About Kirsty McNeill

Kirsty McNeill is Save the Children's Director of Policy, Advocacy and Campaigns. She was a Downing Street adviser for three years. She has written on politics, campaigning and international affairs for outlets including The Telegraph, Observer and New Statesman and is on the boards of the Holocaust Educational Trust and the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. You can see more of her writing at www.kirstymcneill.com.

Honouring Jo Cox by supporting women in politics

Jo Cox only used one qualifier when asked what kind of feminist she was.


She believed in politics and the rightful role of women at the centre of power. She was forever pushing other women forward and was profoundly committed to supporting female candidates across the political spectrum. Inspired by her example and in her memory a few us hosted an event with Julia Gillard, designed to encourage women to consider a public life and give them the tools to change the world.

You can read Julia’s speech here and watch the whole event here:

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Before Julia spoke we heard from a range of amazing speakers about what they can offer women considering public life and what each of us can do. Suggestions ranged from getting involved in Campaign Bootcamp to amplifying the voices of other women (buying this book is a good place to start). There isn’t enough space here to do full justice to those speakers, so the most important practical step you can take is to watch and share the session as a whole. Then make a note in your diary, right now, to check in two months time how many of the things the speakers ask of you that you’ve done.

There is so much to be sad about in times like these, but much hope to be drawn from Julia Gillard’s message that power is not a dirty word and politics is not a dishonourable profession. Our Jo believed and embodied both those things and I hope this event helped set the next Jo Cox off on her journey. We must do all we can to support her on her way.



Slay it Loud and Slay it Proud: Lessons from the Fourth Wave

Guest post from Helen Elliot from Save the Children UK, on a talk by Maria Neophytou of the GREAT Initiative, as part of the #changehistory series of talks. You can listen to all the previous talks here.

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Last week a book that was the first of its kind was released, entitled “In Our Own Words: A Dictionary of Women’s Political Quotations”, edited by Nan Sloane (Centre for Women and Democracy). Why has it taken until nearly a century after women first got the vote in the UK for a collection of some of our most memorable voices to be recorded in one place? Many feminists would argue that one of the reasons is because, up until now, we have been learning about HIStory, a record of humanity written by and for men.

Maria Neophytou of The GREAT Initiative brought this argument with her when she came to speak to staff at Save the Children on International Women’s Day. Maria raised some challenging truths about what it means to be a feminist in today’s world, and offered us a different perspective on the development sector and the potential for feminism to reshape it into something new.

We Came to Slay

Change is hard, but that’s ok. Inspired by Beyoncé’s lyrics in her recent single “Formation”, where she uses “slay”, a term first coined within the African-American gay community that means to “succeed in, conquer or dominate something”, Maria argues that in order to change HIStory to reflect our experiences and our perspectives, we must become more comfortable disrupting the social order and to come in fighting unapologetically for our right to be remembered. (If you haven’t seen Beyoncé’s performance of Formation, you should!)

Who or what is it that we are disrupting?

Many of you will have already read and hopefully shared the article recently published by Grayson Perry about the “Default Man”. The overarching point he makes is that it is a group of white, middle-class, straight, usually middle-aged men that holds the power in our society but that their time in the driver’s seat is starting to run out. This group of Default Men sit comfortably within the Patriarchy (a system of oppression of men over women) which has influenced how we all think and feel in ways we may not even be cognisant of. But feminism offers space to reflect and unpack our thinking. It welcomes difference and wants us to move away from binaries of male and female, celebrating differences and allowing conflict of opinion to exist.

Waves – trough or crest?

Feminism is now in its fourth wave where people are connected by technology and social media plays a critical role in challenging everyday sexism, misogyny and gender binaries. We’ve seen a significant shift in public attitudes about what it means to be a feminist in even our lifetimes. Maria speaks of how there were no feminist societies when she was at secondary school in the 90s, or at university 20 years ago. Nowadays, teenage girls and young women (and boys and men) have superstars like Beyoncé blasting strong feminist messages into their earphones in a language that makes sense to them. Being a feminist is suddenly not only cool, but is expected of young people. Meetup groups exist for feminists in every city across the country and Emma Watson is the face of the HeforShe campaign.

