Chapter 1. An Introduction to Advocacy Print

Advocating for Adolescent Reproductive Health in Sub-Saharan Africa[PDF]

Also available in French in [PDF] format.

Advocacy is critical in efforts to improve adolescent reproductive health. Advocacy helps ensure that programs for youth are enacted, funded, implemented, and sustained by building support with the public and opinion leaders. Through education and example, advocates support young people's development to ensure that all youth grow up safe, responsible, and healthy.

What is advocacy?

Advocacy is the effort to change public perceptions and influence policy decisions and funding priorities. Advocates educate about an issue and suggest a specific solution. All advocacy involves making a case in favor of a particular issue, using skillful persuasion and strategic action. Simply put, advocacy means actively supporting a cause and trying to get others to support it as well. This volume specifically addresses advocacy efforts to improve adolescent reproductive health.

Advocacy takes many forms. In a small advocacy campaign, a community-based, youth-serving organization (YSO) may persuade school officials to allow teachers to supervise a peer education program. A club for youth may seek a traditional leader's approval to use office space in a community building. Several YSOs may work together to ask that a local clinic adopt policies and procedures that make services more accessible to young people. A peer education program may ask a religious leader to speak out for more HIV/AIDS prevention efforts. A group of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) may collaborate to propose changes to national policies affecting young people, such as ensuring that family life education curricula address reproductive health, persuading health clinics to provide services to unmarried youth, or promoting young women's improved access to education.

Why advocate for youth?

National and community policies—written and unwritten—significantly affect young people's health. Other institutions which touch the lives of youth, such as clinics and schools, may have internal policies that also influence young people's reproductive health. Policies are a reflection of a society's commitment to its young people. Improving policies that affect young people's reproductive health is important in helping youth make a safe, responsible transition to adulthood. Thus, communities and YSOs advocate to build support and improve policies.

Who can be an advocate?

YSOs, health care providers, researchers, parents, members of religious groups, and youth themselves can all be adolescent reproductive health advocates. Anyone who cares about the health of young people can be an advocate. The only requirement is to be actively committed to the issue. Too often, people who work with youth do not see them as advocates and think they lack the training or funding to engage in advocacy. In fact, staff of youth-serving and community-based agencies, teachers, health care professionals, parents, and youth are often articulate and compelling advocates for better programs and policies.

How does it work?

Advocacy often focuses effort on influential people who have the power to change policies and public opinion. These "influential" policy makers can include national, regional, or local government officials, traditional leaders, school officials, parent-teacher associations, religious figures, businesses, or members of funding organizations. Their positions give these people the power to make decisions that affect young people's lives. Involving these opinion leaders in a cause permits achievements that are rarely possible without their support.

Because public opinion affects political decisions, another important advocacy target is the public. A public education campaign can address the whole community or a specific group, such as parents of young children. There may be other important audiences as well because the audience for advocacy is the person or group of people whose actions can improve young people's reproductive health.

How does one start?

An advocacy campaign can be limited to a single community or it can be large enough to involve an entire network of YSOs across a nation. This advocacy kit is designed to help advocates in Africa develop the skills to advocate for young people's reproductive health education and services. It describes some of the steps in organizing campaigns and provides information on developing, implementing, and evaluating a successful advocacy strategy.

Advocating for Adolescent Reproductive Health in Sub-Saharan Africa provides some examples of advocacy efforts by looking closely at the strategies and activities of reproductive health advocates in sub-Saharan Africa. These examples provide guidance to new campaigns, stimulate ideas, and generate new contacts among reproductive health advocates from around the region.

Whether they are large or small, effective adolescent health advocacy campaigns include a few basic, but strategic, steps and activities. This advocacy kit provides information on how to:

  • Perform a needs assessment,
  • Formulate goals and objectives,
  • Work with other organizations and individuals,
  • Involve young people,
  • Educate the public, often by working with the media,
  • Persuade the public and policy makers to support adolescent reproductive health education and services,
  • Answer questions commonly asked about adolescent reproductive health,
  • Respond to opposition, and
  • Evaluate the results and adjust strategies.


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