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Part 12 in a series by Marissa Goldfaden as she works her way through “Introduction to minority rights, regional human rights mechanisms, and minority rights advocacy,” a new online course offered to the public free of charge by Minority Rights Group International. The course’s stated objectives are to introduce concepts of minority rights and discrimination, develop awareness and understanding of international and regional mechanisms for minority rights, and improve practical skills in lobbying and advocacy.


This is the first of two topics explaining how to carry out advocacy campaigns. The first topic introduces advocacy. It shows how to identify problems that need to be addressed through advocacy, and how to set goals for a campaign.

Topic 10: Guide to advocacy campaigns, Part 1
Section 1: What is advocacy?

Advocacy is defined as the process of changing, or trying to change or influence, laws, policies or practices.

Advocacy involves the following nine steps:

  1. Identifying the problem.
  2. Understanding one’s own organization.
  3. Understanding the environment.
  4. Devising goals.
  5. Identifying target audiences.
  6. Creating the messages.
  7. Creating the strategy.
  8. Carrying out the strategy.
  9. Measuring the outcome.

Section 2: Analysis of the problem

It is important for activists or NGOs to first understand the problem to be addressed through advocacy. Notes MRG, “At this stage, it is very important to involve the minority or indigenous community: Activists should listen to the human rights issues that community members raise and what their priorities are.”

Some considerations in understanding the nature of the problem

  • Extent of problem
  • Social attitudes
  • Level of awareness
  • Access to justice
  • Legal framework
  • Gender

Section 3: Analysis of the environment – internal and external

Having identified the problem that needs addressing through advocacy, activists and NGOs must next understand the environment in which they are going to be working. This process involves analyzing both the NGO for which the activist works, and the general situation.

Internal (i.e. organizational) analysis

This element contains two main points.

1. Mandate

What can the activist’s organization work on, and what is it not allowed to work on?

The answers to these questions will depend on:

  • The organization’s charter or constitution, if it has one
  • The organization’s board and its decisions
  • National legislation and government regulations

2. Resources, both financial and human

It will be important to establish the following:

  • What are the organization’s strengths and weaknesses?
  • Is the organization too small to carry out a large-scale campaign?
  • What is the organization’s capacity for given areas of work?

When looking at the external environment, it is important to identify the following four groups of people: stakeholders, supporters, potential allies, and obstacles.

1. Stakeholders

Stakeholders are those persons who have an interest in the advocacy campaign. They can be directly involved and/or affected by it. They may also influence the campaign and its outcomes. A clear group of stakeholders when advocating on behalf of minority rights are the members of a minority community themselves.

2. Supporters

Supporters are people who are not stakeholders but are in favor of the work. They may include members of other communities or the majority who favor the outcome being sought. Supporters may also be drawn if the campaign seeks a change in the law that will benefit another community too.

3. Allies

Allies are supporters who can influence the outcome, such as university professors, journalists, politicians, and government officials.

4. Obstacles

Obstacles are those people who will work against the campaign.

Section 4: Setting ‘SMART’ goals

Having analyzed the environment, the next step in an advocacy campaign is to choose its goals. A useful tool for identifying appropriate goals is SMART, an acronym for the following words:

Specific – it is important to be as precise as possible when identifying a goal(s).

Measurable – there must be a way of identifying how the goal has been achieved or how advancement has been made towards it.

Agreed upon – consultation is conducted with stakeholders and everyone is agreed that these goals are important.

Realistic – depending on the organization’s resources and the situation in the country, the goals should be achievable.

Time-bound – a deadline for the strategy is required.

Outputs are the activities that you do, while outcomes are the achievements that you make. Sub-goals can also be incorporated as a way of measuring success.


Part 11 in a series by Marissa Goldfaden as she works her way through “Introduction to minority rights, regional human rights mechanisms, and minority rights advocacy,” a new online course offered to the public free of charge by Minority Rights Group International. The course’s stated objectives are to introduce concepts of minority rights and discrimination, develop awareness and understanding of international and regional mechanisms for minority rights, and improve practical skills in lobbying and advocacy.

gender equalityBy MARISSA GOLDFADEN

Topic 9: Thematic focus: Multiple forms of discrimination
Section 1: Key concepts

Sex and gender defined

Sex refers to biological difference between men and women.

