Accessibility of abortion services is an area of healthcare that many people, including lawmakers, have failed to acknowledge. Asides being a healthcare component, abortion is a reproductive right. Where this right is violated, the health of women and girls suffers. In Nigeria, for example, unsafe abortion is one of the main contributors to maternal mortality and morbidity (Guttmacher Institute, 2008). Nigeria is a signatory to several treaties that seek to improve women’s sexual and reproductive health. One of such policies is the Maputo Protocol and Nigeria is a party to it. Article 14 of the Maputo Protocol states that all states shall:
“protect the reproductive rights of women by authorising medical abortion in cases of sexual assault, rape, incest, and where the continued pregnancy endangers the mental and physical health of the mother or the life of the mother or the foetus”.
Despite being a signatory to the Maputo protocol, legal restrictions, stigma and a lack of willingness to implement policies still impede access to safe abortion services for women and girls in Nigeria.
As such, there is a need for pro-choice advocates and abortion rights supporters to continue with advocacy.
This guide will show you how to plan an effective abortion advocacy strategy.
BASIC STEPS IN DEVELOPING AN ADVOCACY STRATEGY TO SUPPORT ACCESS TO ABORTION
Step 1: Policy monitoring and identifying issues to be addressed
It is important to know what specific issues your abortion advocacy needs to address. Are you looking to make abortion more accessible? Are you looking to implement strategies targeted at reducing abortion stigma? Or, is your abortion advocacy looking to address multiple issues?
Your advocacy issue must be context-specific and relevant to your overall project goal. In addition to this, it is important to know what legal provisions and policies exist for abortion. It is common knowledge among abortion advocates that abortion in Nigeria is legally restricted and only permitted to save the life of the pregnant person. However, there are other policies, treaties and programmes that are targeted at improving the reproductive health of women and girls. Knowledge of these policies can serve as lobbying points to key lawmakers.
Some of these policies, treaties and programmes include the 1938 Rex v. Bourne court case in which the court ruled in the favour of abortions performed to preserve the physical and mental health of the mother; the Sustainable Development Goals, the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and others. The Nigerian government has made commitments to these and so they can be included as monitoring mechanisms.
Step 2: Defining the advocacy goal
Asides the project goal, it is helpful to define the goal of your advocacy efforts. That is, what positive change can be expected to come about if your advocacy is successful?
Your advocacy goal should be clearly defined, have clear objectives and should speak to the overall project goal.
The advocacy objectives must be SMARTIE: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timebound, Inclusive and Equitable.
Step 3: Forming coalitions
Forming a coalition is intrinsic to a successful advocacy strategy. This coalition does not necessarily have to be a coalition of organisations. It is more about forming a coalition of ideas; the coming together of people to build support for your advocacy issue.
Coalitions help to form a partnership that produces a stronger advocacy campaign. It allows you learn from others who have worked or are working on the same issues; share resources, skills and knowledge; and benefit from others’ experiences. You are able to learn what strategies have been used, what results were obtained and what challenges were faced.
It is important that when seeking partnerships, you coalesce with those who share similar goals, values and interests.
Step 4: Mapping of key decision makers
In advocacy, there will always be a need to dialogue with decision makers as they are the ones who have influence over the policy actions you wish to take.
So, to identify decision makers, consider which government ministries, departments or offices are in charge of the advocacy issues. It is also important to consider their interest in and awareness level of the issue that your advocacy seeks to address.
There might also be people who have an influence (no matter how little) on the identified decision makers. Consider extending your advocacy to them. They may be academics, community leaders, retired government officials or ‘lower level’ government officials.
Importantly, ensure that you remain non-partisan as you engage with decision makers as this might deter other decision makers from helping out or listening to the issue.
Step 5: Identifying the target audience
You may choose to distinguish between the primary and the secondary audience. The primary audience should be those mostly affected by the advocacy issue while the secondary audience should be made up of those who can influence the primary audience.
Step 6: Identifying key messages
To keep your target audience engaged, essential communication is important and at the core of your advocacy strategy.
Consider what is most likely to motivate your audience to identify with your advocacy issue and take up your calls to action.
The key messages must be clear and properly communicate your advocacy issue to the target audience. Your messages should also communicate why your advocacy is needed and what significant difference will be seen if your advocacy goal is met. The messages must also be accurate such that it improves the knowledge of the audience.
You must also remain consistent with putting out your advocacy messages so that it remains in the minds of your target audience.
It is also important that the key messages do not encourage discrimination or stigmatisation of people who may have had abortions, pro-choice advocates or those who provide abortion services.
Step 7: Leveraging the media
Media, here, refers to all communication channels including print (newspapers, magazines), electronic media (radio, television) and digital media (social media). Regardless, choose to focus on the media that is most influential on your advocacy issue.
The media is an important channel for many reasons. With the media, you are able to improve your organisation’s image, disseminate information and create better public awareness for your advocacy issue.
To guide your media plan, develop a communications strategy that speaks to the project’s goals and the advocacy goals. With this communications strategy, you can plan how the key messages (identified in the step above) can be presented to your target audience.
It is important to note that using the media has the potential to attract an audience and this carries opportunities, as well as risks. While the media might bring the required publicity to the advocacy issue, it might also gather opposition as well.
Step 8: Monitoring and evaluation
At each phase of these steps mentioned above, it is important that there is an ongoing monitoring process to ensure that the strategy is working towards the advocacy goal.
You should collect and analyse data to serve as advocacy talking points and evidence. Well-researched data means that your organisation is able to engage in public discussion with the media, decision makers, target audience, partners and other stakeholders.
You may also choose to conduct baselines and end-lines with relevant stakeholders to track the progress of their knowledge on the advocacy issue.
Regardless of what techniques you may choose to use, evaluating the effectiveness of the strategy is very important.
Step 9: Reporting and information dissemination to your target audience
It is important that you ensure proper reporting and documentation of the entire process. Also, to maximize impact, always share your findings, progress and challenges with your target population. This builds trust and drives ownership of the process by your target audience.
P.S: Looking for a quick summary? Check out this infographic.