Thank you for joining the New Tactics online community for a conversation on Powerful Persuasion: Combating Traditional Practices that Violate Human Rights from August 19 to 23, 2013.
Traditions and rituals are often supported by strongly held cultural beliefs. The deep roots of traditional cultural practices can make it very difficult to change behaviors that are harmful and violate the human rights of a community or individual. Often, the key to this kind of cultural shift is respectful, patient, community-led persuasion to create movements for change.
In Ghana, it may have taken 10 years to change the harmful practice of Trokosi (taking young girls as slaves to atone for the bad deeds of a family member), but a coalition of organizations and community leaders were able to free thousands of girls and abandon this practice in hundreds of communities. In Sub-Saharan Africa, Tostan and their partners engaged communities to learn about the harmful health impacts of Female Genital Cutting (FGC), educate men and women about their rights, and discuss how to prevent these health problems in the future. So far, over 6,500 communities from Djibouti, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal, Somalia and The Gambia have publicly declared their decision to abandon both FGC and child/forced marriage. Rather than blaming or criticizing, these groups encourage dialogue around these practices and their impacts on the development of local communities.
This conversation was an opportunity for practitioners involved or interested in the power of persuasion tactics to share their experiences, questions, challenges and ideas.
Summary of Conversation
Tactic examples shared in the conversation:
- Utilizing collective advocacy through supporting local advocates, campaigners, and NGOs in national and local settings to build a campaign against the inhuman sentencing of children, by Child Rights International Network (CRIN).
- Expanding upon the human rights led approach through Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP) by allowing the community to explore their human rights together, understand how they can utilize them in a practical manner and express them internally.
- Recognizing the need to systematically engage interconnected villages in discussions about key topics to create the first social mobilization team in The Gambia.
- Integrating a Mobile Phone for Literacy and Development module into the CEP, to accelerate positive social transformation in communities.
- Filming everyday people talking about some of the issue they face around LGBT rights to start difficult conversations around taboo issues, part of the UN’s “Free & Equal” campaign.
- Hosting The Daughters of Fire: The India Court of Women and Related forms of Down and Related forms of Violence against Women, to bring together 40 national organizations in Bangalore and 30 personal testimonies of violence and resistance with expert witness statements.
- Challenging community beliefs and providing incentives and alternatives to build a campaign against Trokosi, a system of servitude, in Ghana: Powerful Persuasion: Combating traditional practices that violate human rights.
- Utilizing a citizen campaign and getting an issue “out there” to get Amazon to change it’s policy on books that advocate the physical abuse of children.
- Collaboration between different actors working at different levels, including a combination of media coverage, NGO condemnation, and UN intervention to overturn the sentencing of a 15-year-old female rape victim in the Maldives to receive 100 lashes after being accused of having premarital sex .
- Utilizing drama and the arts to encouraging people to speak up at S.A.F.E. Maa in Kenya.
- Holding a public ceremony for local men to demonstrate and promise to never raise their hand in violence, with the help of Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse (SWAGAA), Swazi Men take a stand against domestic violence.
- Utilizing public declarations (including collection of signatures on traditional colorful cloth, certificates of recognition, and public weddings of uncut girls) in Senegal and Niger as a powerful means of persuasion in communities seeking abandonment of FGC/M through the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
- Creating a television series to get an issue “out there” and talk about it outside of the home, in more public area.
- Taking community leaders to another village where people happily send their daughters to school or college, then arranging meetings with parents of these girls and community leaders to encourage families to send their girls to school in Chakwal, Punjab, Pakistan.
- Advocates and researchers collaborating to build a campaign around the need for basic sexual education for younger children after a string of sexual abuse scandals.
- Offering various mediums of support material for a simple rule - The Underwear Rule - to combat child sexual abuse through the One in Five campaign by the Council of Europe.
- Engaging those affected by the unjust practice, through various tactics, including: Iraq Veterans Against War, discussions on disability, and A Mock Tribunal to Advance Change: The National Tribunal on Violence Against Women in Nigeria.
- Highlighting the importance of legal reform within a wider context to bring sustainable change for a community: A UK Channel 4 documentary about Polio vaccinations in northern Nigeria and a fight against the kalamai practice in Nepal.
- Taking a holistic approach to end harmful practices.
Why use persuasion when combating traditional practices that violate human rights?
Participants began by discussing what they mean by ‘persuasion’ and by ‘traditional practices that violate human rights’. Various commenters help define the terms; including (a definition specific to female genital cutting) creating an opening for a dialogue that comes from within a community and “the use of non-aggressive, non-coercive and populist campaigning methods”. Additionally, one individual commented that ‘persuasion is a main tool in any conversation, it is also an art that can be learned’.
