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Campaigns for institutional change

Last edited: January 03, 2012

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Advocacy (or institutional and policy change) campaigns have contributed to considerable progress in legal and policy frameworks to end violence against women and girls (VAW): international law and the legal systems in most countries make VAW a crime; governments around the world have adopted policies on VAW and provide or fund services for VAW survivors. However, in many countries, legal response systems, law enforcement, and survivor services and resources still fall short of the needs. Campaigns for institutional and policy change remain a necessity.

The case studies below illustrate three main fields of activity for campaigns aiming at institutional and policy change: law and policy advocacy, advocacy for more effective law enforcement and policy implementation, and calls for urgent action on specific cases.


The Legislation Module provides detailed guidance on Advocacy for New Laws or Reforming Existing Laws, including tips on using international human rights treaties in advocacy.

Other specific tools are available, such as the Amnesty International guides Stop Violence against Women:  How to Use International Criminal Law to Campaign for Gender-Sensitive Law Reform and Activist Toolkit - Making Rights a Reality: The duty of states to address violence against women.



Case study: The Women’s Caucus for Gender Justice in the ICC (The Women’s Caucus)

In 1998, representatives of UN member States negotiated the Statute establishing the International Criminal Court (ICC). While sexual and gender based violence had been prosecuted in tribunals on war crimes (e.g. Rwanda and former Yugoslavia), no permanent mechanism existed that addressed sexual and gender based violence. Early on in the negotiation process, the Women’s Caucus recognized the impending Rome Statute as a potentially powerful legal tool that would trigger the process of law reform in countries that ratified the statute to integrate provisions of the statute, including gender based provisions, in their respective national legal systems.

The Caucus: The Women’s Caucus was formed in 1996 by a small core of women’s rights activists who were invited to create a caucus by the Coalition of NGOs on the ICC (CICC). The activists spread the news about the formation of the Women’s Caucus among the existing networks of women’s rights activists internationally, to recruit members, to co-ordinate lobby and advocacy in the preparatory commission meetings and in Rome, and to co-ordinate advocacy with national campaigns. The Caucus mobilized funding from institutional donors to establish the Women’s Caucus secretariat in New York and run the campaign. New York based women’s organization MADRE Inc. fiscally hosted the Secretariat, which continued to remain a network and was not established formally as a legal entity.

Goal: The overall goal was to ensure that gender-based violence (GBV) linked to genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes were fully recognized as an international crime before the ICC.


1st phase: Caucus members attended the three preparatory conferences and the Rome Conference (1998), to lobby the negotiators. The focus was to get gender-based crimes recognized as core crimes in the Statute. Activities included raising awareness on gender issues among the State delegates negotiating the draft Statutes, and among representatives of international human rights NGOs who also conducted ICC-related advocacy. Daily press conferences were held.

2nd phase: The Caucus, which had grown to a large coalition of individuals and women’s rights groups from around the world, regrouped in 1999 to participate in the negotiation of the supporting documents to the ICC Statute, i.e. the Elements Annex and the Rules of Procedure and Evidence. Like in the first phase, it produced expert legal papers on the gender issues under discussion in recent jurisprudence from Rwanda and Yugoslavia, and ran intensive advocacy during the post-Rome Conference ICC preparatory commission meetings in New York.

3rd phase: Drawing on its world-wide network, the Caucus advocated for the appointment of qualified women candidates to be elected as ICC judges, and checked candidates’ backgrounds for their views or decisions on human rights and women’s rights issues. They found flaws in the background of a Fiji candidate, whose candidature was withdrawn after successful protests by Fiji-based allies of the Women’s Caucus. The national efforts of the allies were backed by the Women’s Caucus circulation of a dossier on the candidate to all State Parties involved.

In all the three phases, legal experts based at the New York office provided on-going well-researched legal input to the entire process. When State delegates took positions that were against the campaign goals, the Women’s Caucus contacted network members based in the countries concerned, leading to local advocacy meetings and public mobilization campaigns to increase pressure on decision-makers to change their position.


