Scotland and our movement moment

This weekend was the inaugural Adam Smith Festival of Ideas in Kirkcaldy and I was asked to speak about how Scotland could change the world in the years ahead. This is what I said.

Our world needs movements – and movements need Scots

I want to tell you a story about who we are, where we’ve been, and where we could go. A story about the Scotland we could become – if we first understand who we are.

I came of age politically after the fall of the Berlin Wall and during the highpoint of a global order based on shared rules and human rights. From the Arms Trade Treaty to the responsibility to protect doctrine to the cancellation of third world debt, I got kind of used to the uninterrupted march of global justice.

And then the darkness descended.

Just take the last three years.

2015 was the year of the refugee, with global refugee figures reaching their highest point since World War Two.

2016 was the year of populism, with surging support for nativist political forces across the Western world.

2017 is set to be the year of famine, with more than 20 million people at risk of starvation across Yemen, South Sudan, Nigeria and Somalia in the worst crisis of its sort in more than three decades.

Something has gone very very wrong and I’m here today to ask you to join me in helping to put it right. My argument today is three fold.

Firstly, that this particular moment in history is a ‘movement moment’ – it demands of us a willingness to join movements in unprecedented numbers, because the problems cannot be fixed by politicians, public policy or public institutions alone.

Secondly, my argument is that Scots in particular have special responsibilities here, because we believe in cooperation not only in our communities and in our country, but across the world. And thirdly that Scots not only have a duty to be involved in global justice movements, but actually have a very distinctive contribution to make, by virtue of the quirks of our historical experience.

A movement moment

Let me begin by saying a bit more about where we are, and why I think this is a movement moment.

By day I work at Save the Children and each day I try to remind myself of the good we have done together. Since 1990, we have halved the number of children dying before their fifth birthday. Anybody who has ever suffered any form of bereavement knows that each loss is shattering, leaving a hole in a family that can never be filled. That we have halved the number of families experiencing the depths of that sorrow is a good reason to get up in the morning. And if you’ve ever given to an international charity like Save the Children, or happily pay your taxes and support that money being spent on aid, then these are your achievements and you can be very very proud.

But at the same time I cannot say, hand on heart, that I am optimistic about the way the world is moving. I despair every time we release a new report charting the catastrophic failure to protect the children of Syria. Last week we published a report in which a child said “when friends die my chest hurts and I can’t breathe so I sit alone because I don’t want to scream at anyone”. These are words that no child anywhere should say.

In the report before that parents in a besieged area of Syria told us what it was like to raise children in a town where all the doctors had fled or been killed. They had resorted to taking their little ones to the vet when they got sick.

All across the world, from Paris to Mosul, ordinary families are terrorised by extremists and a medieval barbarism is encouraging people to target and torture those who disagree.

Meanwhile here at home the mood has soured and something ugly and sinister is on the march. Jewish friends receive abuse from the swamps of history, Muslim friends report a surge in the most vulgar and blatant Islamophobia, while my friend Jo Cox was murdered doing her job.

Behind all these trends is the same basic story: frightened and frightening people are obsessing about what divides us. We have lost the art of seeing each person as precious and unique, as an irreplaceable and perfect version of themselves, without whom our world would be irrevocably impoverished.

None of these are problems which politicians, however honourable or gifted, can be expected to solve on their own. If we want a different kind of Scotland, Britain or world, we’re going to have to get involved.

For me movement thinking is exactly what we need now because we live in what I call a 3D world – a world characterised by distrust, division and disruption.

Distrust, of both the motivations and the competence of institutions. Division, between people of different backgrounds and opinions. And disruption, of old ways of thinking, doing and being. Those 3Ds all add up to people feeling overwhelmed and alone, and movements hold out the prospects of an answer.

A movement can be the answer to distrust – because movements are strengthened by their perceived authenticity. And it can be the answer to division, because by definition movements involve more than one person (there’s never been a movement of one). And it can be the answer to disruption, because movements are defined by being for change, but giving us the sense that we’re more in control of which change we choose.

This word movement gets bandied around a lot at the moment, so I want to be really clear about what I mean by it. To me a movement is not the same thing as an organisation. To me a movement is a tribe – a really, really big tribe, but a tribe nonetheless – which coalesces around a shared view of how the world could be and which commits not simply to taking one action but instead to a lifetime of service to an ideal.

