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Keywords:

  • culture;
  • human rights;
  • relativism;
  • states;
  • universalism;
  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Effective practice in a global world requires knowledge and understanding of diverse cultures. Most social workers around the world are committed to values and policies that enhance the well-being of especially vulnerable populations and that protect their human rights. However, not all cultural practices or policies place the same value on human rights and the protection of vulnerable populations, a situation that may result in conflicts for social workers, who have an ethical obligation to advocate for human rights as well as to be sensitive to their clients' cultural contexts. Based on multidisciplinary research and contemporary examples of gender discrimination, forced marriages, child labor, and female genital mutilation, this article proposes resolutions to this conflict. It concludes by suggesting practices and policies that might help social workers to strike an effective balance between cultural diversity and the promotion of human rights.

Key Practitioner Message: ● Social workers are best placed to understand individuals and communities within their various cultural contexts; ● Social work practice and policy should be sensitive to cultural practices that may undermine human rights and the well-being of vulnerable populations; ● Guided by professional values and ethics, social workers can assume the roles of educator and advocate in enhancing the rights of individuals.