The campaign achieved that (i) the Rome Statute recognized a range of GBV as war crimes and crimes against humanity, (ii) the ICC Rules of Evidence and Procedure and the ICC Elements of Crimes appropriately defined the gender-based crimes and had gender-sensitive evidentiary rules and procedures, and (iii) qualified, deserving candidates including women have been appointed to serve as ICC judges.


  • Finding allies beyond the women’s movement: In the 1st phase, national delegates and fellow NGOs did not show much interest or support for the recognition of gender-based crimes. The Caucus overcame resistance by producing well-researched documents showing how women were targeted in war and the general impunity for crimes against women.
  • Different understanding of and national contexts for addressing gender-based crimes: Apart from general lack of gender awareness, some Latin American country delegates and Vatican-supported women’s groups opposed the positions of the Women’s Caucus, for example, on the issue of forced pregnancy. With differing national legal systems, some issues were more relevant to be included in the statute to coalition members from particular countries. Some delegates were also apprehensive of inclusion of sexual orientation. Despite the challenges, the Caucus managed to decide on the issues by consensus among all members.

For recent information on gender-based crimes before the ICC, see the Women’s Initiative for Gender Justice website.

Source: Based on an interview with Vahida Nainar, former Director of the Women’s Caucus for Gender Justice.

Case Study: The Stop Stoning Forever Campaign (in Farsi) (Iran)

A successful advocacy campaign had imposed a moratorium on stoning for adultery in 2002. However, in 2006, Iranian human rights activists found that several women and men were sentenced to death by stoning. In response, Iranian women’s rights activists launched the Stop Stoning Forever Campaign in August 2006 as a coordinated response to the resurgence of stoning as a sentence for adultery.

The advocacy campaign aims to make stoning irreversibly banned from the Islamic Penal Code of Iran such that stoning will never again be practiced as punishment. Furthermore, the campaign fights for freeing women and men sentenced to stoning.

Campaign activities:

  • Pro bono lawyers have appealed individual stoning cases and made them known to the broader public.
  • Petitions have been organized to support appeals.
  • Activists have promoted a law to abolish stoning by highlighting elements of the judiciary system that make such a change in the law necessary.
  • International networking has publicized the campaign and its message.

Lessons learned:

  • By focusing on the abolishment of the specific act of stoning (rather than the decriminalization of adultery), the campaign has been able to rally broad public support, even among conservative circles.
  • Censorship in official media is circumvented by extensive use of alternative media, especially the internet. Meydaan-e Zanan is the primary website of the Stop Stoning Forever Campaign; it is expanding its Farsi and English pages almost daily.


Since the start of the campaign, four stoning cases were suspended due to national and international activism (as of mid-2010). Awareness-raising activities and international networking has linked the campaign to ‘sister campaigns’ in Indonesia, Pakistan, Nigeria, Senegal, and Sudan. In Sudan, the Stop Stoning Forever Campaign has come to serve as a model for raising the visibility of cultural violence against women as a human rights concern. Partners include Shirkat Gah Women's Resource Centre in Pakistan, BAOBAB in Nigeria, and Solidaritas Perempuan in Indonesia. In 2007, the Global Campaign to Stop Killing and Stoning Women (SKSW Campaign), of which the Stop Stoning Forever campaign forms part, was launched to end the misuse of religion and culture to justify the killing and torture of women as punishment for violating dominant social norms of sexual behaviour.

Further information: 

Read the Stop Stoning Forever campaign report (Terman, R., 2007)

Further information on campaign activities (in Farsi)

Further information on the Global Campaign to Stop Violence against Women in the Name of ‘Culture’ by Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML)


No women, No peace is a campaign launched in 2010 by Gender Action for Peace and Security (GAPS UK), a network of UK-based peace, human rights and development organizations. The campaign holds the UK government to account on its commitment under UN Security Council Resolution 1325 which calls for more effective prevention of and protection from gender-based violence in armed conflict, and for women’s involvement in peace processes from the earliest stages.




