By using the media to highlight gender and HIV/AIDS issues, the Advocacy Project is strengthening citizen participation and government accountability.
Why is Advocacy Necessary?
Effective responses from government to gender based violence and the gendered dimensions of HIV and AIDS requires a dynamic relationship between civil society organizations, community members and local government. Each has a specific but interconnected role to play. Government has an obligation to deliver services. Community members, in turn, have a responsibility to advocate for their needs, to support and hold government accountable and to participate actively in community. At the same time, civil society organizations have a role to play in building the capacity of government to deliver on its commitments and to support active and empowered community members in their efforts to access services due to them.
In South Africa a long history of determined activism, a progressive constitution, and existing health and safety related laws and structures provide significant leverage to gender related activism and advocacy. Section 9 (1) of the South African constitution “affirms the right of everyone to be equal before the law and to the equal protection and benefit of the law”. The accompanying bill of rights explicitly binds the legislature, executive, judiciary and all organs of state to the constitution. Section 12, subsection 2 of the bill of rights states that “Everyone has the right to bodily and psychological integrity, which includes the right (a) to make decisions concerning reproduction; and (b) to security in and control over their body” The constitution is far reaching in its explicit endorsement of substantive rather than merely formal rights and endorses affirmative measures as a means of achieving substantive equality.
To ensure that government acts upon its obligations and translates rights into tangible services, community activists can use local structures such as those mandated by the Municipal Structures Act described above to monitor, support and hold accountable all government departments.
Initiatives focused on working with men have not made much use of advocacy strategies and have instead relied more on community education. Shifting public perception that gender based violence affects us all and cannot be dismissed as a “women’s issue” requires that men become more visible and outspoken about their opposition to gender based violence and demonstrate their willingness to take public stands against it-by joining marches, by engaging the media and by taking concerted efforts at the local level to demand justice.
Some of the advocacy initiatives that Sonke Gender Justice is engaged in, include:
- Together with the Human Sciences Research Council’s Gender and Development Unit, work with community based organizations, the media and local government in 4 districts to pilot and research community mobilization strategies that train community members to support and hold local government accountable for the delivery of effective gender based violence and HIV/AIDS related services.
- Support existing advocacy initiatives such as the One in Nine Campaign, the Sexual Offences Bill Working Group and the Joint Civil Society Monitoring Forum on ARV roll-out.
- Convene a series of strategies meetings that bring together activists from other social movements and successful national and international advocacy organizations-the Treatment Action Campaign, Gun Free South Africa, the Landless People’s Movement to develop and share advocacy strategies and materials.
- Develop advocacy strategies and materials that can be used effectively by men and women to support and hold government accountable. These will include an advocacy training manual, an action kit with materials, tools, and advocacy frameworks
- Provide advocacy, policy and media related training to the Men as Partners Network including on the use of community action teams.
- Provide training and technical assistance to large civil society organizations-especially trade unions, faith based organizations and civic associations-to use their influence and membership to shift gender and HIV/AIDS related social norms and to take decisive action to end domestic and sexual violence and reduce the spread and impact of HIV/AIDS.
- Develop ongoing partnerships with media organizations to engage in media advocacy about gender based violence, HIV and AIDS that leads to improved government responses and to shifts in social norms within communities across the country.
Global Advocacy Initiatives
The Sonke Gender Justice is also involved in a number of global advocacy initiatives including:
- The MenEngage Network, a global alliance of non-governmental organizations involved in research, interventions, and policy initiatives that seek to engage men and boys in effective ways to reduce gender inequalities and promote the health and well-being of women, men, and children.
- The Athena Network, working to advance the recognition, protection, and fulfillment of women’s and girls’ human rights, comprehensively and inclusively, as a fundamental component of policies and programmes to address HIV/AIDS.
- GBV Prevention Network, a virtual community for over 100 member organizations in the Horn, East and Southern Africa areas working together to prevent gender-based violence.