How to Advocate for Women’s Rights?

March in Dhaka (Bangladesh)

On behalf of Dianova, I was recently present at the workshop on advocacy and gender mainstream in the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), organized by the NGO Committee on the Status of Women in NY (NGO CSW New York). This was the first ever event to build capacities on advocacy skills for women’s rights, gender equality, and women’s empowerment in a High Level Political Forum at the UN. In a very interactive session members of civil society organizations, delegates, and other groups exchanged valuable experience to strengthen advocacy efforts for a positive impact on the lives of women and girls globally.

NGO CSW New York

We all started from the same perspective: advancing women’s and girls’ rights and dignity must be mainstreamed into state’s policies and practices. This conception is not gender favoritism or bias, and it is certainly not a form of upside down discrimination. Fact is that worldwide women and girls are amongst the most vulnerable and marginalized within the groups that are most left behind. And it was not until relatively recent that the normalization of their subjugation started to being systematically vocalized.

No women

In the UN context, advocating for the mainstream of women’s rights is particularly in order when 7 of the 17 SDGs failed to include gender-specific provisions under their targets. For instance, although women and girls have been historically omitted in the creation of technological progress, the SDG 9 (Build resilient infrastructure, promote sustainable industrialization and foster innovation) was not successful in addressing this and other gender-related challenges of inclusive industrial development. Likewise, in face of the widely known dramatic effects that conflicts have brought on women, it is surprising that the SDG 16 (Promote just, peaceful and inclusive society) did not cover anything on the matter. Thus, at the UN, but also in the most diverse contexts, advocacy for gender mainstreaming is necessary.

Elementary advocacy tips

There are several forms to perform advocacy activities in international and regional forums in order to impact on gender disparity. Some of them include interventions in official meeting, hosting events, influencing key documents, submitting studies and other documents to high level debates, or meeting directly with states missions’ delegates. The subject can be a structural matter, an issue of accountability, interlinkage factors, discrimination, broader empowerment and participation topics, and others. Whatever the focus is, try to be creative with the chosen methods.

Thus, always have your campaign’s elevator pitch ready in case you have the chance to use it. In these cases, dialoguing can be more effective than fighting and having a good sense of the right timing can be determining. Besides, paying attention to some simple but useful details can be key for a successful approach.

Gender equality symbol

For example, if you can, greet delegates in their home language – you may receive a warmer response. Also, use a direct – but not aggressive – language to introduce your cause, and try to stay on top of the agreed language, terms, definitions and political context surrounding your topic. Stress the partnership backing up your point (other relevant states, major organizations, and distinguished individuals that supports it). If possible, make prior research to find the connection between your cause and the kind of benefits the specific state can obtain by supporting it. In addition, it is useful to know the individual position and motivations of the delegate you are approaching – try to reach those most likely to sympathize with the point you are making. If you see a window of opportunity, don’t hesitate inviting them for a follow up coffee. And the most basic, don’t forget to exchange business cards.

The Women and Girls Human Rights App and the power of language

To facilitate the way for the advancement of international standards on women’s rights, the Switzerland permanent mission to the UN introduced its W’sHR app, a mobile database that provides practical access to international and regional documents, legal basis, and agreed language on the various topics of human rights of women and girls. The ability to easily access consolidated information on such matters and to quickly unlock realities on the palm of the hand can change the course of live negotiation. This feature makes the app a powerful tool for civil society and other stakeholders to create stronger, coherent and more effective arguments in negotiations, advocacy meetings and other relevant forums.

whr-appThe possibility to access these documents and to quickly identify the agreed language by topic is of utmost utility in advocacy efforts. On one hand, this kind of compiled information can be instrumental to push for internal policies and practices currently overlooked by member states. On the other hand, organizations are mindful that states can be very resistant to overstepping in terms and languages that generally take a long time to be agreed in such forums. This way, while in times the fight is also for linguistic advancements, it can be effective to be able to easily demonstrate that your campaign’s language is already pacified in some or many international or regional forums.