Social work is a professional area of practice which applies knowledge, skills, research techniques and social theory to improve the lives of individuals, communities and groups.
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Social work is considered as a helping profession because it is majorly concerned with the plight of people who are in difficult situations with an aim of helping them overcome those difficulties.
Social workers work in diverse fields both in the private and public sectors such as in rehabilitation centers, child welfare institutions, humanitarian organizations, borstal institutions and homes of the elderly among others (Hare, 2004).
Social workers go through the formal education system with a special bias in the social, biological and behavioral sciences.
During training, they are exposed to field practicum in which they get an opportunity to work with various organizations where they merge theory with practice (Healy, 2008).
Just like other professions such as law or medicine, social work is guided by values, ethics and codes of conduct. Some of the values include competence, integrity, professionalism, social justice and value for human dignity.
Some of the core principles include confidentiality, controlled emotional involvement and client self determination among others. Some of the skills include self awareness, observation and critical thinking (Healy, 2007).
In this paper, I will explore social work practice by looking at oppression of women by men. I will also look into the knowledge, values and skills which are associated with culturally sensitive practice with diverse populations.
Eventually I will engage in a self-awareness exercise by self-administering a value-based assessment and cultural competency inventory; and finally engage in a thoughtful analysis and discussion of my strengths and weaknesses as they pertain to my cultural competency and how I plan to improve on the weaknesses.
Gender and oppression of women
Gender refers to the roles associated with a particular sex, either male or female. Males and females are born with physical and biological differences. Some physical differences include height, appearance, weight and physical strength.
Biological differences may include sexual reproduction organs and hormonal processes. These differences between males and females have been misused to oppress women in several aspects of life like in education, career, power, leadership, employment and management (Connel, 2009).
In the field of management for example, women have been oppressed by men through various ways. For example, the issues of masculinity and femininity have played a role in gendering the field of management (Crosby, Stockdale, & Ropp, 2007).
Many organizations are guided by the principles of masculinity which do not have respect for women. In these organizations, the authority of women managers is not respected as the authority of men managers.
This leads to a situation whereby the leadership or management by a woman may not be as effective as that of a man because the employees in those organizations do not recognize women as a source of authority and therefore, any guidelines, instructions or regulations given by a woman manager may not be taken seriously by the employees (Hartl, 2003).
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In many organizations, women do light jobs such as secretarial work or marketing. The central roles are dominated by men who are responsible for planning, policy making and moving the organizations towards the realization of their mission and vision (Rivas, 2013).
Many professional women or the “working mothers” are faced with role multiplicity. At home, they are supposed to be good mothers and wives. They are supposed to ensure that the children are well fed, are healthy and clean (Gregory, 2003).
They are also supposed to take good care of their husbands. At the work place, they are supposed to produce good results either as managers or as normal employees. This makes them fall short of what is expected of them at the work place.
The men on the other hand have very few roles to play at home which leaves them with a lot of time to concentrate on their roles in the work place. Due to this, they are able to meet the set targets or expectations of the organizations (Mason, 2002).
For the women, reproduction is part of labor which they are not compensated for yet if they do not reproduce children, there would be no human resources to work in the organizations.
Women have also been oppressed through promotions in organizations. Some women have to engage in sex with male directors so as to get promoted to the positions of managers.
In the work place, women may be sexually or physically abused by their bosses due to the fact that they are perceived as being inferior and not able to resist the harassment or abuse (Coin & Budapest, 2010).
In some communities especially in the African continent, girls are denied the opportunity to gain education with the belief that women’s role in the society is to give birth to as many children as possible and also entertain the men with sex.
In Kenya for example, the enrollment rates for girls in some communities like the Turkana is less than 10%, meaning that in every 100 girls of school going age, only 10 go to school.
The others are betrothed to elderly men as wives after undergoing female genital cut. This has made women lack leadership, political and technological skills (Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, 2011).
In the developing countries mostly in Africa and Asia, poverty is very rampant. The economies are poorly managed and therefore there are few job opportunities. Many people depend on rain fed agriculture which is not sustainable due to lack of rainfall.