My friend Alex Evans has just published a book in which he quotes an American organiser as saying ‘what makes a movement is simply enough people feeling part of it – sensing a shared culture, and forcing those watching to take note and take sides’.

That seems about right to me, because movements do force us to take sides, and decide where we stand on the big moral questions of the day. This isn’t a new thing – we’ve had movements for the abolition of slavery and for women’s suffrage and for civil rights. But just because we’re sympathetic to the most famous movements, we shouldn’t assume that movements are always the good guys. There’s a global far right movement too. And a global jihadi one.

So there’s nothing new about movement thinking, and nothing inherently honourable about it either. But my argument today is that there is nonetheless something about it which makes it uniquely well suited to the demands of the hour.

Scots as movement-builders

So why am I talking about this here in Scotland, and suggesting that Scots have a special obligation to fight hatreds which seem so much bigger than us, so big in fact that they could overwhelm the world? My answer is a simple one: Scots have a calling now, because we know better than anybody that none of us have to be put in boxes not of our choosing.

For three centuries we have been simultaneously Scottish and British and there are plenty of people who want to campaign for us to be Scottish and European. The fluidity of our identity is why we can talk of people being Scottish by birth, choice or aspiration – because we have long accepted that there’s nothing binary or closed about being a Scot.

And so my second argument today is that there is such a thing as Scottishness and that it leaves us well placed to be the movement builders that this movement moment demands of us.

The nature of Scottishness has obviously been a source of some controversy, so let me share a little about where I’m coming from.

Given the mesmerising range of choice – the grandeur of our Munros, the mysteries and histories of our lochs and the breathtaking beauty of our islands and our glens, it might surprise a visitor to Scotland to know that two of my favourite sights here are stones. They are both small, both plain and both can be seen within an hour of where we are now.

The first is the one bearing a circular inscription on the floor of the National Museum in Edinburgh, the one which says ‘Scotland to the world to Scotland’. The motto is chiseled in a circle so that, depending on how you look at it, it either says ‘Scotland to the world’ or ‘the world to Scotland’.

The second is embedded in the wall of St Giles’ Cathedral and says simply ‘Thank God for James Young Simpson’s discovery of chloroform anaesthesia in 1847’.

It seems to me that it is in these two small slabs – even more than in our poetry, plays, novels, songs or political speeches – you find the essence of the Scottish national character.

In the National Museum stone, you learn of our sense of Scotland the Good Samaritan, unwilling to pass by on the other side. There is much to be proud of here, from the disproportionate numbers of Scottish volunteers in the International Brigades to the phenomenal demonstration of people power on the eve of the 2005 Make Poverty History summit in Gleneagles. Whatever our views on the constitutional question, we can be proud that both nationalists and unionists, Yes and No supporters are united in their support for Scotland fulfilling our obligations to those beyond our borders who need our help.

In the St Giles’ Cathedral stone, you see a very Scottish combination of intense pride in our temporal talents, combined with a beautifully understated trust in providence, and a reminder not to get too cocky – it’s all very well being the most inventive people on the face of the earth, but don’t go thinking you did it on your own. The reason I love this stone so much is because it really encapsulates what I feel about my obligations as a campaigner – life isn’t about being ‘nice’, about having good intentions but not a real strategy for change. On the contrary – life is really about each of us straining to fulfil our potential so that the talents of each of us are used for the benefit of all of us. Our time on earth is supposed to be a succession of periods of hard thinking followed by periods of hard work.

We don’t have a Scots word or phrase that describes precisely this mix of social duty and determination to apply rigorous thinking to big problems, and the best I’ve come up with is ‘strategic service’.

I should say at this point that I don’t consider these national traits of ours an unalloyed good. The same overwhelming sense of obligation which can lead us to great acts of courage and self-sacrifice can tip all too readily in to an oppressive puritanism and self-righteousness. So I’m not suggesting here that Scots are superior to other peoples, just that we’re not entirely in the wrong when we ask ‘wha’s like us? Damn few’.