Gender refers to socially constructed roles, behavior, or activities that are considered appropriate for men and women.

There is little variation in aspects of sex between different human societies. However, gender roles may vary greatly. Because gender differences are based on societal attitudes of what is considered appropriate for men and women, they can and do change over time.

Section 2: Identifying discrimination on more than one ground

Discrimination: Expanding the concept

As we learned in Topic 1, direct discrimination means less favorable or detrimental treatment accorded to an individual, or group of individuals, due to their possession of one or more specific characteristics. International law specifies those protected characteristics as: race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Intersectional discrimination occurs when two or more layers of discrimination act together to double or triple the disadvantage experienced by the individual.

Section 3: Focus on minority women

The concept of gender affects both men and women. However, intersectional discrimination on the grounds of both gender and minority status frequently affects and disadvantages minority women in a different way than men. Members of minorities frequently face threats and increased discrimination from the majority when they try to defend their rights. A dominant majority usually has an interest in keeping the situation the same. When minority women assert their rights, the backlash may have a gender dimension – often sexual violence.


It is important to remember:

  • Minority women may face particular discrimination or violence because they are both members of a minority group and women.
  • No culture is homogenous.
  • All cultures are constantly adapting and changing.
  • Minority women have the same rights as other women.

Section 4: Balancing cultural rights with the individual rights of minority women

Protection of identity and restrictions

Culture and gender

For many communities, women and girls are the custodians of cultural identity. Often, cultural practices of men will change, whereas the cultural practices of women are maintained. This is one reason why, when there are tensions between the rights of a minority to protect their cultural identity and the rights of individual members of the minority, frequently, the tensions relate to cultural practices of women or those that affect women.

Cultural identity of minorities: A limited right

Writes MRG, “Members of minorities have the right to protect and promote their identity. However, this right is not unlimited. The UN Declaration on Minorities permits states to restrict cultural practices ‘where specific practices are in violation of national law and contrary to international standards’.

States may not enact laws to restrict any practice they choose, because this would make the right to protection of cultural identity meaningless. Prohibitions on cultural practices must be based on reasonable and objective grounds. States should prohibit practices that violate other human rights standards.”

International standards

International law sets out principles to which restrictions on cultural practices, including religious practices, must adhere if they are legitimate:

  • Restrictions must not be discriminatory.
  • Restrictions must be necessary to protect one of the following:
    • public safety
    • public order
    • public health, or morals
    • the fundamental rights and freedoms of others
  • The restrictions should be the minimum necessary to meet the aim for which they have been employed.

Undue influence is a legal term defining a situation whereby one person improperly exerts influence over another to act in a certain way.


The right to identity is not unlimited, and there are legitimate restrictions that governments can make on minority cultural practices. However:

  • Restrictions must not discriminate (directly or indirectly), and must conform to international standards.
  • Cooperation with affected communities is important in ensuring that already marginalized groups do not perceive restrictions to be attacks against them.
  • The opinions of diverse sections of minorities are important, since there are likely to be different views on cultural practices and restrictions within the community.


Part 2 in a series by Marissa Goldfaden as she works her way through “Introduction to minority rights, regional human rights mechanisms, and minority rights advocacy,a new online course offered to the public free of charge by Minority Rights Group International. The course’s stated objectives are to introduce concepts of minority rights and discrimination, develop awareness and understanding of international and regional mechanisms for minority rights, and improve practical skills in lobbying and advocacy.


Topic 2 in the course is titled Introduction to the UN human rights system. The first section lays out the purpose and structure of the United Nations human rights system. Given the course objectives, this section delves right into the most pertinent part of the UN Charter—Article 55, which reads:

With a view to the creation of conditions of stability and well-being which are necessary for peaceful and friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, the United Nations shall promote:

a. higher standards of living, full employment, and conditions of economic and social progress and development;

b. solutions of international economic, social, health, and related problems; and international cultural and educational co-operation; and

c. universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.

