This blog was written by Mark Simmons, CEO of Friends of Ibba Girls' School, to mark World Day of Social Justice on 20 February 2020.
Two days before a new government of national unity is due to be formed in South Sudan seems an auspicious time to mark World Day of Social Justice. Religious and political leaders and the “troika” of foreign governments (Norway, the UK and the US) have played their part, sometimes helpfully and sometimes unhelpfully, in pulling South Sudan back from the cliff edge of renewed violence, but the focus has largely been on sharing power and wealth between rival factions.
These political arrangements do not claim to be economically or socially just, as they are not rooted in a social contract between the government and the people beyond a basic but often ignored responsibility to protect. It is this ‘contract’ that will need to be drawn up if these cautious steps towards stabilisation are to lead to economic and social justice. This will require the government to act responsibly, to generate and distribute wealth fairly, and to reward achievement and progress over background and status.
The Gini coefficient provides a useful way of measuring economic inequality, and although there are currently no data for South Sudan the Gini index does show that in much of the global north we still have a long way to go. Of the 107 countries measured in 2018, the UK was ranked 32, just behind Mali and Algeria, and the US lagged just behind Uganda in fifty-ninth place. But the Gini index only gives a limited snapshot, and over the years others have tried to measure inequalities in opportunity, social mobility, and education.
While the equal distribution of wealth is important for a just society, one way to move towards social justice is to consider the argument made by Amartya Sen and others that social development should be premised more on the process of enhancing people’s capabilities and enlarging their choices, rather than focusing solely on the process of reducing income inequality. Success is then based on a person’s choices, efforts and talents rather than a set of pre-determined circumstances at birth. This seems particularly apposite for South Sudan, which is beset by the impact of these pre-determined circumstances and is still a long way from a more recent northern understanding of social justice as mobility, welfare, subsidiarity, and reducing wealth inequality.
This is one of the reasons why Ibba Girls’ Boarding School is more than just a school and a safe space. It is also, put simply, a model for social justice.