Maria uses the fourth wave messages to raise questions about how we currently “do” development. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were designed by Default Men, but the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a product of a more global conversation and their framework takes a more feminist approach, she says. But what about the aid architectures we operate within? Is it time to revamp the paternalistic approach to giving where strict criteria are decided by the patriarchy? Do we need to clear some space for more partnerships to enable more open, honest and more meaningful collaborations and changes to occur? Food for thought!

And challenges remain in the fourth wave. Our children are up against a barrage of reinforcing messages about what it means to be a girl or a boy. Campaigns such as Pink Stinks and Let Toys be Toys are working to tackle the marketing industries to bring gender neutrality into products. Only 450 female MPs have been elected since 1918, while today there are 459 male MPs. Women still face harassment of various forms in their daily lives, which campaigns like Everyday Sexism is working tirelessly to change. And entire coalitions exist today to tackle violence against women despite there being a UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women in place since 1993 and other incredible worldwide conventions and policies put in place for women’s protection (see the UN Women’s Timeline for a much needed uplift here).

The discussion is left wide open for debate but I’d argue that right now we might be falling down towards the trough of the fourth wave, making splashes and spraying salt water in the faces of the patriarchy. But, we’ll soon rise up, stronger in our diversity to form a powerful crest which will be the fifth wave of feminism. What will it look like? Equality, hopefully!


Lessons from the LGBT movement

Guest post from Vic Langer, Campaigns Director at Save the Children UK, on a talk by Ruth Hunt, CEO of Stonewall, in the latest in Save the Children’s #changehistory series. You can listen to all the other talks in the series here.

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“It’s not about me, it’s about us”, this probably sounds like the sort of thing you imagine being uttered during relationship counselling; it is however the rallying cry to the UK LGBT community about what’s next in the journey toward LGBT equality issued by Stonewall CEO Ruth Hunt.
It’s always good to have the opportunity to reflect on lessons from campaigning history and our lunchtime talk from Ruth Hunt to mark LGBT History month was no different. Rattling off a few key moments from history to demonstrate the long held societal anxiety around male sexuality Ruth sketched out for us the conditions under which Stonewall came to be, and what it was for.

Established in 1989 against the hostile backdrop of Section 28, an offensive piece of legislation designed to prevent the so-called ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in schools, Ruth described Stonewall as an organisation focused on creating a pragmatic consensus in UK society. It was this consensus that saw the creation of “the good gay”, the presentable face of the gay male in the eyes of the mainstream. Quick to emphasise that for the large part this was a male movement, a white, elitist one at that, at one point she quips the lesbians were “off making the tea”.

So how did a these gay men achieve full legal equality in the UK? Through assimilation! These were clean cut, monogamous, home owning, employed men looking to get hitched, settle down and start a family. All they wanted was normalcy. The narrative was set; there was “nothing queer about being LGBT”.

I know from my own experiences of attempting to navigate the politics of the LGBT community that this approach isn’t without controversy. The impact on LGBT people of moving not against but into heteronormative discourse has been the subject of hours and hours of debate. Reflecting on whether assimilation was the right approach Ruth is clear – that’s something for history to decide.

A history that had her a few minutes earlier reeling off the wins secured over the last 20 years. Equal immigration rights, equal age of consent, the repeal of Section 28, civil partnerships, legislation to stop discrimination against LGBT people around goods and services, the list goes on. It’s an undeniable fact that through the assimilation approach full legal equality has been achieved, I guess the thing that history will decide is whether the cultural trade-offs were worth it? Did LGBT communities even want to assimilate?

One thing that is clear is that legal parity is a far cry from social acceptance, and so the struggle continues. Now Stonewall’s challenge is how to get their supporters to share their equality gains with others, hence Ruth’s mantra of “it’s not about me, it’s about us”. For her it’s time to diversify the public consensus from what it looks like to by gay, to what it looks like to by LGBT, to be black and lesbian, to be working class and trans.