Movement thinking

So my second argument today is that to be a Scot is to have a particular take on the world, bound up in our sense of connectedness to other peoples and also in our obligation to give the best service it is in our power to give. It is for historians and anthropologists to tell us how we came to be this way, and for the philosophers to tell us if the downsides I have just described are a price worth paying for our gifts, but for our purposes today I hope we can take it as a starting point that there is something real about Scottishness, and our cultural distinctiveness is to be found somewhere in this area.

My third and final argument is that – if I am right, and our world needs movements and, if I am right that Scottishness is characterised both by its richness as a porous identity and by its internationalism and sense of strategic service, then Scots have a particular contribution to make to building movements in the years ahead.

Let me just say a little about what that would look like.

Firstly, great movements don’t buy great man theories of history. That doesn’t mean movements are leaderless – it means they are leaderful. Just think about Black Lives Matter, or the women’s marches on the inauguration weekend, or the refugees welcome movement. I don’t know who is in charge of any of these things, because nobody is in charge of these things. They are full of leaders, people who identify themselves through action.

And that brings me to my second point about movements. Movements are only as good as the activism they inspire and that should be our aim – providing inspiration, not giving orders. Brilliant movement builders rally people around a vision and then let people decide how they are going to contribute, creating the space for a whole range of creative tactics to emerge.

If we take a look at just the refugees welcome idea for a minute, it is clear that no one person could have come up with the range of activities people have done. Let me be clear here – I’m incredibly proud of Scotland’s response to the refugee crisis, just as I want to celebrate the contribution of communities across the UK. But I’m not naive – my point is not to suggest that everybody is welcoming or that Scots are inherently more progressive on these questions than folk down South.

But I do want to look at how people in Scotland were able to link up with a wider movement in a way that should make us all proud.

To take just two examples. How brilliant that ordinary folk from Glasgow set up Refuweegee, a charity which offers new arrivals to the city not just essentials like toiletries and nappies, but ‘letters fae the locals’ introducing what we love about our city and explaining treats like In Bru and Tunnocks Tea Cakes.

Or when Syrian families were first resettled in Bute, how amazing that locals went to speak to the church about giving a space for Friday prayers and to the local co-op about making sure they had halal meat for sale.

All of these things were just people finding different ways to contribute, the same way a QC in London decided to set up the billable hour campaign where he encouraged all his pals from chambers, and then all the solicitors they worked with, to each give what they would bill in an hour to Save the Children’s child refugee appeal. All at the same time as Belle and Sebastian decided to put on a gig for us, and Caitlin Moran organised a single, and a member of the public set up a petition which ended up forcing David Cameron to agree to take 20 thousand Syrian refugees, while another ordinary woman invited a few of her friends on Facebook to a protest and ended up leading a march of 10 thousand people through London.

There wasn’t a mastermind behind all of these things – but there was a movement, and the movement is delivering real change, right now.

And here’s the final point I want to leave you with, and it brings us full circle as to why we’re talking about this in Scotland. Being a movement builder means connecting with people on the very deepest level of their values and their identity. Something can have mass participation and still not be a movement – after all nobody says they are part of the movement for iphones, or converse shoes or AirBnB. These communities are all massive, but they are just organised around things we use, they don’t represent who we are.

Likewise even if we feel a very strong attachment to one political party or one charity, our loyalty to the movement of which it is part tends to run even deeper. Nobody has a twitter bio saying ‘supporter of the Fawcett Society’ – we say feminist. We don’t say ‘Hope not Hate donor’ – we say anti-fascist. And we don’t say ‘Amnesty member’, we say human rights defender.

And that, of course, is the same idea we started with. My experience of being Scottish – in part I am sure because it’s been an experience of being Scottish and British, not Scottish or British – has made me feel incredibly comfortable with the idea that I’m part of more than one community of action, of mutual obligation, and of identity.

Movement thinking is a new buzz phrase around the world, but it’s actually something Scots do instinctively, because whether we like it or not, duality is part of who we are. There will be plenty of people here – and there are certainly plenty of people among my own nearest and dearest – who want another referendum, and will use it as a chance to vote for independence.

It isn’t my place to pass judgement on that one way or another today. But I hope it is my place to ask you to weigh very carefully whether the rich, multi-layered nature of Scottish identity is something you value and, if it is, whether you’re prepared to put that special perspective to good use in this movement moment.

