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World Social Work Day 2016: Social Workers, Social Service Workers Globally Advocate for Dignity and Worth of All Peoples

Nicole Brown's picture

Around the world, social workers, students and others in the social service workforce came together on March 15, 2016 to mark World Social Work Day. The annual day is an opportunity to recognize the achievements of social workers and social service workers in local and global communities, as well as an opportunity to increase awareness through advocacy efforts.

Several high-level events around the world spotlighted the need for a better developed, planned and supported social service workforce to best meet the needs of vulnerable populations.

“The International Association of Socials of Social Work (IASSW) believes that learnings from practice should be integrated in social work curricula across the globe so that the new social work workforce is oriented with adequate knowledge, skills and attitudes for working with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in different contexts. Social workers will need to strengthen and work in partnership with all other agencies and professional groups to ensure that grassroots voices reach the governments and ensure the right to life and well-being for the most vulnerable and distressed people around the world,” according to a statement of support issued from the IASSW on World Social Work Day.

Events in Africa

Social workers march through KampalaIn Tanzania and Uganda, social workers, students, professors and government representatives took to the streets to make their voices heard. In Kampala, Uganda, a march was held, originating from Makerere University Freedom Square and traveling through the city streets of Kampala. They carried banners promoting ending childhood marriage.

An evening function in Kampala was an opportunity for the Social Work Association of Uganda to call on government leaders to form an autonomous Social Work Council. “Care, protection, family and community support services for the most vulnerable cannot be improved, expanded or sustained without strengthening and regulating the social workforce,” said Michael Byamukama, Regional Psychosocial Support Initiative (REPSSI) Country Representative. “We need to establish a social work council under an act of Parliament to regulate the activities of social workers, as well as auxiliary and paraprofessional workers, in Uganda.” The Honorable Sulaiman Kyebakoze Madada, State Minister for the Elderly and the Disabled, Ministry of Gender Labor and Social Development, then made a commitment before the hundreds of people in attendance to ensure a council is established in Uganda.

Timing with World Social Work Day, an international conference in Arusha, Tanzania, focused on the promotion of professional social work in East Africa. Conference organizers stated the motive of the conference and convening of attendees from throughout the region was “to showcase the professional contribution as it deals holistically with the most vulnerable populations from the grass-root levels…this mission realizes the integration of East African countries by connecting the social care and support initiatives done by social workers with the community.”

The conference officially began with a march through the streets of Arusha and ended with a regional student summit. The Tanzanian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hon. Dr. Augustine Mahinga, gave closing remarks emphasizing the need for people-centered social development and governance based on human rights. The attendees then issued a resolution calling for accelerated processes of statutory regulations of social work in the region.

The Social Workers' Association Zambia held a two-day event in Lusaka that included practitioners, dignitaries and students. The event focused on the role of social work in working with children and families affected by HIV. The localized theme in Zambia was designed to implore social work practitioners to reflect on the impact of HIV and AIDS and how the profession can effectively contribute to resolve the problem in Zambia by 2030. A media breakfast was held to increase outreach and visibility of social workers' roles within the community.

The Association of Schools of Social Work in Africa shared this message with its members: Many initiatives are underway to "demonstrate that in Africa, social work educators, practitioners, and students can draw on powerful philosophical ideas, traditions and knowledge systems, and that ASSWA members are working hard to develop these resources into practical, teachable approaches. Indeed, these approaches are beginning to define African social work in unique ways."

Events in Asia

Attendees at the event in JakartaAt an event in Jakarta, Indonesia, attended by 800 social workers and other social service workers, the Ministry of Social Affairs, Khofifah Indar Parawansa, called upon Parliament to act upon a social work bill. “I am hoping the Government of Indonesia will continue supporting the certification of the social workers. I am also expecting that the Draft of National Social Worker Regulation, which currently has moves in the process of National Legalization Program 2016, will be soon discussed and become the present/gift for social workers that will be celebrated in the next World Social Work Day.”

A panel presentation was organized by the Indonesia Association of Social Workers, Centre for Development of the Social Work Profession and the Welfare Worker MOSA. Speakers from Indonesia, Australia and Malaysia spoke on the global agenda for social work in the context of human and cultural diversity.

Events in Latin America and the Caribbean

Events were also coordinated in Argentina, Peru and Cuba. In Puerto Rico, the national social work association joined with the local university to host a discussion on social justice. In Panama, social workers joined with other social organizations to demonstrate in the Plaza de la Democracia. “Every one of the social workers of Latin America and the Caribbean every day contribute to the construction of a more just and humane society.” Silvana Martinez, International Federation of Social Work President, Latin America and Caribbean Region.

Events in the United States

In the United States, events were held throughout the month of March to time with the country’s Social Work Month.

“Social workers take on some of the most serious and complex issues facing society – poverty, mental illness, voting rights, racism, and child welfare – and work with individuals, families, communities and government to create positive solutions,” NASW CEO Angelo McClain, PhD, LICSW  said. “NASW and its chapters want to help the nation celebrate these accomplishments during National Social Work Month.”

More than 400 social work students, faculty and early professionals from more than 45 social work schools and departments gathered on Capitol Hill, in Washington, DC, to engage members of Congress in discussions on social workers providing mental health services to Medicare clients. Student Advocacy Days have been organized biennially since 1999. Additional events, including a policy and politics symposium and a reception with Senator Barbara Mikulski, a social worker, were organized by the Congressional Research Institute for Social Work & Policy (CRISP) as part of Social Work Day on the Hill, March 1-2.

As part of National Social Work Month, the New York City Chapter of NASW held a conference on the topic of “Building a Progressive Agenda and Striving for a Better Life for All New Yorkers,” with 1,020 social workers in attendance. The Guam Chapter of NASW conducted interviews with media and hosted a conference on the theme “Holistic Transformation for a Healthy Micronesia.” The NASW Tennessee Chapter will hold their annual Social Work Day on the Hill in Nashville on March 30, with hundreds of students, faculty and practitioners expected to participate.

Social Work Day at the United Nations will be held on April 4 this year. Look for our blog following that event.

Events in Europe

Additional events were organized by IFSW in partnership with OBDS and Younion in Vienna, and also in Geneva, on the topic of social workers responding to the refugee crisis. In Vienna, social workers and representatives from relief organizations in 26 countries gathered to develop plans to strengthen the social work response to the refugee crisis. The goal of the workshop was to be a catalyst for governments to work more closely with the social service sector to effectively deliver services. As a result of this symposium stronger links have been established between social workers working in the war countries, transition countries and asylum countries. Key instruments have been identified to support the most vulnerable groups such unaccompanied minors, trafficked persons, victims of abuse, people with disabilities and single parents. View recorded presentations from the event and read our upcoming blog for more detail on this topic and related events.