Four ways to navigate global advocacy forums

© Nigel Kingston

Following their participation at the High Level Political Forum on the SDGs in New York, Seb Rowlands, Senior Advisor: Policy (PITCH), and Diane Kingston, Senior Advisor: Policy and Government Affairs, share their tips for successful engagement.

1. Get close to your country delegation

Diane: It can be very hard to interact with country delegations as civil society space has shrunk considerably at the HLPF and continues to do so year-on-year. The HLPF only allows United Nations Member States and other UN agencies to enter into the main conference room and civil society have to observe from the balcony.

As the nominated person to speak on behalf of UK civil society organisations, I had access to the main room to deliver one of the statements in response to the UK’s Voluntary National Review (VNR) submission, which ensures the Forum members are accountable to the questions I raised.

Being at the HLPF was also an opportunity for civil society to speak out in side meetings, or with parliamentarians who are not from their national delegation. The UK delegation were not willing to meet the 30 INGOs from their country. However, you can connect with other civil society representatives, but it’s important to ensure that civil society organisations don’t operate in thematic or geographic silos.

Seb: A key advantage to being at the HLPF means that partners can interact directly with government. We saw this with our colleague Baby Rivona from Indonesia at the HLPF, where she took full advantage of speaking to her government’s delegation, resulting in an unplanned and successful three-hour meeting with further follow up planned in country.

Being there in person also shows that you are engaged at the global level and understand the process. This puts pressure on governments as they find it very easy to ignore civil society when they’re back home and where they can avoid being held accountable. Show your face, show you’re there and that you’re watching.

2. Create connections and make alliances

Seb: The UN Major Groups have official relationships within the UN system. For the VNR process, civil society gathers together beforehand and prepares three agreed statements with questions for their government. This is in the spirit of collaboration and joint advocacy so you push for shared issues of concern. Representatives from civil society are affiliated to a Major Group and if permitted by the UN gatekeeper, can deliver their statements within two minutes.

Indonesian civil society were only able to present one statement, which didn’t manage to include the concerns our Indonesian colleagues wanted to raise on marginalised and criminalised populations. However, the objective is not necessarily to have any questions answered, but to get it on record that you’ve asked them and you can use that to follow up in country.

Diane: We can also gain more traction by mentioning the groups that seem to be getting more voices in international fora, for example adolescent girls and young women at risk of acquiring HIV, increasingly the LGBT community, but also sex workers, people who use drugs and other criminalised populations.

Seb: This year’s big issue was climate change – being one of the Global Goals under review at the HLPF – which disproportionately impacts people affected by and living with HIV. For example, the extreme weather conditions in East Africa this year resulted in people not being able to adhere to their anti-retroviral treatment, or access healthcare centres. It can be effective to find synergies and frame your advocacy priorities within a focus issue like this, rather than trying to make noise about your concerns in isolation.

3. Demand and create space for greater discourse on HIV/AIDS

Diane and Seb:
Some African countries, notably Lesotho, spoke about the epidemic, and our joint side event, ‘Empowered while criminalised’, highlighted the progress that still needs to be made for key populations (LGBT+, people who use drugs, sex workers and adolescent girls and young women), but apart from that, advocacy about HIV and AIDS was virtually invisible.

That’s not to say that people weren’t interested. There was praise for our ‘HIV beyond goal three’ publication on the linkages between HIV and the Sustainable Development Goals , so it’s also important to develop impactful and relevant sources to share with delegates, both civil society and government. We’ve got to speak up whenever and wherever we can, and have key information to share. We also need better data to identify those being left behind, starting with a commitment to ensure that everyone is counted. As Omar Seidu, the Principle Statistician from the Ghana Statistical Service said: “We need to use informal data in order to close the data gaps – the level of data from civil society and where the data is quality assured, can be used for national monitoring.” This is especially important in relation to highlighting the impact of laws and policies on criminalised populations.

Holding a side event is a really good opportunity to connect with people for follow-up conversations. It can be difficult to get government officials and diplomats to attend, but invite your contacts from the delegations and missions and, if possible, get the missions to support a side event to add more weight to the event. At the HLPF we had support from the Australian permanent mission, South Africa, and Argentina alongside institutional support from UNAIDS, UNDP, UNOHCHR. The quality of the speakers and level of discourse was excellent. It provided delegates with the space to do their own advocacy by saying how important it is to address the rights of specific criminalised groups. It was also an opportunity to identify new allies.

4. Keep up your advocacy – the advantages of continuity and future planning

Diane and Seb:
As for next year’s global advocacy meetings – it’s about planning in advance and supporting country partners to see what tactics could work for them and for other civil society groups. Through the Partnership to Inspire, Transform and Connect the HIV response (PITCH), we can continue to support advocates like Baby to keep that dialogue going and build on and use that as a springboard for future meetings such as the forthcoming High Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage.

A lot of partners are clued up on the ways to influence global policy spaces like this, but through the programme we can foster more of the peer and cross-country learning to make it a better process. In this way community advocates can use global discourse and insights, to inform their own local advocacy.

The Partnership to Inspire, Transform and Connect the HIV response (PITCH) is a joint partnership between Frontline AIDS, Aidsfonds and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Seb Rowlands is a Senior Advisor: Policy (PITCH) and Diane Kingston is a Senior Advisor: Policy and Government Affairs. They both work for Frontline AIDS.


PITCHSustainable Development Goals (SDGs)