Over the course of this weekend and in the months and years to come the status of Scotland in the Union will no doubt continue to dominate. But if that is all we talk about I fear we are missing the chance to make our mark on questions of truly global and historical significance.

Scotland’s national question is a complex one, but my argument today is simple: our broken world needs movements, movements need Jock Tamson’s Bairns and they need us now.

Honouring Jo Cox by supporting women in politics

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

“Massive”.

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.

 

 

The Ten Commandments of Referendums

Guest post by Quintin Oliver, of Stratagem International, @StratagemInt

Hot off the plane from Bogota where he was advising on the upcoming referendum, Quintin Oliver tells us his ten commandments on referendums:

  1. Referendums are not elections – there are brexit-referendum-questionno candidates and no posts to win, and although parties are involved, they and the voters are addressing an issue; campaigners must ‘unlearn’ their election campaigning instincts. First mover advantage often goes to those who successfully ‘frame’ the terms of debate. Think Brexit, as ‘taking back our country’.
  2. Voters often answer the wrong question (Charles de Gaulle) – referendums are susceptible to ‘capture’ by other players, and voters often use them to register a protest against the government of the day, or against the political elites. Think the Swedish Euro vote of 2003 vote, led by Abba, Volvo and Saab, which was expected to pass.
  3. Referendums, especially on big national scottishissues, against a background of conflict, usually become more emotional, than rational; voters express their instincts, rather than their cold, rational, evidence-based selves. They remember the past and are reluctant to embrace an uncertain – or overly idealistic – future. Think Scotland 2014.
  4. Most referendums are lost (albeit narrowly) – indicating that promoting the ‘change’ case is harder, especially if complicated, recently published and containing tough concessions, unless there is a huge consensus that the change is overwhelmingly acceptable And much more attractive than now. This is exacerbated mid-term (when governments tend to be less popular) and in tough economic times, when the risks of change may seem higher. Think Cyprus 2004, when the Greek south was entering the EU, regardless.
  5. Winning a ‘No’ campaign in a referendum is easier – opponents can scatter objections and complaints, untruths and deceptions, with impunity, while the Yes side has to articulate its change proposition lucidly, coherently and cogently; they must not become defensive and bogged down in detail. Think the Alternative Vote debacle of 2011, when a 2:1 polling lead was reversed.
  6. Referendum debates can be volatile and uncertain – with shifts in opinion and voting intentions as (sometimes unexpected) issues gain prominence and traction. The status quo can become more attractive against a kaleidoscope of untested options, especially if a credible Plan B (renegotiation) is promoted. Think Nice l and Lisbon l in the Republic, both reversed after concessions.
  7. Referendums allow many more yessignni2012voices – voters tend to look first to their political party of choice for advice but then seek other cues from voices they trust, or who appear widely to be opinion-formers (churches, labour unions, NGOs, artists, celebrities, athletes…); voters especially like to see traditionally opposing politicians putting aside their differences in the national interest and sharing platforms to promote their unified case, especially if this contrasts with the opponents. Think Good Friday Agreement poll in 1998.
  8. Referendums permit a significant space same-sex-marriage-referendum-irelandto organised civil society (usually excluded from traditional elections) – since it can articulate bottom-up, grassroots depth and richness around the issues for debate, with knowledge and experience, credibility and authenticity. Elections are rarely ‘fun’, but referendums can give expression to creativity, satire, parody and excitement; music and art can capture and shift the national mood. Think the 2015 Equal Marriage plebiscite in Ireland.
  9. Referendums are rarely well played by the media, especially where there is no embedded referendum culture – the media seek ‘presidential’ or ‘gladiatorial’ style’ contests, polar opposite positions, argument and conflict, as in elections, whereas the policy content of a plebiscite should permit richer, textured discourse; shades of grey should be encouraged, not pummelled into submission; doubt, worry and concern are legitimate feelings. Think Netherlands overturning the obscure EU-Ukraine trade deal.
  10. Referendums are often susceptible to undue diaspora influence, both in terms of out of country votes, but also contribution to the debate, positive and negative, funding and campaign support. The international media often look first to local (to them) voices, and ‘frame’ their hypothesis accordingly. Think various recent Greek polls…

Quintin Oliver ran Northern Ireland’s Good Friday Agreement YES Campaign in 1998, and advises globally on referendums, with Colombia and Cyprus polls upcoming soon.

