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Last edited: December 31, 2013

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  • Advocacy is an important tool that can be used to influence decision-makers in order to bring about changes and developments in policies and programs that protect women and girls from violence during conflict and post-conflict situations. A GBV coordination mechanism is particularly well-suited to undertake advocacy because it is comprised of multiple organizations and individuals who can speak with one voice on a particular issue, particularly those that are controversial or difficult. 
  • Advocacy is often misunderstood as being same as awareness-raising—an approach used in community mobilization, Information Education Communication (IEC), and/or Behavior Change Communication (BCC) activities. While raising awareness may be an important step the advocacy process, it is not the ultimate goal (adapted from IRC, 2011 and Ward, 2010).

Source: Ward, J. 2010.  Handbook for Coordinating Gender-based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Settings, GBV AoR, pg 59.


  • Advocacy is “the deliberate and strategic use of information – by individuals or groups of individuals – to bring about change. Advocacy work includes employing strategies to influence decision makers and policies, to changing attitudes, power relations, social relations and institutional functioning to improve the situation for groups of individuals who share similar problems” (IRC, pg. 93).
  • Depending on the context, advocacy strategies might be most appropriately targeted at one or a combination of three levels of interventions (excerpted from IRC, pgs. 94-95): 
    • Local Level: Seeks to directly address the needs of and support affected communities and involves working closely with local decision makers. Depending on the setting, local decision makers may include service providers, refugee or IDP camp management, community leaders, other humanitarian staff, coordinating bodies, local government leaders, security personnel or civil society organizations. 
    • District or National Levels: Seeks to change the systems in place to support women and girls in emergencies. Key targets might include district-level or national-level government officials, national-level coordinating bodies, donors based in-country, or national-level offices of humanitarian agencies. 
    • International Level: Seeks to mobilize resources, increase awareness of an emergency and make structural-level changes to improve support for women and girls. Decision makers at this level might include UN staff in New York or Geneva, international governmental aid agencies, regional coordination bodies, and other international coalitions, alliances and NGOs.  

Examples of advocacy may include:

Source: IRC, 2011. GBV Emergency Response and Preparedness Participant Handbook, pg. 95.

  • Advocacy generally involves the following steps, which are supported by ongoing data collection and monitoring and evaluation:

Source: Ward, J. 2010. Handbook for Coordinating Gender-based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Settings, GBV AoR, pgs 50-60.

  • In conflict and post-conflict situations, governments may be resistant to acknowledging VAW and/or active conflict makes exposing the problem of VAW dangerous.  In these settings, security issues must be taken into account when developing advocacy strategies. Below are some useful alternatives or ‘back-door’ advocacy approaches. However, even using these ‘back-door’ approaches, consideration should be given to whether any information, even if anonymous, can identify organizations (i.e. if there are limited agencies providing GBV services in the area being discussed) or individuals, thereby putting them in danger. Advocacy through a coordination mechanism is useful when there are security issues because working as a group can mitigate risks. Below are some suggestions:
    • Develop strategic partnerships with trusted advocacy organizations/individuals to confidentially (i.e., no mention of the agency/individual nor possibility to track down the source of information) channel sensitive in-country information to the international arena. Information and insight from service-delivery agencies on the ground is highly valuable to advocacy-based organizations. Advocacy-based organizations (such as international human rights organizations) and individuals (such as Special Rapporteurs) are in a better position to speak loudly and publicly on sensitive issues because they do not have an on-the-ground service delivery element.
    • Compile existing information that has been already published by credible organizations. 
    • Confidentially provide journalists with accurate information about GBV during an emergency. Ideally the GBV coordination mechanism will provide recommendations to GBV partners on working with journalists.
    • Make educating international donor organizations an ongoing priority for the GBV coordination mechanism. Provide recommendations on how and where donor funds can be most effective improves emergency response. In addition, donor agencies have significant influence at the highest international decision-making levels.
    • Work with the Humanitarian Coordinator/Resident Coordinator to ensure that s/he is apprised of strategic and policy-level issues for which the UN can facilitate advocacy and, when appropriate, lead the UN Country Team in joint advocacy action. Work with the protection cluster lead in country and the global protection cluster to amplify/complement messages.
  • As a preventative advocacy approach, communities can be mobilized to:
    • Strengthen support for legal reform related to VAWG and women’s rights.
    • Strengthen public pressure for gender equality.
    • Increase awareness of women’s legal rights among the general population, and in particular, key stakeholders in the community.
    • Publicly support women’s civil rights, such as property, land, and marriage rights that are protective factors against violence.
    • Target the responses of police, health, social services, schools, and other institutions to VAWG. Support collaboration between these institutions.
    • Target members of parliament or other government officials, and advocate for their commitment to public policy on the prevention of VAWG (Miedema, 2011).


Example:  In Timor-Leste, the multi-sectoral coordination mechanism (the “Rede-Referral”) operates within the Timor-Leste Constitution and the Law against Domestic Violence. The Rede-Referral is composed of 2 working groups:  the Service Providers Working Group, led by the Ministry of Social Solidarity, with technical support from UNFPA; and the Strategy and Advocacy Working Group, led by the Secretariat of State for the Promotion of Equality (SEPI). Members include national NGOs, UN agencies and focal points from the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Justice, Secretary of State for Civil Security (PNTL/VPU) and the Prosecutor’s General Office.   The Strategy and Advocacy Working Group has found that individual meetings help engage other sectors and ministries in GBV coordination and encourages them to provide input on GBV issues. When used as a pre-cursor to a working group meeting, individual meetings build the support of the other line ministries and draw attention to the importance of the issue. In the context of Timor-Leste –where receiving instructions and directives are a motivating factor and can help move things forward—arranging for other line ministries to meet with the focal point of a higher authority, such as the Secretary of State of the Ministry of Social Solidarity, also encourages these other ministries to put GBV on their agenda. Matters are taken seriously and prioritized where there is inter-ministerial agreement or documents that outline the directives that comes from the highest authority. This essential component of the operationalisation of responses and coordination is moved forward through the work of the Strategy and Advocacy Working Group.  


For additional information, see Advocacy in the Campaigns Module.

See also additional information on working with media on violence against women in emergency settings, such as media guidelines and a handbook for journalists.

For examples of brief advocacy notes issued by the Gender-Based Violence Area of Responsibility in the context of emergencies, see notes on Syria, Philippines, and Central African Republic.

For additional information on conducting advocacy, working with the media, issuing appeals for GBV funding, developing IEC materials, and other advocacy-related tasks, see Section 3 of the GBV Coordination Handbook.