Between the 1985 and 1995 UN World Conferences on Women in Nairobi Kenya and Beijing China, human rights strongly emerged as a key issue for women. Women’s activism around the 1993 UN Human Rights Conference in Vienna made the UN and national governments begin to take the issue seriously. With the slogan “women’s rights and human rights,” women activists challenged the neglect of women and their rights in the national and international spheres and argued that the improvement of women’s status anywhere depends on advancing their rights everywhere. During this time, WLDI contributed to the effort by clarifying the issues and strategies related to women’s human rights with several initiatives, including “Claiming our Place,” 1993, “From Basic Needs to Basic Rights,” 1995, “Support for the Special Rapporteur on violence Against Women, covering State Responses to Domestic Violence and Rape, Gender Violence as War Crime,” etc., 1996-1998. (These will be covered in detail the “Advocacy” section of this Website.) Despite growing awareness of the concept among activists and some agencies at the UN, it became all too apparent that slogans are not enough. WLDI was aware that many women were unaware of their human rights, had no knowledge of the women’s human rights movement and see the human rights system—to the extent they were aware of it at all—as something abstract and beyond their reach. Thus, while activism had clearly made women’s human rights more visible, the challenge was to make them more accessible. WLDI was clear that human rights literacy, a variation of legal literacy, needed to include not only awareness but the capacity to assert rights by understanding the various levels of human rights protections and their institutional mechanisms of enforcement, recognizing the legal and political options and alternatives available and acquiring the skill to shape the strategies and alliances that are fundamental to the assertion of rights.
The "Step by Step" Project
To this end, WLDI worked over several years to develop a comprehensive educational program on women's human rights, that included
a manual that contained the core content of women's human rights at international and national levels,
a facilitator's guide to a course curriculum to promote learning processes and
a strategy workbook as a practical guide to developing a human rights strategy.
In the first instance, WLDI collaborated with Human Rights Watch Women’s Rights Project to develop a manual as a resource to women that would demystify the human rights system, demonstrate its accessibility to women and detail—step by step—how activists can use it to build powerful advocacy strategies. This manual was translated into 15 languages. Following the publication of the manual, Women’s Human Rights Step By Step, WLDI used it as the primary resource for a global capacity-building program aimed at developing a larger and more skilled community of women’s human rights advocates (More on this in the Capacity Building section of this website). Over several years WLDI had the unique opportunity to develop, use, and test ideas, materials, and approaches to advocacy and to training in many different contexts. Through application, evaluation, and modification, we identified essential skills and information that activists need to master before becoming effective advocates. These were incorporated into a core curriculum and facilitator’s guide, prepared by me and Nancy Flowers to supplement the information contained in Women’s Human Rights Step by Step. Finally, as part of this educational, capacity building, effort, we included a strategy planning workbook, as a practical guide to developing a women's human rights strategy.
The Step by Step Manual
The Step by Step manual was the result of a collective process, rooted in our own experience and in consultation with other practitioners and scholars. Our board of directors, which included Dorothy Thomas, Director of Human Rights Watch Women’s Rights Project, our collaborating organization, and Florence Butegwa, WLDI board chairperson, all gave input into articulating the need and purpose of the book, and ultimately its design. There were four principle writers. Florence Butegwa wrote the chapter on the concept of human rights (chapter 1). Julie Mertus wrote most of the chapters on the international, regional and national human Rights systems (chapters 2, 3 & 4), Dorothy Thomas wrote the chapter on investigating and documenting violations (chapter 6) and I wrote the advocacy (chapters 5 & 7). Dorothy and I wrote the Introduction. In addition, we counted on a strong pool of advisors who generously vetted the work as it progressed, and contributors of case studies and other materials. For a complete list of contributors, and acknowledgements see the list here. Contributors
Purpose of the Manual Recognizing that without mastery of technical concepts and skills, women’s human rights advocates are too often left with little to work with but slogans and enthusiasm. The Step by Step manual was developed to fill this gap. It provides an educational tools designed to:
help women’s rights advocates appreciate the relevance and importance of human rights law and mechanisms in the promotion and defense of women’s rights;
provide information on how to use the human rights system at national, regional and international levels;
explain in some detail the importance and methods of documenting and reporting violations of women’s human rights;
outline key advocacy strategies that can be used to promote women’s human rights; and
demonstrate, through cases and experiences, how women’s human rights advocates are already using the human rights system to enforce their rights.
