history of state violence) responded to peaceful protests with brutality. While exact numbers are hard to come by, hundreds of protesters could have been killed, including many children.
#10. Threats to the trans community
The LGBTQ+ community as a whole is vulnerable to violence and discrimination, but the trans community has been facing an increasing number of threats. The United States provides many disheartening examples. In Florida, the state board of medicine agreed to start the process of barring minors from receiving puberty blockers, hormone therapy, or surgeries to treat gender dysphoria. This goes against organizations like the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, which support gender-affirming care for young people. Meanwhile, in Keller, Texas, a school board voted to ban all books that even mention gender fluidity. Actions like this represent a concentrated effort to roll back rights for LGBTQ+ people.
#11. Eroding democracy
Freedom House, an organization that conducts research and advocacy on democracy and political freedom, has found that global freedom is declining. In their 2022 report, they found that while only 25 countries improved their democracy, 60 countries got worse. 2023 could be worse for places like Southeast Asia where in Myanmar, the junta continues to rule. Freedom is also threatened in Afghanistan where the Taliban have once again taken over. In November, the Taliban ordered judges to impose its interpretation of Sharia Law, which could open the door to even worse human rights violations.
#12. Political extremism
Eroding democracy is closely linked to political extremism, which is becoming an increasingly urgent problem. On January 6th, 2021, a riot of Trump supporters attacked the United States Capitol in an attempt to stop the electoral vote count. This represents a trend of overtly violent political extremism, which has included a mass shooting in Buffalo and an attack on the husband of Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House. Political extremism isn’t limited to the United States. A ProPublica article published not long after the insurrection outlined a growing international network of right-wing extremists. It’s been happening for years. While the world focused on Islamic extremism following 9/11, right-wing extremism grew fairly unhindered.
#13. Cybersecurity threats
According to the WEF’s Global Risks Report 2022, cybersecurity vulnerabilities are a major concern. In wake of the pandemic, many economies underwent rapid digitalization. While useful, that has increased the risk of cyberattacks. 2022 saw some significant attacks, including in Costa Rica, where a cyber gang known as Conti disrupted financial operations. The Ministry of Finance was targeted, leading the country to declare a national emergency. What does this have to do with social justice? Cybersecurity is closely related to issues of privacy and safety, which are social justice issues. Who gets access to the best cybersecurity measures is also a social justice issue. As this blog post by Merritt Baer points out, cybersecurity is a wealth discrimination issue.
#14. Reproductive rights
Reproductive rights are linked to other social justice issues like gender equality, healthcare, poverty, LGBTQ+ rights, and more. While it’s not the only reproductive right, the right to abortion remains a significant concern. Worldwide, the laws vary, though many countries only allow abortion to save the mother’s life. In places like the Philippines, Iraq, Andorra, Congo, and Egypt, abortion was prohibited completely at the time of writing (2022). Abortion rights can also be taken away. In June, the US Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade, saying that abortion was not a constitutional right. In an even more concerning move, some states are already targeting birth control.
Racism takes many forms, but it remains a persistent social justice issue. Throughout 2020, a wave of anti-Asian hate crimes surged around the world. An article in Time collected various statistics from places like New Zealand, which found that 54% of Chinese survey participants had experienced discrimination. In the UK, hate crimes against Chinese, East, and South East Asians rose by as much as 300% compared to data from 2018 and 2019. Racism against Black people is still prevalent, too. The National Urban League released its annual report in 2022, reporting that while Black Americans made economic and health gains, white people were still ahead in education, social justice, and civic engagement. These are just two examples of racism and why it needs to be addressed.