Case Study: Advocacy for Implementation of the Domestic Violence Act in South Africa

The country’s first democratic government passed a groundbreaking, if imperfect, Domestic Violence Act (DVA) into law in 1998. For effective implementation, regulations on the Act, National Police Instructions and Prosecutorial Guidelines needed to be drafted; magistrates, police and prosecutors needed to be trained; appropriate infrastructure and referral mechanisms needed to be developed. As delays grew, the Soul City Institute for Health and Development Communication teamed up with the National Network on Violence against Women to launch a successful multi-pronged campaign for speedy implementation of the law.

The campaign had precise goals, calling upon the government to

  • implement the DVA no later than 1 November 1999
  • set out and make known a strategy for implementation
  • allocate the resources required for implementation
  • develop and implement a monitoring and recording system to determine the effectiveness and to identify and address its weaknesses and gaps
  • improve access to justice, especially for marginalized women in rural areas and for women with disabilities, as promised in existing government plans.

Lobbying efforts included meetings, phone calls, faxes and e-mails to relevant national and provincial decision makers, and submissions and presentations to provincial parliaments. A resource pack for journalists and press releases were distributed widely; journalists were educated on the DVA in special workshops. Celebrity actors from the Soul City educational soap opera gave supportive interviews and attended public gatherings. As part of social mobilization, pamphlets and postcards were distributed and mass rallies and marches organized at key events.

Results: The government announced that 15 December 1999 would be the implementation date, just one year after passage of the DVA. The campaign alliance celebrated this success by distributing white roses and sending postcards congratulating the government.


Source: Usdin, S. et al, The Value of Advocacy in Promoting Social Change: Implementing the New Domestic Violence Act in South Africa, in Reproductive Health Matters, Vol. 8, No.16, pp.55-65, (2000) gives a rich, instructive account of the campaign.

Example: Dual Injustice Campaign (Mexico)

The Dual Injustice Campaign was launched by the Mexican Human Rights Commission (Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción del los Derechos Humanos) in 2003, as part of their wider campaign against femicide in Ciudad Juárez and Chihuahua, Mexico. Dual Injustice is a documentary film (produced with Witness) that tells the story of Neyra Cervantes, who disappeared in May 2003, and her cousin, David Meza, who was tortured to confess to her murder. Since authorities were slow to investigate Neyra's case, her family called upon David to seek help – with the result that he was jailed, despite the lack of evidence linking him to the murder. Dual Injustice was first screened in 2005 at a parallel briefing of the UN Human Rights Commission, and subsequently shown to decision-makers in Mexico, the USA and European countries, as well as at film festivals and mobilization events (e.g. as part of the 16 Days of Gender Activism and Amnesty’s Stop Violence against Women campaign). Parallel events such as candlelit vigils accompanied the screening.

The campaign was considered a success. In August 2005, days after a screening for the office of the Chihuahua State Attorney General, high ranking officials declared evidence acquired under torture to be inadmissible and announced that charges against David might be dropped due to a lack of evidence. This represented an unprecedented shift in local authorities' approach towards the situation, which historically has been to shy away from addressing possible mishandling of cases. Months later, the judge issued a decision with David's acquittal and release from prison.

Read the Dual Injustice case study.

Watch the Dual injustice video.            

Example: Campaign on the Family Law in Benin

The Women’s Legal Rights project of USAID carried out an education campaign relative to the new Family Law in Benin that had increased the minimum age for marriage to 18 years. The project first brought together key civil society groups to collaboratively work on developing materials that could help make the family law understandable for people at the local level. The groups designed a simple version of the law that was translated into five languages. Those organizations involved in the design then all agreed to use the materials to ensure a consistent message in all regions. Along with information in the media, special events, and t-shirts advertising the new marriage age, the simple version of the law was transmitted through face-to-face workshops around the country presented by trained local facilitators who used the local language. The booklet was so simple to read that organizations began using it in their literacy education workshops as well. The education program also incorporated traditional cultural practices and involved local leaders.  

See: USAID, Annual Report on Good Practices, Lessons Learned, and Success Stories, 13-14, 17-18 (2006).