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Review research, gather testimonials, anticipate and know the arguments

Review research and gather testimonials

The first step in taking action should be to review the research and analyses, best practices, legislative process and procedures, legislative history, and other laws on the particular issue to be addressed. At the same time the initial step is taking place, advocates may begin a more formal or detailed collection of testimonials and stories specific to each objective in the overall advocacy strategy. Advocates should seek out stories from individuals affected by the issue, NGOs working to address the issue, and government agencies responsible to address the issue. (See: Legislative Advocacy Resource Guide:  Promoting Human Rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Global Rights, 14, 2005; Women’s Human Rights Step by Step, Women, Law & Development International and Human Rights Watch, 1997)

CASE STUDY:  In 1997, the Women’s Institute for Leadership Development (WILD) for Human Rights formed a coalition devoted to bringing human rights standards to San Francisco, California USA. As a result, in April 1998, San Francisco became the first city in the United States to pass a law implementing the principles underlying an international human rights treaty to impact public policy. WILD advocated for the passing of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). WILD framed their message about CEDAW in the language of discrimination, a concept that is much more familiar in the United States than is human rights. Public meetings about discrimination against women and girls were convened in which members of the public could discuss their experiences. The law passed in San Francisco requires city departments to review employment policies, and the delivery of services within a context of gender and human rights. Following San Francisco’s lead, many other cities across the US are working on passing similar legislation. By way of example, in March 2012, the City of Berkeley, in the State of California, United States adopted the principles of CEDAW into the city’s law. 

Anticipate and know the arguments

Advocates should also anticipate and know the arguments against the position and develop responses based on fact and reason. Reference to best practices, research, and experience from other jurisdictions is often compelling to policy makers. It is useful to practice responding to the arguments with colleagues to prepare for any formal hearings where objections are likely to be raised. Advocates should be able to explain how others, including legislators, will benefit from supporting the issue both in private meetings with stakeholders and others and in public forums. Advocates should identify and contact decision makers who will likely support the position or take an interest in the issue and meet with these individuals privately before public hearings on the issue.

CASE STUDY:  In 2006 the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women and the European Women’s Lobby Trafficking published a handbook that explores the links between prostitution and human trafficking. The Links between Prostitution and Sex Trafficking: A Handbook analyzes the arguments that many supporters of legalizing prostitution use and refutes them with data, references, country-based observation, media reports and interview information. The handbook is organized in a point-counterpoint fashion to allow advocates to readily respond to arguments of those who wrongly claim that legalizing prostitution will help eliminate trafficking and protect women. For example, the hand books notes that “Claims that legalisation is necessary to safeguard the health of women are used to disguise the reality that it is the health and safety of the customer which the indus­try seeks to protect. There are no ‘safe zones’ for women in the sex industry.” It goes on to provide, among many others, this counterargument: “Women consistently indicate in research that prostitution es­tablishments did little to protect them, regardless of whether the establishments were legal or il­legal. In the Netherlands where prostitution is legal 60% of pros­tituted women suffered physical assaults, 70% experienced ver­bal threats of physical assaults, 40% experienced sexual violence and 40% had been forced into prostitution or sexual abuse by acquaintances.” These types of counter arguments are critical in making a case as an advocate and ensuring that your advocacy effort does not get side-tracked by arguments that sound reasonable, but are ultimately harmful to women and girls.