15 Top tips for Effective Feminist Advocacy

In the framework of the BBBeyond project, a grassroot feminist and advocacy professional, Moana Genevey, gave us and partners in Czechia an inspiring training session to help us advocate for more equal and diverse representation.

We wanted to share Moana’s top tips to design impactful advocacy strategies.

“You can be a proud feminist, but sometimes and especially in a professional setting, it’s difficult to express how you feel, or to feel that we really have an impact in raising awareness of sexism and bias in the workplace.”

What to say

1. Appeal to reason

Make sure your point is structured around data and facts – it’s unquestionable and rational so it will have impact. It’s even more powerful when you’ve collected the data yourself for your sector/your field (your specific, niche environment).

2. Know your data

Even if you know your stuff, sometimes when speaking or being put on the spot (at a meeting, during a Q&A or discussion, etc.) you can be overwhelmed or be hit by a lack confidence, which risks undermining your point.

3. Make it relatable

To the day-to-day life of people, to the situation/people you are addressing. The more people relate, the more they’ll remember your point.

4. Use impactful data

Even more so in a very conservative environment, where you have to be very strategic. For instance,  speaking of the gender pay gap is perhaps not the most impactful to diplomats or International Relations’ officials, who may not be privy to experience such discrimination or aren’t affected.

Examples of impactful facts and data

  • There is a UN study linking misogyny and violent extremism, and another one linking domestic violence and terrorism
  • The World Bank estimated the global cost of gender equality at $160.2 trillion
  • EIGE estimates that 10.5 million jobs would be created if we closed the gender gap in the EU

5. Identify conservative strategies & arguments

Play devil’s advocate to think of ways to counter-act their arguments.

💡 Make it an organisation-wide exercise, and create a file to reflect on arguments and counter-arguments for all your organisation’s topics.

6. Appeal to a specific group’s values

When you build an argument/a set of advocacy message, make sure they appeal to your target group’s values. Data and messages are important, but to be very convincing it’s helpful to dig deep into what your target group values or prioritises most.

7. Appeal to emotions

Populist and extremist movements are very good at doing this. They appeal to fear, hatred, etc. Facts/figures end up not mattering as much as emotions in populist discourses. In our (progressive) messaging, we should also do that – emotions are very powerful! And we can use positive ones (love, hope, tolerance, etc.)

8. Use story-telling

People relate a lot more when they watch or read about an experience, a story. Choose a clear, central message. If possible, make it personal (speaking and saying “I” makes people listen and relate). Observe good story-tellers (e.g. TED talks are really good with story-telling) and replicate!

9. Foster hope

It’s one of the most powerful tool we have in the circle of gender equality. We speak a lot “against” issues, against injustice, etc. When you are against, you don’t inspire, you’re not inventing/proposing something.

💡 Follow these “five shifts” from Thomas Coombes and move from problems to solutions, from threat to opportunity, from “against” to “for”, from victims to heroes, and from fear to hope.

What to do

10. Define your objective

What’s the issue we want to solve? What do we want? Then you break it down into achievable steps; otherwise it’s overwhelming, and it’s discouraging not to see progress. Even more so when the objective is “reaching gender equality”, which feels so far and encompasses so many different things.

11. Get your timing right

Find a window of opportunity. For instance, use a topical issue in the news, bank on an “international day of XYZ”, piggyback on summits and official events, etc.

💡 You can also create your own window of opportunity! Look for instance at the www.noustoutes.org campaign in France. They made so much noise about femicides that the word was created in France, mainstream media took up the issue and the government initiated reflections to legislate.

cf. case study of the French movement “noustoutes.org” counting femicides and making noise about it, to the point that the word was created, big newspapers and mainstream media started to talk about it, and the govt started to reflect on legislation

12. Find your people

Who’s your champion? If it’s a male-dominated environment, find a male ally (and it’s very well-known that men listen to men more).

Who’s your partner? Media, other networks, Ombud/equality body, feminist organisations, NGOs, etc. It’s an essential point to partner up: together, your point is louder and stronger.

13. Adapt to your audience

  • If they’re politicians, you need to give key messages and appeal to emotions (the message shouldn’t be too technical)
  • If they’re a diplomat, they don’t have much power and will have to refer to their capitals, so no politically-charged discourses, just establish a friendly contact to be invited/stay in touch with them and their network
  • If they’re a bureaucrat you can get technical (but be careful, if they are too high-level you may need to be more strategic, because they have a lot of decision-making power)

💡 Map your target groups. If you map everyone, do you also talk to everyone (even people who wouldn’t be sympathetic to our cause, e.g. extreme right)? You can engage, just with different strategies, for instance making yourself visible.

Bonus tips

14. What about men?

Bingo! This is the one question that is always asked. At every conference on a gender-related topic, at every media interview. So make sure you have an answer ready!

💡 You can say that there are many things men can do, and you can check out our toolkit on male ally-ship for inspiration. Tell them there are many toolkits, tips and things that have been written on the topic, all they need to do is google them!

15. Empowered women empower women: so-ro-ri-ty!

Support other women. We’re not taught that because of social norms, there are many ways in which we’re educated to be in competition with one another. Support and lift other women around you (with mentoring, listening, …). It’s a very powerful thing!

