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Adhering to ethics in campaigning

Last edited: January 03, 2012

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Violence against women and girls (VAW) is a serious threat to human lives. For survivors of VAW and their advocates, even discussing VAW may carry dangerous risks, as perpetrators may feel threatened and react with more violence. Ethical principles are important to prevent harm.

According to the World Health Organization, “ethics can be defined as a system or code of moral values that provides rules and standards of conduct. The three primary ethical principles that should guide all inquiries involving human beings (including methods used to collect information) are as follows:

1) Respect for persons, which relates to respecting the autonomy and self-determination of participants, and protecting those who lack autonomy, including by providing security from harm or abuse.

2) Beneficence, a duty to safeguard the welfare of people/communities involved, which includes minimizing risks and assuring that benefits outweigh risks.

3) Justice, a duty to distribute benefits and burdens fairly.  (WHO, 2007. WHO Ethical and safety recommendations...)

In campaigns on violence against women and girls (VAW), ethics are particularly important to prevent the potentially severe security and emotional hazards that people involved in the campaign may be exposed to, such as women and children survivors of VAW, or advocates who speak out publicly. Ethics also contribute to the credibility and effectiveness of a campaign. 

The basic ethics principles described in this section are closely linked to the practical steps of setting up a campaign. It is vital all participants in the campaign know and adhere to these principles.

Depending on the nature of a campaign, its leading organization/ alliance and its context, additional principles may be needed to guide the campaigners’ conduct. Please also refer to the Guiding Principles in Programming Essentials, and the section on Ethical Guidelines.