Next, we learn that the main bodies of the UN are the General Assembly, the Secretariat, and the Security Council. Given the complex structure of the UN, this helpful diagram is included:

Here we see a differentiation between charter bodies and treaty bodies. The former are those which have been created using the authority of the UN Charter. “They are political bodies, meaning that either members of the body represent their governments or individuals are appointed to their role by governments. Charter-based bodies can address issues in any country, but it is important to keep in mind that their political nature also has an impact on their effectiveness.” In contrast, treaty-based bodies get their authority from UN human rights treaties (legal agreements between states). “Treaty bodies are considered more effective than Charter bodies, as they come from legal instruments. However, they can only address issues in states that have accepted the treaty.”

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) also play a pivotal role in the UN human rights system by providing support and lobbying the UN and its member states. Roles of NGOs include:

  • Contributing to policymaking and legislative debates at the international, regional and national levels
  • Highlighting issues concerning violations and abuses when governments and international organizations tend to be ineffective or even silent
  • Bringing such issues to the attention of monitoring bodies operating under the auspices of international and regional organizations
  • Providing information available to the various monitoring bodies and procedures
  • Submitting cases on behalf of individuals where bodies or mechanisms permit
  • Identifying needs for technical assistance projects and contributing to their implementations
  • Putting political and public pressure on governments to live up to their obligations under the human rights instruments
  • Lobbying for more effective implementation of existing standards and mechanisms and for the creation of new ones

After considering some of the constraints NGOs experience within the UN, we move on to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities (UNDM). Per MRG, “A declaration is a statement of the aims or ideals of states. Declarations apply to all states; however, they are not legally binding. . . . UNDM is not the only UN instrument protecting minority rights, but it is the first and only one addressing the rights of minorities in a separate document. The UNDM constitutes the main UN reference for minority rights.”

Article 1 protects the right to existence and identity and to expression of identity through culture, religious practice, and use of language. Article 2 protects the right to participation—both in public life and in decisions affecting the minority. The UNDM grants members of minorities the right to exercise their rights freely and in community with others in Article 3.

Under the UNDM Article 4, states must not discriminate against minorities and they should create the conditions necessary so minorities may develop their culture. States must take measures so that minorities can learn their mother tongue and encourage knowledge about minority cultures within the country. Minorities may not be excluded from economic development.

The UNDM also provides in Article 5 that when national and international programs are being designed, the interests of minorities should be taken into account. Article 8 reiterates that special measures taken to implement the UNDM by redressing historic marginalization of minorities are not discriminatory. Another provision of note is Article 9, which states, “UN Agencies should contribute to the realization of the rights in the UNDM.” MRG explains, “This is an important provision, because it means that all UN agencies, such as UNDP, UNICEF, ILO, etc., should be paying attention to minority rights within their areas of work.”


Although minority rights are not the only protection necessary to prevent genocide, where minority rights are lacking or altogether absent, the likelihood of genocide—or any other type of violent conflict involving minorities—is that much greater. As Minority Rights Group International (MRG) wrote in a 2004 briefing paper, titled “Genocide and Minorities: Preventing the Preventable,”

“The UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities captures the spirit of the Genocide Convention in that it emphasizes that the right of national, ethnic, linguistic and religious groups to physically exist is not enough: states have a duty to protect the existence and identity of such groups (see Article 1 [1] of the UN Declaration on Minorities). Governments must respect and support the rights of minorities to use their own languages, enjoy their cultures, profess and practise their religions, and participate effectively in public life.”

The authors of the paper also note:

“Sustainable prevention requires the development of ways for groups to at least peacefully coexist, and in time to integrate on the basis of shared values and interest. This implies the entrenchment of the rule of law based on the full and equal respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities, and governance for the good of the whole population. The principles of non-discrimination and effective participation in public life both protect minority groups and ensure that their voices are heard in decision-making.”

With that in mind, this post marks the first in a series by Marissa Goldfaden as she works her way through a new online course offered to the public free of charge by MRG, “Introduction to minority rights, regional human rights mechanisms, and minority rights advocacy.” The course’s stated objectives are to introduce concepts of minority rights and discrimination, develop awareness and understanding of international and regional mechanisms for minority rights, and improve practical skills in lobbying and advocacy.


The first course topic is basic concepts in human rights and minority rights. The first question posed is, Who are minorities?  MRG uses the following working definition: The term minorities refers to ethnic, national, religious, linguistic or cultural groups who are smaller in number than the rest of the population and may wish to maintain and develop their identity. In differentiating between minorities and indigenous peoples, MRG provides another definition: Indigenous peoples are distinct ethnic communities who are the first inhabitants of a geographical region, and whose identities and cultures are inextricably linked to the land on which they live and the natural resources on which they depend.

