On the eve of Human Rights Day (December 10) there was a small but meaningful gathering at the coziest small hotel in town, the Alhambra Inn.
Earlier this month, 22 representatives of ten civil society organizations graduated from a critical training session that focused on Policy Monitoring and Advocacy. The seven-month training, organized by the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC) and the Jamaica Civil Society Coalition (JCSC). Funding came from the European Union’s (EU) European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights, as part of a two-year project entitled Improving Civil Society Capacity for Research Based Advocacy.
There were three phases to the training curriculum, developed by CVC and its partners: Community Based Research and Information Gathering Systems; Policy Issue Identification and Monitoring Processes; and Policy Analysis, Advocacy Messages and Processes. The training filled a clear need for non-governmental organizations in various fields to build a firm foundation, from which they could become more actively involved in the dialogues on policy – numerous and ongoing – that occur daily in the media and all kinds of public fora. In other words, NGOs and the broader civil society must be out there, with a voice; but their voices must be informed voices. “Policy must be evidence-based,” said one participant. Without that solid evidence, “People [that is, policymakers and influencers] won’t listen to us.”
On behalf of the JCSC, Carol Narcisse pointed out that democracy and human rights advocacy has gone past simply urging Jamaicans to vote in an election. For quite some time now civil society groups have been looking more closely at policy issues and “claiming space to participate – with substance.” Now, the substance is important! In order to be credible and to get people to listen – really listen, and understand – civil society advocates must deepen their understanding of the issues and be able to provide fact-driven arguments based on solid information and research. Workshops are fine up to a point; but research is equally important, as is monitoring and evaluation. The JCSC and others are now working on practical strategies to deepen and strengthen advocacy, said Narcisse,“no matter at what level” (in other words, no matter what segment of the population you are trying to reach).
Vanna Lawrence is Project Manager at the EU Delegation in Jamaica. She asked the graduates to consider: “How can Jamaicans appreciate Justice?” The Justice Reform Program recently received a huge boost from the EU – a J$3.3 billion grant (24 million Euros) – $3 billion of which will be for budgetary support to the Government. J$137.7 million will go towards technical assistance, evaluation, audits and communications programs; while J$137.7 million will assist in ensuring that vulnerable groups in particular have greater access to justice. The agreement had been signed just the day before (on December 8). Lawrence urged those present to “stand up for Jamaica – and other countries – that are hungry for human rights and justice,” reflecting on the Human Rights Day 2016 theme: Stand Up for Someone’s Human Rights Today.
So, why is any of this of any significance for the average Jamaican man and woman on the street? Well, if you are HIV positive and facing obstacles in obtaining medication, for example, wouldn’t you like to have someone speak up – on your behalf and for others, too – to highlight the problem and try to get something done about it? If you are suffering constant sexual harassment at work, making your life hell – wouldn’t it be good to have someone pressuring the Government on much-needed and overdue legislation to address this pernicious issue? If you suffer from abuse at the hands of the police (or any other agent of the State), wouldn’t you want someone to stand up for your rights? Right. This is how democracies can move forward, through advocacy.
CVC’s Ivan Cruickshank reinforced the message: To be an effective advocate, you cannot “blow hot and cold.” You cannot take a month off. The aim is to build “a community of advocates” in Jamaica.
“You must be consistent,” said Cruickshank. “Plugging away… Keep at it. And live to fight another day.”
No one said it was easy, did they?