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Women advocatingAdvocacy

Advocacy is one method that many citizens use to challenge economic structures. Advocacy is a set of deliberate actions in support of a cause. For example, an anti-poverty advocate may work towards improving life for poor people in her province through improved public housing, higher minimum wage, and increased social assistance rates. A human rights advocate may work with a First Nations community arguing for adequate compensation for natural resources taken from the Nation's land (oil, lumber, hydro-electricity).

Advocacy is usually a long-term process; some advocates wait years and even decades before they see change. Advocacy isn't always successful - sometimes the problems get a lot worse before they get better - but sustained advocacy on a particular issue often leads to significant changes. The Friends of the Lubicon, a tiny group of people advocating for the rights of the Lubicon Cree people of Northern Alberta, have been able to stop the logging on Lubicon land for nearly a decade!

Besides bringing about important change, advocacy also enables citizens to feel that they have a voice. Advocacy empowers people, educates them, and if they are advocating on their own behalf, allows them to play a part in determining their own future rather than feeling like pawns in a game controlled by others. Advocacy is not only our responsibility, as citizens, it is our right.

So how can you become an advocate? Here is one 8-step checklist to effective advocacy:

  1. Identify the problem
    The first step to advocacy is to identify the problem that you would like to address. While you may be concerned about the effects of economic globalization on the world's most vulnerable people, it may be most effective to choose a particular campaign on which to focus your efforts, for example the No Sweat campaign against sweatshops. Identifying a problem must be done in constant consultation with the groups affected by the problem ensuring that advocates clearly understand the issue and potential risks involved in resolving the conflict.

  2. Analyze
    Once you have identified a problem, spend time developing a clear analysis of it. Find out about the current situation - do laws already exist that protect people whose rights are being violated? What is the exact nature of the problem? Where are there opportunities for remedies? In analyzing the grave effects that cuts to social services were having on people in her province, human rights defender Josephine Grey discovered a UN Convention that protects people's economic human rights. Jo was able to use this convention to publicly embarrass Canada for its treatment of poor people. Jo spent several years doing research on the exact nature and effects of the government cuts so she was well prepared when the time came to face international officials in Geneva.

  3. Strategize
    The third step to good advocacy is strategizing. This likely means picking specific campaigns that will support your overall goals. One Winnipeg coalition focused their antipoverty efforts on urging the Manitoba government to raise social assistance benefits so that a telephone was included as a basic right. They picked a time period and wrote sample letters asking groups to write their own letters during the specified period. Strategizing also involves considering long, medium, and short-term goals, choosing campaign partners, and developing a time-frame.

  4. Mobilize
    Mobilizing support for your campaign is the fourth step to advocacy and marks the transition from idea to action. Mobilizing involves soliciting clear commitments of human and financial resources from all partner organizations and people involved. One organization may offer office space and the use of a computer. Another may provide $1000 towards the cause. An individual may offer to work two mornings a week answering e-mail and responding to phone calls. Someone else may volunteer to chair the meetings or be the secretary or treasurer. Write down all the commitments you do have and note what is still needed. Keep asking until you have all the resources you think you will need to proceed.

  5. Group of women getting educated on advocayEducate
    Once you have mobilized all parties, it is time to start educating the public. Every advocacy initiative is an opportunity to reach out to new people and get them involved. The Child Care Coalition of Manitoba has used several different strategies to educate the public and to facilitate public input into government policy-making. Their postcard campaign provided citizens with an easy way to contact political leaders asking them to make changes. During the campaign they also organized press conferences to educate the media and public debates to get citizens and politicians talking together. Once citizens were educated on the issues, they were more inclined to contact their elected representatives themselves.

  6. Organize
    If your publicity campaign has been successful, people who have the power to bring about change will have heard about your group and its wishes. It is at this point that you organize direct contact with these community and government leaders to discuss their openness to considering your demands. This is called lobbying. Meeting with government likely means meeting both with elected representatives as well as government bureaucrats who will be the ones who will actually implement any change in legislation - it is important that you advocate for change from both the bottom and the top and get all levels on board. While some of your suggestions may be implemented soon, others may get ignored or left behind. You may have return to Step 5 and reeducate the public on the work that remains.

  7. Evaluate
    If you have a good time-line set out, you will eventually come to the point of evaluation. You never know about the success of your campaign - change might happen sooner than you ever thought possible. On the other hand, it might take longer than you ever imagined. Whatever the success of your campaign, it is important to step back and evaluate your advocacy effort. Compare your results with your original objectives. Identify the things you did right and note the places where you could have done things better. Judge your success both in terms of actual legislated changes but also in public knowledge of the issue - is the general public more aware of the problems? Take note also of the effects on the people who have been involved in the effort - have you equipped future leaders? Has advocacy led to greater self-esteem among participants?

  8. Document
    The final step to good advocacy is writing your story. Be sure to be honest about your experiences, your success and frustrations. Thorough documentation of your advocacy efforts will ensure that others have the opportunity to learn from your experiences and will provide good historical background to advocates who come after you.

These original 8 steps were developed by Human Rights Network Uganda (HURINET) and published in their excellent handbook Human Rights Advocacy in Uganda: A Toolkit for Human Rights Promoters. (2000). They have been adapted for use in the Canadian context. Knowing your welfare rights and responsibilities: a plain language advocacy guide, revised edition by Janet Smith and The Social Planning Council of Brandon was also a helpful resource.

Photos are from a discussion on women and the economy at the Brandon Women's Centre, April 2002.

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