Advocacy is a set of targeted actions directed at changing policies, positions or programmes. Advocacy Networks are groups of organizations and individuals working together to achieve changes in policy, law, or programs for a particular issue.
Through advocacy, networks can engage in high-level dialogue with policymakers and other influential leaders on broad policy issues. Advocacy can include work that focuses on one specific issue; campaigns that span a specific period of time; ongoing work that addresses a broad range of issues; and can be conducted on national, regional or local levels.
The policy advocacy work of the MenEngage Africa Network targets decision-makers on the issue of progressive and proactive engagement of men and boys in the areas of health, HIV and AIDS, sexual and reproductive health, gender-based violence, parenting and human rights.
Networks are powerful tools to allow organizations and individuals to share ownership of common goals, which is why the structure of the MenEngage Africa Network is effective.
Why is policy advocacy important?
Policy initiatives can lead to large-scale changes in men’s behaviours and attitudes about gender and health. Policy is one of the collective forces that defines and sustains gender norms, and as such, it also has the potential to challenge social norms and institutional cultures that perpetuate inequalities and violence. With effective policies in place, it is easier to implement work to engage with men and boys, and to hold governments accountable to such commitments. Without effective policies, such work is much more difficult.
Public policies and engagement with the public sector are therefore central to the goal of scaling up work with men and boys and achieving societal change in gender norms. It is essential to build a shared policy agenda on engaging men and boys among civil society, national policy-makers and regional bodies.
Although, it is also important to remember that policies and laws alone cannot effect long-term and sustained change. They are a necessary first step, but they must be followed up by effective implementation, which should be stimulated, enforced and monitored by civil society.
To achieve this, and to be most effective, policies should be ‘gender-transformative’ and ensure that they do not reinforce negative societal values and norms. Gender-transformative action seeks to promote equitable relationships, challenge male gender norms, transform the traditionally accepted norms associated with being a man or a woman, and change gender relations. Thus the MenEngage Africa Network advocates for policies, laws and plans to prioritise work that is gender-transformative, in order to effect real and long-lasting change.
How do we go about influencing policy?
It is important for policy advocacy to be based on strong research. Therefore, a thorough scan of existing policy is necessary before any advocacy work begins. This process identifies strengths and weaknesses within current policies and laws, highlighting any gaps that need to be addressed.
Once such scans are complete, policy reports or policy briefs are usually produced. A policy report may summarize all the strengths and weaknesses of a policy or set of policies, while a policy brief may highlight the recommendations which have been produced by the policy scan.
The MenEngage Africa Network shares such results among its partners, especially those within the country relevant to the policy scan. A number of different activities could then be planned to take forward the results of the policy scan. These can include:
- Organizing meetings with government officials or policy-makers to influence new policy development, discuss the adjustment of existing policies, or persuade government officials to prioritise particular programme approaches or services.
- Making submissions and commenting on drafts when new policies are being developed.
- Informing the public and opinion leaders about a particular issue and mobilizing them to apply pressure on those who can take action.
- Creating support among community members and generating demand for the implementation of particular programme approaches or services.
- Developing mechanisms to hold government to account and to monitor the implementation of policies and commitments, and creating pressure for the necessary resources to be made available.