Diversity was one of Ruth’s top tips for campaigners because different people resonate with different audiences and it’s her view that long term social change happens when you have consensus from the widest possible base.

A clear reminder to all of us campaigners and activists was the advice that no one cares as much as we do, we care more about the issues we campaign on than anyone else, and even then if we are honest there are moments in our day when it’s time for even us to switch off.

That brings us to clear communications – make the headline, keep your points crisp. Clear to highlight that this takes discipline she underlines that it’s our job to spell it out to our audiences in ways they both understand and have time for.

She’s also keen to emphasise that counterintuitive partnerships yield extraordinary results. Making the decision to work with Paddy Power was a risky endeavour for Stonewall, there were moments when they could have been just one tweet from catastrophe, but in the end the partnership was powerful because it reached a section of society that would have continued to be unreachable without such collaboration.

There are no apologies made by Ruth for Stonewall’s collaborative, mainstream, working with you – not against you approach. The organisation will never be on the outside shouting in, it lives firmly in the mainstream but that doesn’t mean a refusal to challenge the status quo. Ruth recognised throughout her talk that the future is about creating a wider movement for social equality, that there is much work to be done in society around race and gender. As she comes to a close she shares that she has to think a lot more about the decisions that she makes because she is a woman leading Stonewall – but sadly we were out of time so there is no getting further into that issue, which is a shame because I wanted to ask if the lesbians are still busy making the tea?

Lessons from global HIV / AIDS campaigning

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Guest post from Jack Wilson, campaigner at Save the Children, reflecting on a talk by Simon Wright, head of child survival policy, in the latest in Save the Children’s #changehistory series.  You can find out more about the series here and here.

‘I’d shoot my son if he had AIDS’ says Vicar.[1] 

We’re in 1980s Britain and what was initially termed Gay related immune deficiency is causing increasing alarm. As the first appellation suggests, fears over HIV and AIDS were strongly linked to homophobia. Indeed, with very little research being done into what was causing the spread of the disease, information was scarce, leading to a void which was readily exploited by other agendas. This discrimination expressed itself most controversially in people being sacked.

This set the scene for the first HIV/AIDS campaigning efforts. At first national, then global, campaigning for the response to HIV/AIDS has arguably been one of the most successful development movements in living memory. Below is a short summary of how the campaign developed over the past three decades.

Changing perceptions 

At this time, no treatments for HIV were available. Thus the initial response very much focused on prevention through information dissemination via networks and community groups, with the emphasis on educating about the risks. These early efforts were often led by gay activists who felt a need to respond to what they felt was just the latest in a series of discriminatory attacks on their communities.

By 1986, the UK government was finally beginning to take notice. Norman Fowler, then Secretary of State for Health, initiated efforts to mainstream the issue of HIV/AIDS. The message was clear: HIV affects everyone, gay or straight, get tested. Because of certain prevailing attitudes, Fowler understood it was important to dissociate HIV from gay men. This more rights-based approach that took shape in the late 1980s was aimed squarely at reducing harm.

Despite this obvious progress compared to the beginning of the decade, the mainstreaming of the issue into broader society would prove to be a double-edged sword. The message that HIV affects everyone had gotten out so well to the rest of society that efforts to directly target gay men, still by that stage the most affected, were dropped. From this time onwards, campaigning efforts became increasingly led by those living with HIV. Activists in the US in particular became renowned for their confrontational tactics at getting the issue of treatment access on the political agenda.

Going global 

The events in the 1980s and 1990s set the scene for what was to come next – the shift to a global campaign led by both international governments and NGOs. The perception that HIV/AIDS was now centrally a development issue was born out of the staggering data showing that in some countries 20%-25% of the entire adult population had HIV. Suddenly fears that the economically active sections of these societies could be wiped out forced the issue onto the international political agenda.

In 1996, UNAIDS was formed, recognising that HIV/AIDS needed a much more coordinated global response. In 2000, the UN Security Council held a meeting on HIV/AIDS, the first time it had discussed a non-conflict related issue. By 2003, the G7 had agreed to finance the Global Fund targeted at HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria, while at the WHO Jim Kim was leading efforts to scale up treatments of the disease in poorer countries, along with prevention and care programmes.