Action/2015 –the official verdict or why coalitions are totally worth it

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On April 22nd, about 160 countries are expected to officially sign the Paris Climate Agreement which was negotiated last year. It was one of the two international deals agreed by Heads of State in 2015 which made it such a critical year for international development and for millions of activists and citizens around the world. The second was the agreement of the new Sustainable Development Goals-  or the Global Goals –  which provide a new and ambitious framework to tackle poverty, inequality and climate change.

The global coalition – action/2015 – was formed because of those two historic deals.  It brought together civil society around the world – from the big organisations like World Vision to small grassroots groups and networks– to campaign together across sectors and geographies.  As Head of the action/2015 campaign for Save the Children, one of the organisations at the heart of the action, I was one of those campaigners.

With the signing of the climate deal this week and the independent evaluation of the campaign concluded (which you can read here), it feels like a pretty good time to step back and reflect on what worked, what didn’t and what we can learn for the future

When action/ 2015 was first conceived, lots of people were sceptical. And there’s no denying it was ambitious. The idea of bringing together diverse sectors from climate and development across hundreds of countries with different cultures, languages and attitudes to campaigning in just under two years seemed pretty unachievable to many – especially those who had worked in coalitions before! I have to admit when I started on the campaign at the end of 2014 I had similar qualms – could we really pull it off?

But, I’m proud to say the campaign proved the sceptics wrong. The official evaluation highlights in its 7 main conclusions that one of the key impacts of the campaign was that global civil society groups learned to work together. I would caveat that to say that action/2015 helped them to work better together but the sense of solidarity that grew across the campaign was undeniable. it worked because of the campaign’s loose, fluid structure that meant individual organisations or national coalitions could take the content and tactics they liked, adapt them to their own contexts and leave the bits that didn’t work for them.  It was also crucial that this was not a campaign with specific policy asks but was  focused on mobilisation.

“The main reason we got involved is because it is a unique campaign. It links global to local, and it aims at mobilising citizens. This was unique meaning that we usually target policy makers, but this was more about masses, numbers, reaching out to everybody. And that attracted me. It was something different.” , Participating organisation, Africa

The other main point that leaps out is the conclusion that ‘action/2015 made meaningful steps towards Southern ownership of a global campaign’. By the end of the campaign 80% of its members were based in the South.  The campaign’s centre of gravity definitely felt like it was much more in the cities, towns and villages of India or the streets of Costa Rica and Kenya than Northern capitals.

Big NGOs did play a driving role in the campaign, but in a different way than in previous campaigning. I’m proud that Save the Children took much more of a backseat, deploying resources and support to help civil society all over the world campaign.

It certainly wasn’t an easy campaign and we didn’t get everything right. In many ways we were building the car as we were driving and there’s no doubt with more resources and time  we could have achieved more but what the campaign did achieve should not be dismissed. Millions of people mobilised to take action, a new generation of activists inspired, some amazing backers from Malala to One Direction, a strong basis laid to ensure the successful implementation of both deals and a new model of campaigning.

So the big question now is what next?  The evaluation sets out 10 lessons. Some of them might sound obvious like leaving enough time for planning and the importance of proper evaluation but these are often the mistakes made again and again.

Tax injustice, the refugee crisis and global health challenges like Zika – these are all issues that have been hitting the headlines. The new frameworks we have could arguably have helped prevent many of the inequalities that lead to and exacerbate s these and similar crises and they can definitely help reduce their likelihood in the future. But that won’t happen unless people know about the deals and are able to hold their leaders to account. That’s why a sustained and concerted campaign building on the momentum and goodwill generated last year is vital.  We need to campaign less about the frameworks themselves but campaign about them through the real life lens of people’s lives.

Campaigning is about trying new things and being prepared for some things not to work.Yes if we were to do action/2015 again I’d do some things differently but I would keep the same level of ambition and the open, inclusive campaigning model. action/2015 has built a huge appetite for campaigning together all around the world which we must harness. I can’t put it any better than one of the action/2015 campaigners from Africa – “I got more friends and when you have more friends you feel stronger.

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