In this module we are going to unpack a little bit more about what we mean by advocacy - what it is and what it isn't, and also, who is advocate? What does that mean when we talk about being an advocate for someone or something.

An advocate can be a group of people, an organization, or an individual. But we will use the word 'someone'. An advocate is someone who is calling for change or improvement, either for part of the community or the community as a whole. So they are acting in favor of a cause, a cause that they believe is just and right.

And that means that they will often meet opposition. Just as we believe our cause is right, the opposition also may have very deeply held beliefs about why things should not change. So an advocate works for change in favor of a cause or issue, and is likely to meet direct opposition.

So what do we mean by advocacy? Advocacy is not direct action, but it is action. Action that aims to improve the situation of some of the community or the community as a whole.

It can take many forms. We talk to people, we write letters, we educate, we maybe use social media or we may move into the spectrum of more visible, direct action such as demonstrations and sit-ins and civil disobedience and strikes. So we have a whole spectrum of approaches to advocacy that go from education and informing right through to direct protest.

And I will encourage you, throughout this course, to remember that we should always aim to begin with the least antagonistic methods. We don't want to escalate unless it's absolutely necessary. So we try the more peaceful methods first.

In advocacy we are pushing, however. We are pushing, perhaps, for changing or creating programs that will support our particular community or target group, supporting their access to basic needs or rights.

We may want to change policies and laws. Maybe we need to bring in new laws to protect or support a particular group, or end a discriminatory law that is disenfranchising a particular part of the community.

Or we want to change practices - practices towards particular parts of the community or the community as a whole. They may be discriminated against based on their age, based on their level of physical ability, based on their religious background, based on their gender or based on their political beliefs.

Sometimes advocacy isn't about creating something, but it may be about preserving something. It could be preserving an institution that is perceived as valuable to the community, laws that protect the disenfranchised, a minority language that is being marginalised, a culture that is losing its value, or protecting nature, protecting the environment. 

So advocacy is the active promotion of a cause, principle or an idea. It's where we actually take action to promote this issue, to bring it to wider attention, to gain support. And that means that it's more than just complaining or telling people, but it is a series of actions designed to bring us to that selected goal of advocacy, that point where we say we have achieved what we wanted to achieve.

Advocacy is often supported by other community efforts, development work, relief work or humanitarian work. Or, in turn, advocacy supports our relief, development and humanitarian efforts. For example, if your development effort is around girl education, advocacy is around the aspect of that project that deals with awareness raising.

 Let me stress that advocacy does not have to involve confrontation or conflict. So when you start to think about advocacy, don't think about demonstrations. Don't think about protests. Think about education. Think about information.

Advocacy is inherently a peaceful approach to demanding positive change for our communities. It doesn't need to involve confrontation, and it doesn't need to involve conflict. These are things that we only explore when everything else has failed and the conditions are right. Things like our cause is just, we have the will and the support, we have partners, it's the right time, and, everything else has failed.

However, advocacy, primarily, is around educating and informing, and trusting other people's inner sense of justice. And that, if they have the right information, then they will be able to take the right action for themselves.

Advocacy does not exist in a vacuum. Usually it goes alongside with other development, relief and humanitarian work. Either the advocacy supports that work by raising awareness, changing attitudes, creating a demand for, for example, girl education or awareness over early marriage or child rights, or awareness of the problem that the development effort is designed to address. So it can be the supporting part, the 'soft' part, the part that works with people's opinions, with information, with awareness.

So it doesn't exist alone. An advocacy effort is usually in support of a development effort, or there will be an advocacy effort and there will be a development or a humanitarian or relief effort alongside that. So advocacy is just one of the strategies available to solve a particular problem.

So advocacy is more about the education and the awareness and bringing a change in the heart, in the social conscience.

It is not direct service. So, providing education is service. Changing parents' attitudes towards the education of their daughters, that's advocacy.


To better understand this we have a short exercise for you. Take a few minutes to look through the four different scenarios we are presenting here. And decide for yourself whether they are examples of advocacy or service. 

Use the worksheet and complete the task before moving on.

Next Lesson