In these countries, most men flee their homes to search for jobs and leave their wives at home with young children. These women are not able to take care of the welfare of the children and they strain a lot to ensure that the children are fed, clothed and schooled.
Some women are forced to engage in prostitution as a source of income for their families. The women in these countries suffer silently because there are very few women in positions of power and leadership who can advocate for their rights.
Women have also been oppressed through being denied the opportunity to inherit property. In the developing countries especially in Africa, women are not supposed to inherit any property from their parents.
Among the Turkana of Kenya for example, if a wife does not give birth to a male child, the husband marries another wife who will give birth to a male child. It is this male child who will inherit all the properties of the parents when they die or when they grow old.
The reasoning behind this is that women are not supposed to own any property but are instead supposed to be owned as property by men.
Since 1974, some improvement has been realized in increasing the number of women in management positions. In the UK for example, the percentage of women who held management positions in 1974 was only 2%. In 2008, the percentage rose to 34.5% (Meulders, 2010).
In other parts of the world, women are almost at par with men in various aspects such as leadership, education and technical know how.
This is not however to say that oppression of women does not exist but what it means is that many people are slowly realizing that women are just like men and what men can do, women can also do it provided that the playing field is leveled.
Effects of women oppression
One of the effects of women oppression in the work place is that it leads to role conflict which eventually leads to stress.
Role conflict refers to a form of disagreement among the roles held by one individual; that is, roles which correspond to various statuses of the same individual. Role conflict pulls an individual in different directions at the same time. It may be short lived or long lived.
A good example to illustrate role conflict is by a working mother. As explained earlier, the mother is expected to deliver good results at the work place and also be a good wife at home through taking care of the children, husband and doing other domestic chores.
At the family level, women are oppressed through various ways such as wife battering, marital rape, female genital cut, being denied opportunity to gain education and inherit property, men running away from home among others.
Domestic violence is the most common form of women oppression at the family level especially in the developing countries. Domestic violence has traumatizing effects on women. Such women need advocacy, empowerment and counseling for them to heal.
There is also need for social workers to agitate for policy change to enable women get education and inherit property. Social workers should also educate the communities to avoid cultural practices which have been used to oppress women.
Social work knowledge
Social workers working with culturally sensitive and diverse populations need to have social work knowledge in specific areas. One of the areas of social work knowledge is the knowledge of human behavior.
Having knowledge of human behavior helps the social workers understand the cultures, values and norms of specific communities.
This in turn helps the social workers package their intervention in such a manner that it does not conflict with the cultural practices, beliefs and norms of the particular communities.
Such knowledge also helps the social workers to understand the cultural prejudices in various communities. This understanding of the cultural prejudices enables the social workers to help the people differentiate the facts and fictions in regard to certain prejudices.
For example, in a community which believes that women are not allowed to go to school, the social workers can help the people understand that women in other parts of the world are allowed to attain eduction and challenge them to change that kind of perception.
Another social work knowledge which is useful for social workers working with culturally sensitive and diverse populations is the knowledge of social justice. Social workers need to have an understanding of social justice so as to help people in communities who suffer social injustice.
The social workers should also educate the people about the concept and show them the importance of embracing social justice.
Social workers working with culturally sensitive and diverse populations also need social work knowledge about the code of conduct for social workers and the ethics which govern the profession of social work.
This knowledge can help the social workers avoid unprofessional conduct which might conflict with certain values, norms and practices of particular groups.
Social workers working with such populations also need an understanding of human rights.
For example, they need to understand the various international laws, treaties and conventions which stipulate various human rights for different categories of people such as employees, children and women among others.
This understanding can help the social workers educate the populations for them to know when their rights are violated and what they are supposed to do. However, the social workers must do it in a professional manner so that they are not accused of incitement.
Social work values
One of the values for social workers working with culturally sensitive and diverse communities is the value of service to humanity.
This value is very important for the social workers because it enables them to serve the populations irrespective of their cultural, religious, economic and historical orientations.
Social workers without this value may have difficult time and in some cases, they may find it almost impossible to work with some cultural groups.
