Human Rights, Collaborative Advocacy, and a Global Approach to Practice: Lessons from a Field Experience in Indonesia

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The concept of human rights is often referenced within social justice initiatives, social work practice, and advocacy campaigns. However, human rights as a foundational concept can have differing meanings, understandings, and vary in how it might be applied across social movements, organizations, nations, and cultures. In social work, there is more work to do in adopting a nuanced and critical approach to human rights that can hold these tensions between universalism and relativism. Using the first author’s international social work field placement experience, this article addresses these complexities that surround understanding human rights in context and how a perspective that embraces this nuanced approach can facilitate and inform a social work approach to collaborative advocacy and practice. We also discuss the importance of cultivating a more open and decolonized understanding of social work practice during the learning process in order to prepare students to practice internationally. Fundamental to this approach of collaborative advocacy and practice is a mutual exchange of knowledge, resources, and experience. The preparation process for international internships must create space for not only incorporating a human rights framework but also for discussions of nuanced ways in which the universality of human rights is carried out within the peculiarity of local contexts.

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Journal of Human Rights and Social Work