It is not about blindly supporting people just because they’re women, it’s about practicing questioning our bias and lifting other women up.

Moana Genevey is a Brussels-based grassroot feminist campaigner. She took an active role in creating and growing the Collecti.e.f 8 maars, who organised Women* Strikes in Belgium in 2019 and 2020. In her day job as Gender Policy Officer at Equinet, she advocates for gender equality at EU level.

She specialises in giving trainings on tackling gender-based violence and harassment in organisations, developping feminist advocacy campaigns and understanding how to achieve gender equality at the European level. You can contact her at moana.genevey@gmail.com 

1 year, 1000 voices

A few weeks ago, millions of people from all over the world took to the streets for International Women’s Day (IWD). It was a time to celebrate the progress made on women’s rights and to protest that this progress has not achieved enough. Women constitute 43% of the global agricultural labour force, and yet rarely own land; they constitute one third of the world’s labour force but find themselves paid less than their male counterparts; a 2019 UN report showed that women human rights defenders are at risk of increased repression and gender-based violence across the globe. Although the severity of inequality varies in different contexts, it is undeniable that a striking and unacceptable gender discrepancy still exists in every country.

It was therefore an empowering moment to march down the streets of Brussels, adorned with colourful banners and flags, and know that people from all over the world, from Madrid to Jakarta, were out on the streets of their country, demanding equality, empowerment and opportunity for all.

Many also used this IWD as an opportunity to have topical discussions about the shortcomings of celebrating this day; some argued that it speaks to issues largely tied to Western cultures; that it fails to address the diverse grievances and needs of women in different contexts; and that it has progressively become exploited for commercial gain.

These reflections demonstrate the importance of celebrating such a day. As we navigate the many and complex strands of contemporary feminism, we must recognise not only the achievements made and the challenges we face, but also the profound limitations of feminism in its current format. It is important that everyone continues to listen, evolve and adapt to ensure the voices of all those denied equal rights are heard.

The Brussels Binder was established with this in mind. Our aim is to encourage greater female participation in policy debates, because only policies that incorporate the voices of different people can reflect the needs of the diverse societies they impact. What started as an informal network of women from Brussels-based think tanks back in 2015 grew until the Binder was officially launched in 2017. It is now the go-to resource for increasing the number of women in policy debates. We have over 1100 female experts on our database, and are excited to launch Brussels Binder Beyond, a project, funded by the European Commission (DJ Justice), which aims to enhance the European dimension of the Binder and to support the development of existing initiatives in other European countries into fully-fledged databases.

In celebration of all The Brussels Binder volunteers have achieved, and to commemorate our one year anniversary, we held an event in February with over 300 friends and colleagues, #1Year1000Voices. Among the many distinguished guests, we were particularly honoured to welcome the 1000th expert to join our database, Hélène le Teno, Director of Ecological Transition at GROUPE SOS. Interviewed during the event, she spoke of some of the challenges she has faced as a female engineer throughout her career: the sexual harassment she encountered at an oil company; the subtle microaggressions that forced her to forgo wearing skirts to avert men’s shameless stares; and her decision to leave her job on account of the intimidating atmosphere cultivated by an industry dominated by men.

Hélène is now an executive at a company that has over 20,000 employees. She manages 500 people, five entities and a big budget. But she warns us that a high-level position and expertise is still not enough to combat the gender bias still rife in society. As a woman, expertise does not automatically equate to a position of influence. Senior positions do not necessarily convince people of your knowledge and experience. This is evidenced by the number of women invited to speak on panels in Brussels, the capital of the European Union.

According to a EU Panel Watch report, in 2018 34% of panellists at policy events across a number of sectors were women. Of that number, only 2% were women of colour. Just 28% of keynote speakers and high-level presenters were women, and only 1% were women of colour. Finally, a staggering 26% of panels were “manels” (no women speakers at all).

Many reasons account for such a startling lack of diversity, all of which stem from institutionalised discrimination, intrinsically linked and built into the societal infrastructure of all countries. The first reason is that women simply aren’t asked, their expertise valued less than their male counterparts; many women who are asked decline, owing to deeply ingrained feelings that they simply aren’t good enough; some have additional obligations, such as child care, that prevent them from participating. The lack of funds allocated to maternal obligations further compounds this problem.

Thus, while we are proud of all we have achieved in the last 3 years at the Brussels Binder, EU Panel Watch’s shocking figures suggest there is still much to be done. Women’s participation in policy debates is essential to developing sound, durable and reflective policies that advance the social and economic well-being of society. How can policies effectively integrate the needs of all people if the voices of half the population are excluded?

We live at the heart of the European Union, an entity underpinned by its intent to promote diversity, peace, dignity, justice and respect among all peoples. And yet, the values it promotes are under threat. Far right-wing governments are rising to power on the back of deeply divisive and hateful rhetoric. Deepening inequalities, unremitting poverty and ecological ruin are but a few of the urgent global crises demanding our attention. More than ever, we need to devise policies that effectively tackle these existential threats and contribute to inclusive and prosperous societies. Bringing the perspectives of women into these debates is not just important. It is imperative.


By Miranda Sunnucks