Human rights education and capabilities in social work education

Dijkstra, Peter (2019). 'Human rights education and capabilities in social work education' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA 2019, London, UK.


This panel will focus on a perspective on social work education in which the Capability Approach and Human Rights are intertwined. This is necessary if social justice is to be taken seriously. We will discuss the statement that social work can, and must, be defined as both a Human Rights profession and as a social justice profession. The Capability Approach can serve as a compass for the student in dealing with the high complexity of society and the normative questions about what people are able to be and do and what lives they wish to lead. The central tenet of the Capability Approach is that individuals are not equally placed to realize their human capabilities, this is a consequence of barriers arising from structural inequalities of class, race, disability, gender and sexual orientation. When these barriers are addressed, a person can then strive to reach their full humanity and actualize their Human Rights.

In the first paper it is argued that the concretisation and translation of Human Rights in personal budget policies for disabled people is both a starting point and a frame of reference in the realisation of equal opportunities and a dignified life.

To this end, persons with disabilities must be recognised and acknowledged as equal actors in the process, so that the social professionals do not limit themselves solely to increasing legal accessibility and the implementation of rights. In fact, the latter would mean that professionals act to safeguard the preconditions for acting and speaking (capable to act and to speak out). In recognizing the client as an equal actor, and in supporting her/his capacity individuals can be acknowledged and recognized as a capable human being by others and by themselves.

In the second paper the question is developed of how the Capability Approach combines with Human Rights for educating social work students. It is argued that it supports a deeper understanding of the practices and goals of the social work profession when interacting with clients in real practice. Educating competent social work students asks for a pedagogy of teaching where capabilities are intertwined with Human Rights in a vocational manner. We place a particular emphasis on an ethical position and social justice. In this regard the Capability Approach is a necessary element of the social work curricula and the development of social work students.

Together, these two papers offer 1) an ethical position: if the client is regarded as an equal actor, then the Capability Approach needs to have a central role in the curricula of social work. 2) examples of the use of the Capability Approach and Human Rights in constructing and delivering a curriculum for social work. 3) an appeal for the need for thinking about the complementary roles of capabilities, Human Rights, and professional competencies and the requirement for combined cooperation. Finally, we aim through this panel to enrich the international professional network of partner organizations which actively contribute in the development and dissemination of the Capability Approach and Human Rights in social work curricula.

scroll to top