The value of service to humanity also enables the social workers to appreciate and empathize with the populations without necessarily sympathizing with them.
Another value which is important for social workers working with culturally sensitive and diverse populations is the value of human dignity. Social workers must understand that they have an obligation of respecting the clients and their cultural practices.
They have to put aside their personal biases against a certain group for them to help the clients. Some times social workers may consider some practices as weird.
However, with the value of human dignity, they are able to acknowledge the fact that clients have a right of self determination. When they understand this, they are able to assist the clients without any obstacles.
Social workers also need to have the value of competence and integrity. They need to apply their knowledge, skills and techniques in a professional manner when dealing with clients.
The essence of this is that competence and integrity enable the social workers to avoid any questionable behavior or practice. It also enhances the trust and confidence of the clients in the social workers.
This also enables the clients to open up to the social workers and give as much information as possible. With the information and cooperation from the clients, the social workers are able to solve the problems affecting the clients or refer those which they cannot handle.
This enhances the acceptance of the social workers by the communities (Morreau & Benson, 2012).
Social work skills
One important skill which social workers working with culturally sensitive and diverse populations should have is the skill of observation. Observation has to do with going beyond what people say and focusing on their body language and reaction to some social situations.
The skill also has to do with doing more listening than talking. This is because the social workers are supposed to treat the clients as the best teachers of their own problems.
If the social workers do more listening and observing than talking, they are able to gather as much information as possible which is very crucial for the interventions.
Another skill for dealing with culturally sensitive and diverse populations is the skill of critical thinking. This has to do with how social workers interpret the information they gather from clients either through interviewing, listening, observing or reading.
The social workers should apply critical thinking in order to interpret the information correctly. Lack of critical thinking may lead to wrong diagnosis, treatment and intervention. The social workers should therefore understand the information correctly without any personal biases
Another skill which is important when working with culturally sensitive and diverse populations is the skill of self awareness. Social workers need to understand how their background, perceptions, biases, motivations and prejudices may affect their relationship with clients.
If social workers have low levels of self awareness, chances of acting improperly are increased. It is therefore very important that the social workers put aside any subjective reasoning and replace it with objectivity for them to be able to effectively assist the clients.
The skill of self awareness also helps the social workers to identify transference in clients. Transference is a situation in which clients associate their fate with the social workers.
For example, a female client whose husband is violent may easily confuse a male social worker for her husband; she may do this through making statements such as ‘you men are really bad’.
In such a situation, the social worker is supposed to counter the transference by helping the client understand that his role is to help her out of the problem and not to take the blame of others (Tsui, 2010).
Social workers working with culturally sensitive and diverse populations also need to have excellent verbal communication skills. This is because communication is the only way that the social workers can use to understand the clients and for the clients to understand the social workers.
They must be able to understand how to communicate with different groups at different times. For example, the way a social worker is supposed to talk to an elderly refugee woman is not the same way he or she can talk to a young child who is a school drop out.
Verbal communication is an important asset for social workers working with culturally sensitive and diverse populations because it enables them to effectively advocate for the clients especially those who are oppressed or marginalized.
The skill can enable social workers to influence policy change or development for the improvement of people’s welfare. Apart from verbal communication, social workers need to have the skill of documentation.
Proper documentation enables social workers to keep track of every aspect of their interventions and this becomes an asset for them when they want to influence the development or change of a certain social policy.
Cultural competency inventory
My total score for the value based assessment and cultural competency inventory is 75. What this means is that I am headed in the right direction as far as embracing cultural diversity is concerned.
I would have wished to score 80 and above but this is not the case, probably because I am yet to cover some topics in therapeutic approaches and the relationship between myself as a therapist and clients.
My strengths and weaknesses in cultural competency
Based on my value based assessment and cultural competency, there are the areas which I scored poorly and others which I scored well. Those which I scored well are my areas of strength while those which I scored poorly are my areas of weakness.
One of my strengths in cultural competency is that I like meeting new people especially those who are different from me in terms of race, gender and culture. Being a Russian lady for instance, I like associating myself with African or Asian men.
