Our human nature instinctively causes us to judge and respond to people based on several factors that includes education, habits, race, skin color, gender, ethnicity or religion. Unfortunately, this judgment often translates into an imbalanced system and fosters inequality. Recognizing the need to promote efforts to tackle issues such as exclusion, gender inequality, and protection of the rights of indigenous peoples and migrants, the United Nations started observing World Day of Social Justice in 2009. Social justice refers to the idea of creating a society or institution that is based on the principles of equality and solidarity, that understands and values human rights, and recognizes the dignity of every human being.
Human rights violations and gender discrimination are two major social justice issues in our world today. We have seen countless examples of national consequences of prolonged violations of people’s rights: national protests, strikes, terrorism and even war. While in our immediate environment, we have also seen several cases of domestic violence, harassment, sexual and child abuse, nepotism, amongst others. Governments are responsible for implementing policies that safeguard our human rights, regardless of our identity. However, individuals also have a powerful role to play in ensuring social justice.
Adeola Oyinlade and Priscilla Ubaifo are two young Nigerians that have fought for social justice here in Nigeria. Both of these young leaders have identified two distinct types of injustice and developed social change projects to address them.
Through many interactions with Nigerians, Adeola realized the average Nigerian did not have an adequate understanding of his or her human rights as guaranteed in the national constitution. In addition, he concluded from people’s personal experiences that there were many cases of abuse and infringement in our society. Ignorant of the laws in place to protect them, the victims remained powerless to demand their rights while others were simply afraid to confront their violators. Adeola launched the “Know Your Constitution” initiative in 2009 to address these issues.
First, he began a daytime talk show on Unilag FM broadcasted in Lagos and Ogun States. He used this media platform to provide legal counsel through Human Right Activists, legal luminaries in the Senior Advocate of Nigerian Association, and law experts. In 2010, Adeola and his team also took to the Lagos streets and distributed 10,000 copies of the Nigerian Constitution to promote understanding and awareness of human rights in Nigeria. His remarkable efforts have empowered people to take legal actions on harassment, land disputes, property acquisition, and other issues in their daily lives.
Another inspiring example of our youth taking action to promote social justice can be seen through the work of Priscilla Ubiafo. In her hometown of Akoko Edo LGA in Edo State, Priscilla noticed a high rate of teenage pregnancies resulting from sexual abuse and uninformed decisions in casual sexual relationships. After childbirth, these teenage mothers were often refused reintegration into school, therefore denying them of the opportunity to complete their formal education. To reduce the rate of teenage pregnancies and increase girl-child education, Priscilla initiated Brave Heart, a project where she trains young people aged 10-25 on sexual and reproductive education and provides adequate medical care and legal counsel to rape victims. She also organizes workshops to classroom teachers on Comprehensive Sexuality Education as a valuable tool to prevent unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions and sexually transmitted disease. Priscilla has given lectures to over 4,000 students in twelve schools and prosecuted 18 rapists out of 90 rape cases reported to Brave Heart Initiative.
LEAP (Leadership Effectiveness Accountability Professionalism) Africa is a nonprofit organization in Nigeria that is committed to developing, dynamic, innovative and principled African leaders through leadership trainings for youth, business owners and social entrepreneurs. Every year, LEAP recognizes five outstanding young people at the Annual Nigerian Youth Leadership Awards. Adeola and Priscilla received this distinction in 2010 and 2011 respectively. Both of these LEAP Award recipients have continued to serve as inspiration to many young people.
As we observe World Day on Social Justice this year, we must bear in minds nations cannot truly coexist if we don’t deal with the inequalities within our country. Individually we should treat each other as equals, people with equal rights to his ideas or better lives, and the right to make our own choices. We can only advance social justice when we remove barriers that people face because of gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion, culture or disability.