Expanding the network of allies, supporters, and other interested parties in a campaign can be useful to attract greater attention for the cause, build a critical mass of support to influence decision-makers, and create a platform to educate and share information. Participating in conferences for example, can expand the campaigners’ network to other activists, professionals, academics and policy makers who could be helpful in furthering the campaign cause.
UN global and regional conferences
Large international congresses such as UN World Conferences may include civil society segments that bring together non-governmental groups who wish to influence the Conference agenda and outcomes. Lobbying, networking and the full spectrum of tactics and tools for advocacy campaigns can be applied for this purpose.
UN Conferences also offer opportunities to present a campaign, learn about others and make new contacts. But trying to catch someone’s attention in a crowd of thousands of activists can be frustrating. Any campaign events to be carried out during large conferences (e.g. a workshop, a march, a performance), must be prepared and advertised carefully.
Sessions of international commissions and treaty bodies
Apart from submitting written statements and alternative reports, NGOs can send representatives to the sessions of the committees that monitor implementation of international human rights instruments. NGOs that are accredited to the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) can participate in the annual sessions of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), usually held in February-March in New York. If a campaign organization or alliance members have consultative status with ECOSOC or are eligible (see below), this may be a useful opportunity for lobbying UN and government representatives, and networking with other organizations. The CSW website offers guidance for prospective participants.
NGOs can also be accredited as observers at official state reporting sessions of international treaty bodies. In the case of the CEDAW Committee, NGOs can not only attend formal sessions as observers, they can also attend informal meetings for activists and other international agencies that are organized around the formal sessions. These informal NGO meetings with members of the CEDAW Committee can be invaluable opportunities to bring attention to campaign causes, build partnerships with other organizations, and share important national information.
Eligibility for ECOSOC accreditation: To participate in official UN conferences and sessions, international, regional and national non-governmental non-profit organizations must have been officially registered for at least two years, have an established headquarters, a democratically adopted constitution, a representative structure and appropriate mechanisms of accountability and democratic and transparent decision-making to apply for ECOSOC registration. The website of the UN NGO Branch provides details on registration.
Conferences (including congresses) bring people together for discussion, consultation and sometimes negotiation and decision-making on a common concern. They can be huge events stretching over several days – such as the World Conferences on Women in Mexico (1975), Copenhagen (1980), Nairobi (1985) and Beijing (1995), or formal meetings between a few key people on specific issues. Seminars are conferences typically for researchers and other people with an academic interest in the issue.
Conferences, congresses and seminars help to gather and share specialized knowledge on the campaign issue with professionals – including policy-makers - and others who have a keen interest in the topic. Combined with effective public communication, including media outreach, conferences may catch the attention of the general public and add credibility to the campaign. However, organizing conferences tends to demand enormous resources, as each individual participant is likely to demand attention. Therefore, they should be used sparingly and deliberately.
Practical tips: Convene a conference or seminar only if…
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