By this stage over 40 million people worldwide were carrying HIV.

Switching targets 

With governments now taking notice, efforts in some countries switched to the companies refusing to lower the prices of anti-viral drugs. Most infamously, campaigners in South Africa successfully forced a number of pharmaceutical companies to drop a court case that aimed to prevent the government from licensing and importing cheaper generic HIV drugs.

The court case was a highly symbolic win for HIV activists and the campaign resonated around the world. AIDS was now a social justice issue. The wider reputational damage to the big pharma companies was substantial, the ripple effects of which are still being felt to this day. Ultimately, the Treatment Action Campaign in South Africa proved immensely successful in bringing down the prices of anti-retrovirals. Much like their radical predecessors in the 1980s, South Africa was another example of the power of campaigns who found their energy from those personally affected by HIV.

The UK steps up

HIV campaigning had now come a long way. There was increasing optimism that the international community was getting its act together. Inspired by these campaigns, NGOs in the UK decided this could be a moment to push the UK government to focus on HIV treatment.

Cue the Stop AIDS Campaign and Make Poverty History. There are lessons on those at an earlier #changehistory talk here. Efforts led by ActionAid resulted in hundreds of thousands of signatures being collected on the issue of HIV treatment that were sent directly to No 10. This then gave the mandate for the UK government to push action on HIV/AIDS treatment for all as an outcome at that year’s G8.

Lessons learnt

From the early day educational campaigns up to the UK government’s  push in 2005, the main lesson I draw is that each step would not have been achieved without the one that came before it. For Simon Wright there are three main lessons learnt:

  1. Health must be about empowering communities to change things for themselves, not telling people what to do.
  2. Health is a right. Once this is agreed, you start to plan and act very differently. In the case of HIV/AIDS, it helped to further the perception of a gross sense of injustice. The vested interests can then challenged by those arguing for rights.
  3. Mobilising by people who were living with HIV proved immensely powerful but not something that has been easy to replicate.

[1] Quote from an article in the Sun from the early 1980s

Winning for Women

Guest post from Yvonne Jeffery, @bakingforpeace, campaigner at Save the Children, reflecting on the latest in Save the Children’s #changehistory series. You can read about and listen to earlier sessions here, here and here.

Like thousands of feminists across the country, I was eagerly anticipating the new film Suffragette, which charts a tumultuous period of feminism and the fight for equality in the UK in the very early twentieth century. After the screening, I was left asking myself two questions. What would I have had the guts to do in the position of these women in 1913? Secondly, and more importantly for today, can I say that I do enough to fight the inequality that still remains? In her talk on the history of The Women’s Movement, Nan Sloane (Director, Centre for Women and Democracy) argues that the period of pre-suffragette feminism was one of the most successful social movements ever, and yet we have lost this era and its learning from our history. She outlines five lessons.

Lesson 1: Campaigns should be unclouded and inclusive, in outcome if not in content. Campaign for all, not just some, women, spreading power to every class at every level.

Twentieth century suffrage campaigns ground to a halt partly due to the longstanding failure to achieve parliamentary enfranchisement. Under pressure, different factions appeared, and sought different levels of suffrage that would create a different outcomes and benefits for women and men. The movement lost clarity and unity.

For today, applying this test of clarity and inclusion to achieve change for women is still as important. For example, increasing the number of women in the courtroom, on business boards, and in parliament is only a means to an end; in themselves, these measures do not improve daily life for most women. Objectives must have actions that will translate into change on an everyday scale.

Lesson 2: Take help wherever you need or can get it.

The total number of female MPs elected since 1918 is 450. Today alone, there are 459 male MPs. In almost 100 years, as a country we have still not managed to elect the same number of women to parliament as we have men elected now.

Feminism needs men as men still hold power. Everyone must take on the fight for equality. One of the most recent campaigns to build an ambitious movement of 1 billion men worldwide to commit to taking action against gender discrimination is UN-Women’s HeForShe, which has so far gained only half a million pledges. Yet, it is only through the recognition that we all have a role to play that legislation to improve the lives of women will be enacted, and equality through social change achieved.