I also love and embrace the culture of non whites such as the African Americans and Asian Americans. Another area of strength is the fact that I understand that I am independent and do appreciate the views of other people even if those views are in contrary to my own views.
I am able to control my personal biases when interpreting the actions of those who are different from me. I also appreciate various communication methods used by various groups of people.
Similarly, I am able to understand that other people may stereotype against me and therefore I am able to work against those stereotypes in order to interact with such people in a harmonious manner.
I am also good in sorting out my values to know which one to compromise in order to communicate with others without losing my integrity as a social worker. I am also able to seek clarifications from people in regards to what they are saying so as to get the correct meaning of what they say.
I like and accept others they way they are and avoid any remarks which may hurt certain groups in the community such as women, the people of color or those who are less fortunate in the society.
One of my main weaknesses is that I do more talking than listening. This is because sometimes I listen as I talk. This is not good because I may not be able to capture what the other person is saying. I may also not be in a position to observe the body language of others which is also part of listening.
Sometimes I also use my cultural jargon or slag when talking to people from other cultural backgrounds. This is a weakness because others may mistaken my language jargon as lack of respect for them.
I am also weak in judging people based on the fluency of their languages. This is a weakness because it amounts to biases which may lead to wrong interpretation of messages by those who are from other cultural backgrounds.
Sometimes I use some ethnic jokes when referring to some groups of people who are from different ethnic backgrounds but I get offended when others use the same language on me. This is a weakness because some ethnic jokes may hurt or provoke some people.
I plan to improve my areas of weakness by doing further reading on the area of human behavior. I also plan to gain more knowledge in interpersonal skills and how to gain and apply them in various cultural settings.
Also in my plan is to learn how to appreciate others and how to avoid judgmental attitudes towards particular populations. I also need to check on my listening skills by learning the art of doing more listening than talking.
This is because doing so would boost by ability to get as much information as possible from others and especially from clients.
My conceptual framework for practice
My future conceptual framework as a social worker is the strength based perspective of social work practice. This perspective has to do with using people’s strengths as a basis of therapy.
The perspective aims to capitalize on the strengths of clients (individuals and groups) to form a strong foundation for therapy.
It is based on the belief that despite the fact that people have problems, there is something which they are good at or they have some useful information, history or practices which can be used to overcome the problems which they are faced with.
It is also based on the belief that empowering people with information is useful for successful therapy (Rapp, 2007).
Implications of the perspective to practice
One of the implications of the strengths based perspective to practice is that it has reversed roles between the therapists and the clients. What this means is that the therapists must restrain their expertise and make the clients be the experts in solving their problems.
The therapists are supposed to play the role of empowering the people to become experts in addressing the problems which face them.
In other words, the therapists’ role is to create a sustainable intervention such that the clients are able to handle their problems even without the assistance of the therapists.
Social workers using this perspective must therefore refrain from using stigmatizing language, having negative perceptions and labeling when dealing with clients.
This is because such negative language or perceptions interferes with the ability of the social workers to effectively capacity build and empower the clients (Rapp, 2007).
When capacity building and empowering clients, social workers must be realistic; that is, they must ensure that the clients actually have those strengths which can be used as a starting point for a sustainable intervention.
They must also consider the magnitude of the problem affecting the clients and evaluate the clients’ ability to effectively handle the problem when empowered (Rapp, 2007).
Oppressed women usually suffer from stigma and feelings of inadequacy. They also undergo through emotional, psychological and social distress due to oppression.
As a social worker working with oppressed women, I will apply the strengths based perspective to empower such women with information so as to resist oppression by men. For instance, I will educate them about their rights to education, employment and fair treatment.
I will also highlight their areas of strength when dealing with men. For example, the fact that women are very good in negotiations, have patience and do not easily lose their temper can be used by a woman who is a victim of domestic violence to talk to the husband to avoid such violence.
I will also empower the oppressed women with information, skills and tactics of resisting male oppression both at the family setting and at the work place.
For example, I will inform them of the relevant agencies where they can report any form of oppression without the fear of victimization. Through this perspective, I will go a long way in fighting the vice of women oppression.
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