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What is Advocacy and Why is It Important?

What is an Advocacy Campaign?

An advocacy campaign is a set of actions targeted to create support for a policy or proposal. See:  Legislative Advocacy Resource Guide:  Promoting Human Rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Global Rights, 4, 2005.

The goals of an advocacy campaign may range from drafting and passing a new or amended law against domestic violence; to reforming the judicial system; to litigating a test case using international human rights standards in domestic courts; to monitoring the implementation of international human rights standards in a local context.

Why is Advocacy Important?

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and human rights defenders around the world are working to advocate for the protection of women from all forms of gender-based violence.  Gender-based violence is a form of discrimination against women and is a fundamental violation of the right to life, liberty and security of person.  See: the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women, Arts. 1 and 2, 1981; General Recommendation No. 19 (1992); General Comment No. 16 of the Committee on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights (2005).  Advocacy to end violence against women is closely linked with the elimination of discrimination, which in turn, is necessary to achieve full equality between men and women.  

Advocacy designed to change systems is distinct from advocacy on behalf of an individual victim of violence in the courts or within the community.  Systems advocacy means efforts to change policy and practice at the local, national or international level; to change the situation for groups of individuals who share similar problems.  While systems advocacy works to improve the system to the benefit of individuals, it is a long-term approach to problem solving requiring sustained effort. (See: Advocacy Tools, StopVAW, The Advocates for Human Rights)

Individual advocacy focuses on changing the situation for an individual and protecting her rights.  See: Victim Protection, Support and Assistance, StopVAW. Both systems and individual advocacy are critical to ending violence against women and girls. However, the focus of this section of the Legislation Module is on advocacy at the policy and systems level.

Advocates working at the system level must always keep the practical needs of victims in mind when changing policies and systems.  An effective strategy to address violence against women and girls should incorporate both practical and policy and systems change activities. Many NGO activities function on both of these levels simultaneously. (See: Advocacy Tools, StopVAW and Women’s Human Rights Step by Step, Women, Law & Development International and Human Rights Watch (1997), p. 121).

Advocacy for systems change should aim to improve respect for and the protection of women's human rights.  Within the broad human rights framework, advocacy initiatives should reflect of specific country conditions.  Advocacy initiatives under the human rights perspective, however, tend to focus on improving the human rights system at all levels, meaning from local government institutions up to intergovernmental organizations, such as the United Nations. See: Advocacy Tools, StopVAW.

Those who advocate for the human rights of women and girls or “women human rights defenders” may be at risk of the very human rights violations they are attempting to remedy.  Women human rights defenders may experience gender-based discrimination, prejudice, public repudiation, threats of and actual violence against them. In holding governments accountable, women human rights defenders may even face arrest, detention or death.  As of January 2007, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders had received 449 cases of violations against women human rights defenders. (See: Claiming Rights, Claiming Justice: A Guidebook on Women Human Rights Defenders, Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development, 15-17, 2007) 

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