Lesson 3: Be opportunistic to seize the public imagination. Be constructive, imaginative, to ensure that people are talking about feminist issues, and in a way that gets them on to the agenda.

In 1867, the Second Reform Act extended the vote to all urban householders and people who owned small amounts of land in the country. Afterwards, a woman named Milly Maxwell managed to get her name on the electoral register. Lydia Becker, a leader of the suffrage campaign in Manchester, accompanied her to vote and they were ‘much cheered’ as they did so. Becker saw a campaigning opportunity, and ran a national campaign to get women to register to vote. As the rules stood, objections had to be made to remove people from the electoral register, but the rules were ambiguous, and barristers were forced to hear thousands of objections. Many women were removed from the register, but some barristers let women remain and be able to vote. This campaign helped to ensure that the franchise was slowly extended to some women at local levels, so that by the early twentieth century, Westminster was left as the only elected body where no women had any voting rights.

Today, you still need to be in the game to change the game. From women being classed as a non-person with no legal or financial identity and being expressly forbidden to vote in 1832, in 2015, the 18-24 female bracket is the least likely to vote. There is of course a lot of debate over how to get young females to vote, and efforts by political parties are to say the least unappealing, such as Labour’s pink bus or Ukip’s jump to promise to abolish the tampon tax and portray themselves as the party of young working women before the General Election this year. Communications and campaigns must show when, where, and how we all fit in to making equality a reality.

Lesson 4: See the whole game, not our own small part of it. See how our campaigns link to other struggles.

Empathy and understanding are powerful. Every campaigner needs to understand where the cause that they are fighting for sits in the context of the wider network of political and economic events. The votes for women campaigns are often viewed in isolation, without the recognition that they sprang from a longer campaign and sat alongside other campaigns for suffrage, and that other radical events such as the People’s Budget happened at the same time.

It is essential to recognise and understand the intersection of equality struggles, and to work together. Helen Pankhurst recently made this call at The Bechdel Test Fest discussion of Suffragette: ‘If each one of us took up an issue and held hands, we could achieve great change. We need less apathy!’

Lesson 5: Reclaim and remember our history.

Faye Ward, producer of the Suffragette film, has stated that ‘We are never taught history from the female perspective.’ In 12 years of primary and secondary education, the women’s movement never once appeared in my textbooks; I have only a single memory of my reception class teacher talking about Emmeline Pankhurst and the suffragettes.

Recognising that our forebears did indeed change Britain profoundly, and that there are lessons that we can learn from them and apply today, would go some way towards reclaiming what has been lost and saluting the sacrifices that they made. The fight for equality still remains, and we can learn the lessons to make sure that we each do enough for it.


How the tax fight is being won

Guest post from Alice Macdonald, Save the Children’s head of action/2015 campaign, @alicemac83.

As part of Save the Children’s History of Change series (see more here and here), Alasdair Roxburgh (previously Head of Campaigns at Christian Aid) talked us through the history of the tax movement.

It was an inspiring talk (you can listen to the whole thing here) about how campaigners around the world managed to turn tax – which let’s be honest isn’t the most exciting of subjects –  into a big political issue and achieved changes which will help to ensure that millions of people around the world benefit from the tax revenues which belong to them.

Though tax may not be sexy – it matters. It matters for the obvious reasons – it provides the services we all need whether we live in the UK or in Tanzania – hospitals, schools, roads. It can encourage good behaviour like saving money through ISAs and discourage bad habits through increasing the price of things like cigarettes. If we use it well tax can help reshape the world. And it also matters for less obvious reasons – by paying tax we sign up to be active citizens contributing to improving the world around us.

But to date the tax system has been skewed towards the interests of the richest in society. It’s notoriously hard to put an exact number of how much money is lost through tax dodging but estimates put it at hundreds of billions lost from some of the world’s poorest countries. There is no doubt that tax dodging costs lives. The money lost could be spent on vital services like healthcare. That’s why the tax justice movement was born.

