By: David Lee
In the 34 years that I have been part of the movement to end violence against women and girls, I have been motivated to do this work by my sense of seeking social justice. It was that way in the beginning when I was a young man seeing work to end domestic and sexual violence as key components of building a world without violence. Today, as a Move to End Violence Movement Maker I remain connected to this movement a part of a broad spectrum of activists committed toward eradicating racism and other oppressions.
In the years since I started in the movement and today, I have also been trained professionally in the field of public health. While we often hear about public health concepts such as “evidence based practice,” “surveillance,” and “data-driven,” my passion for public health is also driven by social justice.
Several years ago I developed an eLearning unit titled Putting Social Justice at the Heart of Public Health where reference Dan Beauchamp’s important essay Public Health as Social Justice. What I love about public health is that it provides tools we can use to develop community-centered approach to promote social justice. We can use epidemiology and surveillance studies as tools to support our work.
The recent example of environmental racism in the lead poisoning of the Flint Michigan water supply demonstrates how public health tools are critical tools for social justice. Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha conducted a study that found the proportion of children under five in Flint with elevated lead levels in their blood nearly doubled following a switch of water supply in Flint. Dr. Hanna-Attisha contributed using the tools of science. But the ultimate solution to this problem is not one of science, but of social justice. We must address the systematic racism that permits a disaster such as the poisoning to take place in the first place.
Public health concepts such as the social ecological model or the Health Impact Pyramid illustrate that we need to make bold systematic changes to have the greatest impact. For example the Health Impact Model suggests changing socioeconomic factors are the way to have the great impact on the population.
This is most apparent in our work to end domestic and sexual violence. We need to change the cultural and societal factors that permit violence against women and girls to take place in the first place. The tools of science of public health are only tools – we have to find ways to use them driven by our commitment to build healthy safe communities. Our efforts to promote social justice work is a key foundation to the work address poverty, racism, and gender inequity which underlie the problems our society faces from chronic disease to sexual violence.