Advocacy and changemaking: reflections from the Women’s Policy Forum

Jesuit Social Services’ Policy and Advocacy volunteer JEMIMA HOFFMAN recaps the presentation by Jesuit Social Services CEO Julie Edwards and GetUp!’s Shen Narayanasamy at the recent Women’s Policy Forum.

How can advocates work together to achieve social change? What makes an advocacy campaign successful? These were the questions that Julie Edwards, CEO of Jesuit Social Services, and Shen Narayanasamy, Human Rights Director at Get Up!, delved into in conversation at the Women’s Policy Forum on 22 September 2017.

While most public policy is thought of as ‘gender-neutral’, the Women’s Policy Forum brought experts together to break down this assumption and consider how policy can affect women, particularly those already facing poverty and disadvantage.

In the afternoon session of the action-packed day, Shen and Julie spoke about the practical aspects of advocacy and activism, but also reflected on some deeper questions about how and why we should be trying to advocate for policy change.

Shen addressed some of the key challenges advocates face. Fast-paced media cycles which demand equally speedy advocacy responses, and the need to articulate a wider vision for society whilst avoiding “burning out” of energy, can hinder our capacity to mobilise communities and affect change.

What then are effective tactics in instigating policy change? Shen offered some suggestions. Firstly, she recommends collecting an evidence base to present arguments that are based in fact. Secondly, translate your message into clear, plain sentences, and don’t waste your valuable media coverage repeating your opponent’s concerns. Thirdly, map the power-brokers and key players, so your efforts are directed at the people charged with making decisions. Finally, get community organisations as well as mainstream and non-traditional media on-board with your cause.

Julie and Shen also discussed change-making at a deeper level, considering not only how to advocate, but why we need to. Shen explained that social change runs deeper than shifting policy and law. It’s about realising and building the sort of society we want to live in. This can only happen when community values align. To do this, we have to, as Shen puts it, “incentivise empathy”, calling on people to care and connect emotionally to those people at the centre of an issue.

Julie and Shen agreed that the best advocates for a cause are the people directly affected by it. In her work at Get Up!, Shen found that community attitudes to asylum seekers and refugees only changed when the community was able listen to their voices and connect with their stories emotionally. The best campaign tactics extend beyond catchy media soundbites – they encourage people to empathise with each other. Finally, when it comes to advocating for change, Shen emphasised the need to be “joyous”, to retain our drive by remembering those nourishing aspects of the struggle to realise a vision for society.

Coupling practical tips with a discussion on the underlying need to mobilise for change, Shen and Julie’s conversation provided a roadmap on how to achieve policy and societal change through advocacy that really works.

For more information about the Women’s Policy Forum please visit http://www.powertopersuade.org.au/womenspolicy