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Box O - The social justice approach Print E-mail

What do values have to do with changing determinants of health?

Public health interventions are usually based on a set of values, although they are not always stated explicitly. We recommend, however, that you define the values you’re guided by as you plan you multiple intervention program. That’s what the Canadian Nurses Association (CNA) did when it developed an plan for changing the social determinants of health explicitly based on its social justice values.

According to the CNA report, “Justice…a means to an end, an end in itself”, (Davison, Edwards & Robinson, 2006) social justice is "the fair distribution of society's benefits, responsibilities, and their consequences,” (p.7). The authors add that social justice “focuses on the relative position of one social group in relationship to others in society as well as on the root causes of disparities and what can be done to eliminate them.…To describe a certain situation as inequitable the cause must be judged unfair in the context of what is going on in the rest of society. Although judgments will vary from country to country and from time to time, disparities that are avoidable or unnecessary are inherently unfair." (p.9).

For the Canadian Nurses Association the essence of social justice is “fairness.” There is an obligation to reduce disparities that are not “fair,” but fairness can be relative. Different definitions of it are possible in different historic or social contexts.

The CNA report also distinguishes between equity and equality. Inequality can be verified empirically. Inequity, however, is a moral, ethical or value judgment about the fairness or justice of the inequality. The report includes a guide for nurses making decisions about whether an inequalities is fair or unfair. There’s also a “gauge” to assess how well health actions and interventions do in achieving social justice.

Last Updated on Thursday, 26 March 2009 08:32