One participant referred to the Social Norm Theory, which states that a social norm will greatly hold higher importance than an issue of legality in making decisions. Additionally, another participant commented that, “for sustainable change to occur, all members of the community need to be involved in all activities.” Participants agreed that ‘the change has to come from within’, and the social nature of the practice needs to be considered.
Often, it takes time for a social change to occur, especially one that is built around culture and beliefs. Patient persuasion is important because “there are just so many factors at play that cause these rights violations and environments that allow them to persist and are resistant to change”. All participants commented on the complexity of the changes - a plan is needed for long-term, sustainable change. Several participants commented that persuasion, while it takes time, does achieve results.
When working with persuasion, several viewpoints were raised - the age old debate of Universal Human Rights discourse vs cultural relativism and that of legal reform vs social / cultural reform. One commenter stated that persuasion should be the first response to dealing with human rights issues, and that generally speaking, legal reform follows popular demand; persuasion must be concerned predominantly with engaging people and getting them to engage with the issue. Another individual stated that the key to ending such practices lies in changing the social norms themselves.
Legal advocacy can challenge “abuses of rights that are based on absent or weak laws or on laws that represent an abuse of right in and of themselves”, commented one participant. The participant continued to state that laws are the cornerstone of human rights, and that legal advocacy is essential to achieve legal reform. Another participant warned that if legislation is used badly, it may drive a practice underground.
Orchid Project, combined legal and cultural reform and discussed legislation is a wider context, specific to Female Genital Cutting (FGC). Their specific theory of change around ending FCG places legislation in the context of an enabling environment. However, ultimately, they commented that the most effective methods of ending FGC start at the community level and that legislation is a pillar that supports this, rather than the other way around.
Reflection: What can others learn from your experience using persuasion?
Several participants agreed that dialogue is crucial, specifically around taboo issues, getting an issue “out there”, and persuasive dialogue when working with traditional and religious leaders. Additionally, public ceremonies and rituals can play an important role in persuasion. Working holistically was another key point in persuasion. One participant commented that information and demonstration leading to a full understanding of the situation will allow people to accept the idea of change. At CRIN, they state that patient persuasion through dialogue and awareness raising appears to be most viable option for working with traditional communities.
An enabling environment is crucial in working with persuasion, the more factors that are brought into play, the greater the chance of success. Another individual built upon this, referring to “organized diffusion” or the outreach and systemic spreading of information - infact, Tostan utilizes this in their programming.
Participants found that sometimes a tactic was successful in one area of the world or topic area, but not successful in another. The use of media received comments, sharing examples of utilizing it as both a strength and a challenge including increasing international coverage (strength and challenge), sharing stories of sexual harassment, and creating non traditional superheroes for T.V.
Other challenges that were mentioned include: having both a large grassroots movement and professional skilled activists, having enough local campaigners on board, how and when to introduce legal reform regarding traditional practices, and translation misunderstandings.
Resources on persuasion and combating traditional practices
- Violating Children’s Rights: Harmful practices based on tradition, culture, religion or superstition, a report about harmful practices and violations of children’s rights from the International NGO Council on Violence against Children.
- From Motivation to Solution: A Strategy Tool by Philippe Duhamel, on the New Tactics website; a tool to start exploring reasons for the traditional practices that exist, motivations and alternatives can be explored. Other articles by Philippe include: 7 tips for respectful persuasion and 8 Powerful Persuasion Tactics
- Joining Forces: Engaging men as allies in gender-sensitive peacebuilding, a New Tactics conversation in 2011, includes summary, tactical examples and resources.
- United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) website includes case study examples, approaches, guides and additional resources on Ending Violence Against Women, including their own “Cultural Sensitive Programming Approaches”.
- Tostan will be opening a Training Center, based in Thies, Senegal in 2015 to share models, lessons learned and collaborate with others. Here, is their website for more information.
- Facing Fundamentalisms newsletter, produced by AWID’s Challenging Religious Fundamentalisms program, regularly disseminates resources (guides, videos, analysis, articles, etc.).
- Two UNICEF publications: Cases Studies on UNICEF Programming in Child Protection (March 2013) and “Changing a Harmful Society Convention: Female Genital Mutilation/ Cutting” (2005).
- Tostan monthly newsletter - shares stories about the work of partner communities.
- Orchid Project theory of change for ending FGC, located on their website.
- Orchid Project resource map - links news, country pages and academic articles on FGC to geographic location.
- What is FGM? and Document - What is Female Genital Mutilation?, reports by Amnesty International.
- Department for International Development, practice paper: How to note on Violence against Women and Girls, A Practical Guide on Community Programming on Violence against Women and Girls (2012). Provides examples and lessons learned around various issues.