Wednesday was International Hand Washing Day. It was also the International Day of Rural Women. The week before that was the International Day of the Girl Child, while coming soon is World AIDS Day, and the 16 Days of Action Against Gender-Based Violence. Let’s not forget that the entire month of October is also the world’s Breast Cancer Month.
As an NGO working on all these issues, there is an expectation and an inclination to jump on the bandwagon of these celebrations and activities aimed at raising awareness of such important and pertinent issues. Yet, as I sit there at my second junket in as many weeks, belly full of delicious donor-funded food, I ponder what effect any of this has on filling the bellies of the truly poor and disenfranchised.
Advocacy is a vital tool in the advancement of human rights. Without it, we wouldn’t have women’s suffrage, abolition of slavery, immunisation programs, or taxes on tobacco. Campaigns are a cornerstone of this advocacy game, garnering a unified and public voice to influence change among the masses and the decision-makers. Yet, when every day is a different campaign (or sometimes two campaigns) can we really claim a unified voice? When the advocates are being fed while the poor continue to starve, are we really getting the biggest impact from the donor dollar?
So, with my limited campaign expertise, and a wee bit of observation, I have come up with some tips to help with this International Day Dilemma.
- Get the name right. We spend days, weeks, months choosing the right name for our babies, our businesses, our products, going through all the nicknames and abbreviations to ensure they sound good in all forms and evade mockery. If the same care was given to campaign names then we might not have the confusingly redundant “International Day of the Girl Child”, or the cumbersome “16 Days of Action Against Gender-Based Violence”, which is affectionately shortened by time-poor campaigners to the “16 Days of Gender-Based Violence” – not quite what we’re promoting.
- Choose your audience. This seems like a no-brainer, yet I am continually invited to events promoting girls’ education to a room full of educated girls, or HIV prevention to HIV prevention advocates. How about reaching out to those that don’t agree with the cause? While there, perhaps try not to denigrate them. I have found that this has a tendency to create segregation rather than unification, which seems contrary to the purpose of an advocacy campaign.
- Forget the one-night stands and the multiple concurrent partners. This is a catchcry for HIV prevention, yet when it comes to campaigns we are as fickle as a Swazi monarch. Much like any committed relationship, choose one. Get your friends together to promote that union through a public event (or several), if you choose. Rather than divorcing it straight after for a newer and younger model, work on that relationship and keep the flame alive. That’s where you’ll find the biggest rewards. Fortunately we have some good examples, like last year’s “16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence”, which was used as a springboard to effectively push for the long-overdue passing of Swaziland’s Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Bill. Then there’s the Swazi cancer network who have us hiking up a big breast-shaped mountain each year to raise funds and awareness for long-term activities that directly support those in need.
I realise this is just one, very simplified, opinion, so I’m going to open the floor: What are your thoughts to tackle the International Day Dilemma?