The next section poses the query, What are human rights and minority rights? Human rights are freedoms and entitlements that all human beings have because they are human. They are to be enjoyed without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political and other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. This means they are universal. There are different categories of human rights, all of which have equal importance:

  • Civil and Political: These rights protect people’s status and participation in the public sphere, e.g., the right to be free from torture, the right to a fair trial, the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
  • Economic, Social and Cultural: These rights concern material and social welfare, e.g., the right to education, the right to health, the right to work and fair conditions of work.

The three main elements of minority rights are non-discriminationprotection of identity, and effective participation. There are two types of discrimination: direct and indirect. Direct discrimination is less favorable or detrimental treatment accorded to an individual or group of individuals due to their possession of one or more specific characteristics (for example, ethnic group, religion, language or sex). Indirect discrimination is when a practice, rule, requirement or condition outwardly appears to be neutral but it impacts negatively on a particular group in a disproportionate way. Protection of the distinct identity of a minority group in a particular country means that governments must guarantee the physical existence of that group. This means protection from genocide, forced expulsion or ethnic cleansing, and forced assimilation into the dominant community.

The right to participation for minorities includes three main elements:

  1. Participation in decision-making on issues that affect the minority
    This principle is especially important. Minorities should be involved at all stages of the decision-making process and at all levels – local, regional, and national.
  2. Participation in all aspects of public life
    It is essential for minorities to be able to contribute to the wider society and effectively participate in decision-making processes as members of the majority do, for example, through standing for elections.
  3. Participation in economic progress and the benefits of development
    Minorities must benefit from wealth they generate, for example when they live in areas with valuable natural resources. Also, minorities should benefit from the proceeds of wider development agendas.

The next section seeks to expose commonly held misconceptions about minority rights. The first is that minority rights are divisive; the second is that they lead to breakup of the state; the third is that they are privileges for groups; the fourth is that taking action to support minorities discriminates against the majority.

As noted above, this blog post is just an outline; the course itself is more in-depth. The following links are suggested further reading for this section:



Minority Rights Group International (MRG) has just put out the 2012 edition of its flagship annual report, State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2012. The publication “provides concrete evidence of how the generation of vast revenues from logging and dams, oil and mineral extraction, coastal tourism, fish farming, conservation parks and large-scale agriculture, is often at the expense of the rights of indigenous peoples and minorities.” MRG points out that while such threats are not new, it is the present extent of their severity and scale that is so alarming. This is the result of a combination of dwindling resources and greater technology which enables extraction of such resources in remote parts of the world, thereby affecting previously isolated minorities.

As is often noted in regards to Africa, natural resources are a double-edged sword—some of the most resource-rich regions throughout the world are home to some of the poorest minorities and indigenous peoples. Revenue streams from extraction are filtered out of these areas, while their inhabitants are left to deal with the consequences. The reason for this paradox of sorts is the fact that minorities and indigenous people are “more vulnerable to harmful natural resource development because their right to equality is not respected fully in society. Discrimination is one major root cause. This can lead to practices such as ‘environmental racism,’ whereby higher incidence of pollution or other environmental degradation is found” where marginalized groups reside. The report “sets out for the first time corporate responsibility in relation to minority rights, and provides evidence of companies’ ongoing disregard for minority and indigenous peoples’ rights (even when their Corporate Social Responsibility policies say otherwise).”

Such disparity is significantly worse for indigenous women, since their land rights and access are controlled by customary law; traditional territories are retained by communities, often with no legal title. As a result, entire communities are displaced in the name of conservation or development projects. Furthermore,

When communities are dispossessed of their land, women are often disproportionately affected because of their traditional role in procuringwater, fuel or trading goods for their families. . . . Women may also lack the education or information necessary to allow them to exercise formal legal rights. Overall, unequal access to land can limit the economic independence of indigenous women, making them more vulnerable to economic or social upheavals.

However, there have also been positive developments in this realm, especially pertaining to the status of ratification of major international and regional instruments relevant to minority and indigenous rights over the past five months. To view a comprehensive table, as well as more in-depth thematic essays and regional overviews, you can download the entire report at the link above.


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