Social Sustainability

This blog post is a part of our series on Visual Diaries. In this course, we teach you how to develop your own artistic style and voice. One of the vital stepping stones is to find a topic you are passionate about and feel eager to change or resolve it. We have identified 7 Major Global Issues with lots of subcategories to get you started. The 7 main categories are:

  1. Polarization
  2. Environmental Sustainability
  3. Social Sustainability
  4. Economic Sustainability
  5. Fringes and Frontiers
  6. Safety and Security
  7. Freedom

Please bear in mind that these topics overlap, interject and fuse together. Some can even be condensed more. But for the sake of our videos, I have finally decided to stick to these 7.

This blog post focuses on topic number three Social Sustainability. The purpose is to create awareness, pique your interest and make you attentive to the specific situations causing this global issue. We want you to become passionate, angry and excited about the topic you choose.

Introduction to Social Sustainability

Sustainability is a societal goal that broadly aims for humans to safely co-exist on planet Earth over a long time. 

Social sustainability focusses on human welfare. Its all about people. Ask yourself “How well is a community doing?” “Is it sustainable?” “Can it keep going like this forever?”

For all of us to live in peace we need to acknowledge each other’s diversity. We are all born with characteristics that we cannot change, even if we wanted to. These include race, age, National Origin, Ethnicity, Culture, Gender, Sexual Appearance, Physical Ability and Mental Ability. We need to acknowledge these differences and celebrate our diversity. Its all about valuing our differences and not fighting about them. It’s vital to educating everyone to have diverse viewpoints so that we can leverage the benefits of diversity.

Social sustainability also encompasses Equality and strives to reduce systemic disadvantages of certain groups of people. It also considers social cohesion. Here we need to ask ourselves “Does society make sense as a hole?” “Are we all working together to make society better?” “Do we all have a say in how society is managed?” It looks at quality of life and people’s living standards. For example affordable housing, medical support, access to education, employment oppertunities, access to support and of course safety and security. It also includes freedom of speech and ensures people are not afraid to speak up and be heard.

In short Social Sustainability are social systems to ensure that society is working. It asks “Is it equitable, diverse with quality of life and above all socially cohesive?” It reminds us that we are all connected. We don’t thrive when society struggles.  Unequal societies dampen long-term economic growth. We need to improve life for all people, regardless of different income, gender cultures, ages and professions. Social Sustainability promotes integration, inclusion and solidarity.

We can break Social Sustainability into five dimensions: 

  1. Quality of life
  2. Equality
  3. Diversity
  4. Social Cohesion
  5. Democracy & Governance
  1. Quality of Life 

Quality of life refers to the things that affect our living standards. For example affordable housing, medical support, access to education, employment oppertunities, access to support and of course safety and security.

2. Equality 

Equality is when we strive to reduce systemic disadvantages of certain groups of people. 

3. Diversity 

Diversity is seeing the needs of various types of people.Types of diversity include, race, age, National Origin, Ethnicity, Culture, Gender, Sexual Appearance, Physical Ability and Mental Ability. All of the above internal diversity factors are something you are born with, that you can’t change even if you want to. It is important to educating everyone to have diverse viewpoints to leverage benefits of diversity. Celebrating diversity. People have characteristics that they cannot change. Its about valuing those differences.

4. Social Cohesion

Social Cohesion means increasing participation by individual in a target group, as well as helping target groups to access public and civic institutions. One important factor is to build links between different target groups in a broader way by encouraging target groups to contribute to society as well.

5. Democracy & Governance

Governance is to make sure budget and resources are adequate to sustain sustainability programs and the ability to measure it.

Recent Events to go and research

Black lives matter movement promoting social sustainability

Black lives matter movement

Black Lives Matter is a political and social movement that aims to highlight racial discrimination and inequality. Black Lives Matter was confounded in 2013 as an online movement. This movement gained popularity in 2020 after George Floyd an unarmed Black man, was killed by a white Minneapolis police officer. The video circulated causing widespread protests across the United States and Globe

Protests against GBV in Cape Town

In August 2020 organisations against Gender-based Violence protested against the murder of countless cisgender and LGBTQIA+ girls and women across South Africa. The protest took place outside Cape Town Parliament in an attempt to highlight female plights in South Africa and address critical rights issues.