It got off to a pretty technical start with the conversation pretty much confined to the policy wonks. It was only when the financial crisis hit in 2008 and stories about corporate giants hit the headlines that it really moved up the political and public agenda. That was a turning point for the movement and it began to strengthen and now counts hundreds of organisations around the world from big NGOs like Oxfam and ActionAid to grassroots organisations, faith networks, student movements and trade unions.

It hasn’t been an easy ride, especially in the early days of the campaign. Governments and companies repeatedly slammed the door in campaigners’ faces and organisations like Christian Aid were even labelled the “Tax Taliban” by opponents. But despite the hurdles, the tax movement has already achieved some major wins – getting tax on the agenda at the G7, a law on EU transparency and the Dodd Frank Act which both mean that extractive companies are obliged to publish how much tax they pay on a county by country basis. The campaign also transformed the narrative around tax, taking it from the technicalities to an issue of justice helping to rally people around the world to challenge a financial system in which let the richest get away with robbing the poorest.

What can we learn from the movement for future campaigns? There are 5 key lessons:

  1. Persistence pays off: it took 5-6 years to secure the first big campaign win. Campaigners need to be ready for the hard slog and not expect instant results.
  2. Change your tactics and targets: the campaign mixed it up from private lobbying, targeted actions, hard-hitting reports and stunts and identifying targets and supporters from MPs to corporate champions.
  3. Nothing is too complicated to campaign on: at the beginning the campaign didn’t talk about values and got too tied up in the technicalities. When the campaign turned tax into an issue of social justice it really took off. So don’t always focus on facts and stats but focus on values and the impact on people.
  4. Small targeted campaigning works: You don’t always need to make a big noise to achieve success. For example securing the European directive on country by country reporting for extractive industries was secured by a very specific targeted e-action.

Of course the fight isn’t over yet. In September, the world agreed an ambitious agenda to end poverty, inequality and fight climate change – the new global goals for Sustainable Development something which as Head of action/2015 I’ve been closely involved in campaigning for along with millions around the world.

That ambition won’t be delivered without money and tax will be a crucial part of finding that finance. Ultimately the whole global financial system needs to change so that the world’s richest governments and richest companies are no longer able to dictate the terms of engagement and countries are able to operate on a level playing field. We need to strengthen legislation, ensure it is complied with and make sure that citizens are able to hold their leaders to account.  The fight isn’t over yet but the strength of the movement gives us plenty of room for optimism.

Alice Macdonald is the Head of the action/2015 campaign at Save the Children. Action/2015 is a global coalition aimed at securing ambitious action on poverty, inequality and climate change which has mobilised millions of people this year.  She has worked in international development for the last decade holding a variety of roles across campaigns, policy and advocacy.

Lessons from Make Poverty History

At Save the Children we’re acutely conscious both of how much there is to be done to shape the future and also how much there is to be learnt from the past. We have introduced a programme of events on the history of change where people who have been part of huge social movements will talk about what the movement was trying to achieve, what tactics they employed (with what success) and, crucially, what lessons their movement holds for people campaigning for social justice today. The hashtag for all the events is #changehistory and we will share resources from each event here at Global Dashboard.

The first talk, on the lessons of Make Poverty History, was held to coincide with the ten year anniversary of Live 8 and the Gleneagles summit.

The video above (audio only) contains some pretty frank reflections from me and from Care International’s Laurie Lee. At the time I was on the board of Make Poverty History and running the Stop AIDS Campaign while Laurie was the Prime Minister’s foreign policy adviser on development.  This is our attempt to give both an insider and outsider account of the main phases of the campaign, including the launch, the debt deal, Live 8 and the march on Edinburgh, Gleneagles and the aftermath.

I won’t pretend it is a short listen, but it does give answers to questions like ‘what is development’s worst ever stunt?’, ‘what is our movement’s biggest failure of the last decade?’, ‘what single issue did MPH do the most to infuence?’ and ‘what’s the right size for a big tent?’.

If you don’t have time for the whole talk, there is a summary of some of the key lessons here.