Organization of the Manual The manual is organized into six chapters covering various aspects of women’s human rights advocacy. The first chapter presents key human rights concepts and their relevance to women’s rights. Subsequent chapters introduce and explain different mechanisms and strategies for enforcing women’s human rights at national, regional and international levels and the challenges still facing women’s human rights advocates in these areas. Chapter One: International Human Rights Introduces the human rights framework and its significance as a tool for addressing women's Human rights. Chapter Two: The UN Human Rights System Describes International human rights systems and mechanisms and explains how they work and how to access them. Chapter Three: Regional Human Rights Systems Describes Regional human rights systems and mechanisms and explains how they work and how to access them. Chapter Four: National Human Rights Systems Describes National human rights systems and mechanisms and explains how they work and how to access them. Chapter Five: Human Rights Advocacy Introduces and explains the concept of human rights advocacy for demanding accountability for women's human rights and explores characteristics of effective advocacy efforts. Chapter Six: Documenting Human Rights Violations Describes, step-by-step the process of investigating and documenting violations of women’s human rights and reporting them to the human rights community. Chapter Seven: Guide to Human Rights Advocacy Presents a step-by-step guide for constructing a strategy together with questions and issues needing resolution at each step of the way. The Appendices Offer reference materials including a glossary of terms, a list of instruments, and an address list of human rights offices in various countries and of institutions associated with the mechanisms covered in this manual.
Throughout the manual, there are charts, checklists, “words to the wise” and case studies to assist the reader in understanding and using the material presented.
The Step by Step manual was published in 1997. As women around the world took notice of the new book on women's human rights, the need for translation into other languages became imperative. Working with local groups and donors in various countries, Step by Step was funded, translated, published and distributed across the globe. By 2003, it had been translated into 15 languages.
Since its publication in 1997, Women’s Human Rights Step by Step became an invaluable resource for women’s rights activists around the world. The core curriculum, contained in the Facilitator’s Guide was the outgrowth of several years of application, evaluation, and modification of content and methods. Together with Nancy Flowers, we designed a program to help people develop the critical set of skills and knowledge needed for human rights advocacy. This approach, the “WLDI Step-by-Step Advocacy Method” is, thus, an outcome of a process of engagement with women from different parts of the world, with varying levels of skills and knowledge, from diverse fields in addition to law, and in the context of actually doing advocacy. The Guide was published in 2003.
The WLDI Approach to Women's Human Rights Advocacy In addition to understanding the structure and workings of the international human rights system, WLDI identified five main areas of competency required to carry out effective human rights advocacy. Advocates should be able to: 1. Frame a problem in human rights terms. This requires being able to:
identify the right violated, clarifying how the right was violated and who committed the violation
appreciate the role and responsibility of the state in relation to the violation
grasp the scope and limitations of law as a tool for change
recognize the interrelation of the substance of the law (what the law says), the structure of the law (how the law is applied and enforced), and the culture of the law (how people regard the law)
know whether the problem is the violation of a protected right or the lack of a defined right
recognize that unless a problem can be framed in human rights terms, it will not lend itself to a human rights strategy
2. Identify a woman’s human rights issue. This means being able to:
analyze the gender dimension of a problem (e.g., discrimination, gender gaps)
recognize different categories of women’s human rights and the challenges that accompany them
3. Propose a strong solution or remedy. This requires the capacity to:
identify where the problem (rights violation) is addressed in human rights instruments
recognize whether a resolution or remedy can be found at the national level or whether an international mechanism is relevant
select the appropriate enforcement mechanisms to apply
understand that the problem and the solution always include a cultural dimension—not just a legal one—that should he addressed in the solution
4. Design a human rights advocacy strategy that includes. This calls for the ability to:
identification of the “problem,” i.e., a human rights violation
analysis the problem which spells out the right involved, explains how the right is being violated, identifies the violator(s) and considers the political context
definition of outcomes with objectives set strategically, demands or claims clearly articulated, criteria for success spelled out,
a strategy design including: appropriate political and legal actions, potential allies and opponents targeted, how contextual and political variables will be addressed, the who, what, when, where, and how of the actions to be taken
a written plan
a concise way to communicate the strategy
an ongoing process to evaluate the strategy
5. Incorporate the components of effective advocacy into the strategy design and implementation phases. This requires being able to build and manage:
strong organization and leadership
a compelling human rights issue with capacity to gain public support
a clear definition, analysis and documentation of the issue, including showing that a right exists, proving that a violation of the right has occurred and demonstrating that the state has responsibility
an appreciable constituency or support groups
effective communication and education
visible mobilization and action
In addition to offering an identifiable set of skills and knowledge needed to do human rights advocacy, the WLDI human rights training approach adds other concepts and processes to the goal of developing a larger and more skilled corps of women’s human rights advocates around the world. One of these is its attention to language, specifically to translating the technical jargon of human rights law into a simple language, accessible to non-lawyers and activists. The Women's Human Rights Step by Step training course and manual have already reached a large number of women and organizations around the world with the same content and methodology— thus contributing to the development of a common language and understanding in the field of women’s human rights. As a result of its attention to language, the WLDI Step by Step approach has given women the means to develop skill in using new language and tools in their own local reality. Helping women make the connection between the human rights framework and local realities is critical to the process and a vital element of this approach. Perhaps the most innovative contribution of the WLDI methodology is the manner in which it systematically links advocacy with the human rights framework. One of the participants put it this way:
“For me, understanding how to systematically construct, design, implement, monitor and evaluate an advocacy strategy' in women’s human rights is completely new. The advocacy strategy' concept is an important element that I want/need to incorporate into my work method. I mean, for the most part women and organizations do advocacy in a non-strategic way. We do some advocacy actions but we don't really plan them. We think about what is important, we look for how to take advantage of the political context, the media and so on, but we have not had instruments and guidelines that could help us to link and understand all the components that we need to analyze in order to design and implement an effective advocacy strategy. We have done advocacy in a much more intuitive than strategic way. We have worked based on our many years experience working as activists....but now, with the WLDI structured approach to help us in developing our own advocacy strategies; it will add a greater quality to our work.”
