Is Charity the Same as Solidarity?

October 2, 2019
Do you know the difference between solidarity and charity? In this article, we'll explore what each term means and how they're relevant today.

The increasing gap between the rich and the poor in modern society means that a significant portion of the population has to survive on very limited resources. Day after day, we see images in the media of the terrible things that are happening to our fellow humans all over the world. In this context, concepts such as charity and solidarity become especially relevant.

To what point are you responsible for the lives and fates of other people? We live in a world where solidarity is becoming more and more important. Little by little, people are gaining awareness about what’s happening in the world around them. That’s why we want to dedicate today’s article to solidarity and social justice.

Background information

The system of social action that we have today has evolved a lot throughout the years, changing from one model to another. According to Picornell, M.A. (2013) the models are:

  • Charity
  • Social services
  • Welfare
  • Social aid
  • Social security

At first, the state wasn’t responsible for the protection of its citizens. Any kind of social assistance for those in need was provided through charity. Over time, the idea has evolved quite radically. Today, the state is responsible for providing social services to ensure the well-being of its citizens.

In the past, charity involved giving spare change or food, caring for orphans, and helping people in hospitals, among other things. Private citizens and charities organized these types of services. People believed that poverty was either legitimate (due to illness or the loss of parents) or illegitimate (due to vices or laziness).

“Charity is humiliating because it’s exercised vertically and from the top. Solidarity is horizontal and involves mutual respect.”

-Eduardo Galeano-

Charity, solidarity, and social justice

The concept of charity, according to Giraldo and Ruiz-Silva (2015), is linked to the idea of handouts. It has nothing to do with justice or equality, nor does it empower those on the receiving end. Instead, the person helping is the one who feels satisfied. However, it’s important to remember that governments are ultimately responsible for protecting their citizens.

On the other hand, although solidarity is often associated with philanthropy, charity, altruism, and fraternity between human beings (Vargas-Machuca, 2005, cited in Giraldo and Ruiz-Silva, 2015), it’s quite different from the above definition.

Solidarity is the human response to the contradictions of the present day (Barcena, 2006). Solidarity encompasses everything from temporary aid to a daily and constant effort to relieve human suffering and fight for justice.

Blue stick people lined up along a blue background.

The struggle for social justice

Last but not least, the term social justice comes from the sense of inequality that exists in the world and the need to build a better society.

Today, the concept of “social justice” is complex and dynamic. For the UN, social justice is a fundamental principle for peaceful and prosperous coexistence, within and between countries. The struggle for universal social justice represents the heart of the UN’s mission to promote development and human dignity.

The world is in a state of continuous change. Consequently, it’s crucial to adopt positions that promote equality and justice. Not to temporarily fix a difficult situation but to provide people with the tools and resources they need to improve their lives.

In conclusion, social justice should be a dynamic project that we never truly complete or finish (Griffiths, 2003). We should be constantly striving to build a better world for everyone.

  • Amengual, G. (1993). La solidaridad como alternativa: notas sobre el concepto de solidaridad.
  • Giraldo, Y. N., & Ruiz-Silva, A. (2015). La comprensión de la solidaridad. Análisis de estudios empíricos. Revista Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales, Niñez y Juventud13(2), 609-625.
  • Picornell, Antonia. Historia y marco constitucional de los Servicios Sociales. Universidad de Salamanca. Salamanca. 2013
  • Torrecilla, F. J. M., & Castilla, R. H. (2011). Hacia un concepto de justicia social. REICE. Revista Iberoamericana sobre Calidad, Eficacia y Cambio en Educación9(4), 7-23.