Blue Lives Matter 

Blue Lives Matter also known as Police Lives Matter is a movement in the United States that advocates for Police rights and that individuals convicted of killing law enforcement officers should be sentenced under hate crime statutes. The movement also aims to help law enforcement officials and raise awareness of their role and importance in society. This movement has been heavily criticised for minimising the issue of Police violence toward Black people.

Buffalo Shooting

The Buffalo shooting refers to an attack on Black shoppers at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York. 10 Black shoppers were shot by an 18-year-old white man.  Authorities say he was engaged in racially motivated violent extremism.

Fees must fall. lack of economic sustainability

Fees must fall movement in South Africa

Fees must fall was a student-led protest that began in 2015. The goal of the movement was to increase government funding to universities.

Uvalde school shooting

This refers to the incident where a Gunman killed nineteen children and two teachers using an AR-15-style rifle at an elementary school in Texas.

Equal Pay for men and women

Equal pay means that women and men have the right to receive equal remuneration for work of equal value. This means when women and men work the same or similar jobs they both get paid the same. Equal pay is recognised as a human right to which all men and women are entitled. This aims to fix the Pay gap.

Roe V. Wade

Roe V. Wade was when the United States supreme court ruled that the Constitution of the United States conferred the right to have an abortion. In 2022 the U.S constitutional court overturned this ruling.

Vocabulary to understand

Human Rights

Human rights are the basic rights and freedoms that belong to every person in the world, from birth until death. They apply regardless of where you are from, what you believe or how you choose to live your life. They can never be taken away, although they can sometimes be restricted – for example if a person breaks the law, or in the interests of national security.


The unfair and unjust treatment of an individual or group based on their age, race, sex, disibility, religion etc.


Racism refers to discrimatory and unfair treatment of an individual or community based on the prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism by an individual, community, or institution against a person or people on the basis of their ethnicity or racial group. These are usually minority and marginalised groups.

Female Rights

These are the rights that all females are entitled to worldwide. This ensures that women are treated equally to men.


The practice or quality of including or involving people from a range of different social and ethnic backgrounds and of different genders, sexual orientations, etc.


When a person actively searching for a job and employment is unemployed.

Insufficient wages

Monthly income and wages are not enough to sustain living, travel and food costs.

Government accountability

Holding the government accountable for their actions and decisions so that there are reputations and ultimately change. All decision-makers, collective and individual, take responsibility for their decisions. Decisions are reported on, explained and can be sanctioned.


Corruption is a form of dishonesty or a criminal offence that is undertaken by a person or an organization that is entrusted with a position of authority, in order to acquire illicit benefits or abuse power for one’s personal gain.

Unequal Access to Education

The unequal distribution of academic resources, like funding, qualified teachers, books, and technologies to socially excluded communities. These communities tend to be historically disadvantaged and oppressed. Individuals belonging to these marginalized groups are often denied access to schools with adequate resources.

Social Mobility

This refers to the travel and movement of individuals, families, households, or other categories of people within or between social strata in a society.

Access to public health

This refers to being able to access medical help, hospitalisation and medications from the public sector. It is a basic human right to have access to healthcare.

Wealth Inequality

Income Inequality is associated with more violence, drug abuse, and incarceration. Income inequalities also dilute political equality since the rich have more say in what policies move forward. The rich have an incentive to promote policies that benefit the rich.

Welfare for all

Welfare is a kind of government support used to make sure members of society can meet their basic human needs. This includes housing, food stamps and basic healthcare and education.


This refers to an agreement to help the third world and growing countries achieve sustainable trade. This means workers have rights, safer working conditions and better pay.

Distribution of wealth

Wealth Gap

Large disparities between the rich and poor

The trickle-down effect / Trickle Down Economics

Trickle-down economies rely on benefits and profit from the rich should benefit everyone in society. Business owners etc. drive growth in the economy

Pay Day Loan Companies

Companies that offer short-term loans with high-interest payback rates.