Organization of the Guide and Course The facilitator’s guide focuses on the essential information needed to use the human rights framework for advocacy. Unit 1: Human Rights Fundamentals
Topic 1: Definitions and History
Topic 2: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Topic 3: The International Bill of Rights
Topic 4: The UN Human Rights System
Unit 2: Human Rights Enforcement
Topic 1: What is Enforcement?
Topic 2: The UN Enforcement System
Topic 3: Enforcement Procedures
Topic 4: Evaluating Enforcement Mechanisms
Unit 3: Women’s Human Rights
Topic 1: What Are Women's Human Rights?
Topic 2: The Development of the Women’s Human Rights Movement
Topic 3: Achievements of the Women’s Human Rights Movement
Topic 4: Recognition of Women’s Human Rights
Unit 4: Human Rights Advocacy
Topic 1: Law as a Tool for Change
Topic 2: Strategies and the Legal System
Topic 3: Human Rights Advocacy
Topic 4: Effective Human Rights Advocacy
Topic 5: Developing and Refining Your Strategy
Supporting Materials This facilitator’s guide and course serves to enhance the use of its core text, Women’s Human Rights Step by Step. It also draws upon the following supporting materials, including the
Women's Human Rights Step by Step: Advocacy Workbook, which supplies the core content and discussion questions for Unit 4: Women’s Human Rights Advocacy.
Power Point charts for each unit
Copies of worksheets to accompany learning activities
Copies of case studies for use in learning activities
Copies of International regional human rights documents
All of these are available to download.
Structure of the Units Each unit has five elements: key concepts, core content, discussion questions, learning activities and slides and charts.
Key Concepts A list of the core ideas to be covered in the unit.
Core Content The core content section summarizes the concepts essential to the unit that are further enhanced by charts, explanation, discussion, and other interactive learning activities. Words and phrases printed in boldfaced type are defined in the Glossary of the core text, Women’s Human Rights Step by Step.
Discussion Questions A series of questions cover the main points of the content. These questions are used to enhance learning and also to help the facilitator evaluate whether the material has been understood.
Learning Activities Although facilitators are encouraged to develop their own learning activities, a set of structured activities is offered for use in presenting or reinforcing the main concepts of the unit.
Slides and charts. PowerPoint slides and worksheets reinforce the learning process. Worksheets are labeled with the name and number of the activity for which they are intended. All these are available for download.
Purpose of the Workbook This workbook is intended to help women’s rights advocates and activists make connections among several key concepts involved in “human rights advocacy.” It supplements the material contained in the Women’s Human Rights Step by Step manual, adding analytical tools for understanding the role of law in society and incorporating a structural analysis of the issues into a strategy design. The various sections lay out key concepts and provide working definitions. They also offer step-by-step guidelines for working with the concepts and integrating them into concrete action strategies that effectively advocate for the rights of women.
The need for Definition The use of terms can sometimes be a source of confusion, especially when people use different words for the same thing, or when the same term is used to denote different things. In today’s world “democracy,” “civil society,” “advocacy,” and a host of other “in” words bounce around freely, but often without the precision that should be shared by everyone in the dialogue. Moreover, our thought and analysis are circumscribed by the terms we use. Often, even pioneers do not recognize their own excellent and innovative contributions due to their limited lexicon. On the other hand, rhetorical clichés become devoid of meaning by the obligatory character of their use. It is popular to speak of “mobilization” and “empowerment,” for example, but what do they really mean and how do we do them? “Educating women about their rights” is another popular phrase. But what kind of education is this phrase referring to? And, of course, “women’s rights are human rights” is a phrase we all use, but how many of us can really define what it means or know to what degree our meaning is shared by everyone else who uses the phrase? In this context it is important, therefore, to identify functional categories or concepts that will help articulate a new and deeper comprehension of the structure and utility of our efforts.
This workbook proposes a series of simple definitions and categories to help name our experiences. First, it explores the role of law and its affect on women and presents a conceptual approach for identifying the major legal issues facing women in the world today. Second, it explores the meaning of action strategies and advocacy strategies and how to develop them. Third, it explores the power of human rights as an organizing framework for engaging in effective advocacy. Part I “Definitions and Concepts” lays out the framework, definitions and concepts needed to design a powerful human rights advocacy strategy. Part II “Developing and Refining your Strategy” presents a step by step process for designing and evaluating an advocacy strategy.