Economic Justice: A Queer Perspective

Economic Justice has been defined by scholars as the idea that the economy will be more successful if it is to have any semblance of fairness . Universal basic income, income equality by gender and race, equal opportunity for employment and credit, and allowing all to reach their full potential are all tenets of economic justice. I must admit in definition it sounds like a great concept in a world where all is fair play.

In a real sense, all life is interrelated. The agony of the poor impoverishes the rich; the betterment of the poor enriches the rich. We are inevitably our brother’s keepers because we are our brother’s brother. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly -Martin Luther King

Ask any general queer persons about human rights, they talk of the right to marriage and family, freedom of expression, right to dignity and equality; the rights that have historically been denied. They barely speak about, on the other hand, some of the other rights declared in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) such as rights to adequate food, clothing, housing, medical care, and even education. They also include rights related to social security, vote, and labor union participation and working conditions. These are among the social, economic, and cultural rights identified in Articles 16 and 22-29 of the UDHR to which everyone is entitled, regardless of who you are or where you live and yet they are not part of the human rights consciousness of most queer persons in Zimbabwe

Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world. -Preamble, Universal Declaration of Human Rights

“Human rights” is an expression that covers a wide range of aspects of human existence considered essential for life in dignity and security. Some of these relate to the freedom of the individual to act as she or he pleases as long as that action does not infringe on the rights and freedoms of others. These liberty-oriented rights are usually called civil and political rights and include freedom of speech and religion, the right to fair trial, and the right to be free from torture and arbitrary arrest. Other rights relate to conditions necessary to meet basic human needs, such as food, shelter, education, health care, and gainful employment are called economic, social and cultural rights.

Civil, cultural, economic, political, and social rights are considered “universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated” (1993 Vienna Declaration and Program of Action, Part I, paragraph 5). When considered together, these rights basically address the human being, whoever they are.In a country like Zimbabwe where the basic needs of individuals are not fulfilled and groups of people are discriminated against, social and economic rights are often of primary concern.

In a fair society, both types of rights are integrally related. People who are denied civil and political rights have no means of protecting the economic, social, and cultural rights that guarantee them their basic needs. Similarly, in a society where basic survival needs are not met, civil and political rights are meaningless if an individual must first be concerned with obtaining adequate food, shelter, and health care.

The interdependence and importance of rights extends to the global level. Violations of social, economic, and cultural rights are responsible for patterns of increased income disparity and economic exploitation. In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Article 16 and Articles 22 through 27 encompass economic, social, and cultural rights:

  • Article 16 of the UDHR sets forth the right to marry, to have free choice in marriage, and to found a family. 
  • Article 22 states “Everyone is entitled to the realization of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity.” 
  • Article 23 articulates the right to work, to choose employment, and to form labor unions. Article 24 sets forth the right to rest and leisure and of reasonable limitation of working hours.
  • Article 25 includes a person’s right to a “standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services.”
  • Article 26 states that individuals have the right to education, free and compulsory at the elementary level, with technical and professional education generally available, and higher education equally accessible on the basis of merit.
  • Article 27 describes the right to freely participate in the cultural life of the community to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancements.
  • Article 28 and 29 include the right to a social and international order that enables these rights to be realized and refers to one’s duties to one’s community.

These rights are further elaborated in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. They are also articulated in specialized human rights treaties such as the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), treaties that focus on the needs of particularly disadvantaged, marginalized, and vulnerable groups of people all over the world.

One can go on citing infinitum and referencing  treaties and historic documents that outline the rights and freedoms that everyone is entitled to, but truth is these are just documents that are not compulsory enforceable; yes, states are meant to adopt them but one can argue that it is just for paperwork purposes. Realistically speaking most queer persons do not even know what economic rights are much less economic justice. How can we claim a fair society when one is discriminated against and ostracised in all spheres of society? How is there economic justice when one cannot even find a job or start a sustainable business because of their SOGIE-SC?

Section 56 of the Constitution protects all persons against different forms of discrimination. The term ‘all persons’ implies that every Zimbabwean citizen is included. However, in realistic sense the government has no care in advancing nor promoting the rights of queer persons. Marginalised communities are not only left out in basic living standards, they are also not considered in any decision-making processes. This often leaves them at the mercy of civic society organisations and – well – that is a story for another day because the one place that one can assume as a safe space is where we find some of the biggest exploiters. It’s like jumping from the proverbial hot pan deep into the furnace. In Zimbabwe the word democracy is merely just a borrowed term, the rich get richer the poor get poorer while the marginalised are erased. The sad thing is most civil society organisations would rather offer donations that leave one dependent on their help indefinitely than empower an individual to gain financial independence, kind of a modern day Oliver Twist situation don’t you think?

 Widespread poverty and concentrated wealth cannot long endure side by side with democracy.-Thomas Jefferson

After all is said and done one can but only recommend a conversation on the global average income as a necessary urgent policy intervention. This should be complemented by robust targeted social protection programs to improve access to healthy and nutritious food (HLPE,2020). For developing countries like Zimbabwe, this should mean adequate emergency food aid to maintain necessary social safety nets and a universal average income that can cushion every citizen and see to it that no one is left behind and SOGIE-SC is not a deciding factor.

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