Casinos & Lottos – exploiting the poor and making them poorer.


When there is only one company hiring, and workers are relatively immobile. When you’re the only employer, workers have to take what you offer, or they’re out of luck.

The income of sports superstars and CEOs is out of sync with other wages and salaries.

Videos to watch

Further Recommended Research

Basic Rights healthcare booklet

Article on Amnesty international: South Africa: Broken and unequal education perpetuating poverty and inequality

Topic Hereos to watch out for

Nelson Mandela

Mandela was a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary and political leader.  Mandela was South Africa’s first black head of state and the first elected in a fully representative 
democratic election. He focused on dismantling the legacy and brutality of apartheid and focused on addressing racism and fostering reconciliation amongst the citizens of South Africa.

Martin Luther King

He was a black Minister and activist, he became a visible leader for the civil rights movement in the U.S. He is one of the youngest black men to ever receive a Nobel Peace Prize. His I have a dream speech is one of the most famous activist speeches of all time.

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey is a famous Talk show host and philanthropist. Oprah’s show and philosophies focus on self-improvement and mindfulness. In 1998 Oprah founded Oprah’s Angel Network a charity organisation that provides grants to non-profit organisations globally. She also created the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for girls which is a boarding school in South Africa. This school provides educational and leadership opportunities to girls from impoverished backgrounds.

Barack Obama

In 2008 Obama was the first African American to ever hold office. Obama fought for LGBT rights and same-sex marriage, he helped with the American Recovery and Reinvestment act of 2009 in order to help the U.S to recover from the recession. Barack and his wife of the founders of the Obama Foundation which promotes a variety of programmes to help the previously disadvantaged. Obama is also an environmental advocate

Michelle Obama

Michelle is the previous First Lady of the United States, she was the first African- American lady to serve in this position. She is an advocate for poverty awareness, education and nutrition. She is also a supporter of LGBT rights and same-sex marriage. She is the founder of the Girls Opportunity Alliance.

Hillary Clinton

Clinton is a political leader and worked for equal pay for women, increased maternity leave and obligatory paternity leave.

Malala Yousafzai

Yousafzai is a Pakistani activist for female rights and education. Yousafzai first grabbed the attention of the public in 2008 when she wrote a BBC diary about life as a female under the Taliban. When she was 15 she was shot during a campaign to increase girls schooling in Pakistan. Since she has been an advocate for female education and has founded the Malala Fund, she was also awarded a Nobel Peace Prize.

Artists that already addresses this topic

1. Penny Siopis

Siopis is a contemporary South African artist who deals with gender inequality and abuse within the context of post-apartheid South Africa. Her work often draws attention to the violence against women and children.

2. Paul Weinburg

Weinburg is a South African photographer, best known for the photographs he took documenting the brutality of the Apartheid Regime and protests.

3. Mary Sibande

Sibande is a contemporary South African artist. Her sculptures and installations make use of her alter ego and character ‘Sophie’ in honour of her grandmother who was a domestic worker. Sibande creates figures adorned in dresses reminiscent of domestic workers’ overalls, but only much more grand and regal. Through these visual metaphors, she calls to attention inequality but also highlights hope for a better and alternative future.

4.Nikkolas Smith

Nikkolas Smith is an illustrator whose work highlights racial injustices, specifically focusing on the Black Lives Matter movement. He aims to use his art as a tool to inspire positive change in the world.

5. Zanele Muholi

Renowned South African artist Muholi is an activist photographer. Muholi documents the lives of black queer, black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in various townships in South Africa. Her work draws attention to the violence and discrimanation experienced by these minorities

Possible Solutions for racism and discrimination?

  • Educate people about diversity
  • Create Social Systems and Programs that are inclusive.
  • Create an environment of acceptance and celebration
  • Introduce as much cultural diversity as possible into the school curriculum.
  •  If and when there is conflict, deal with it; do not dismiss it. 
  • Identify Minority Groups and their needs.
  • Respect other cultures
  • Preserve, develop and appreciate different cultures.

Wherever we see racism, we must condemn it without reservation, without hesitation, without qualification.”

ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, United Nations Secretary-General, 2021

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