Advocacy has long been used as a feminist tool to challenge and disassemble sexist attitudes, policies and practices. By looking first at parliamentary inquiries, followed by the process of lobbying, this blog outlines how to effectively engage with politicians and take advantage of parliamentary processes to support the rights and freedoms of women and girls in Australia.
1. Parliamentary Inquiries
Parliamentary inquiries provide a vital avenue for community members and organisations to examine government departments, interrogate and develop policy and review legislation before it’s enacted.
Most parliamentary inquiries will provide a terms of reference that highlight the key focus areas of the inquiry and questions it hopes to answer. For your submission to be regarded, you need to respond to at least one of these terms of reference, drawing on facts, opinions, arguments and recommendations for action to strengthen your advocacy position. Whilst written submissions are a commonly requested format, parliamentary committees can also request your expertise through online surveys and questionnaires.
Submission checklist (Parliament of Australia, 2020):
- Has my submission been written for the purposes of the inquiry?
- Have I checked that this is not material that has been published previously?
- Have I commented on some or all of the terms of reference?
- Have I provided a summary of the submission at the front and numbered the pages (for lengthy submissions).
- Have I provided my return postal or email address and contact details with the submission?
- Have I ensured that my personal details are excluded from the body of the submission?
- If the submissions contain confidential information, have I made this clear on the front of the submission and included reasons for requesting confidentiality?
For more information on dealing with parliamentary committees please see here.
After making a submission to a parliamentary inquiry you may be invited to appear as a witness at a Committee Public Hearing. Public hearings provide committees with the opportunity to ask witnesses to clarify and expand on their written submissions. These can take a number of forms, including roundtables, workshops and community statement sessions. Generally, these committee hearings are conducted in public, with the media present, and are often broadcasted, with transcripts being made available later on the Australian Parliament website. Witnesses are always given “reasonable opportunity”, before appearing, to object to the broadcasting of proceedings (Parliament of Australia, 2020).
More information on the procedure of parliamentary inquiries and your rights as an attendee are available here.
If you have identified a feminist issue that is not currently being addressed by a Parliamentary Inquiry, you may wish to engage in lobbying to bring the attention to it. Lobbying is a type of advocacy that seeks to influence the actions, policies or decisions of government through engaging directly with politicians.
Step one: Identifying and designing an advocacy issue (SMARTIEE).
S.M.A.R.T.I.E.E. is a good framework to keep in mind when designing an advocacy case that will be effective at driving sustainable, structural change (YWCA 2020):
A note on intersectionality:
In terms of gender, intersectionality highlights that there is no one homogenous experience of gender discrimination. Instead, it highlights that oppression and privilege are impacted by different “social relations, historical experiences and forms of discrimination”, including racism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, classism and many others (The Opportunity Agenda, 2017). Ensuring your issue is both feminist and intersectional is essential for your advocacy to lead to a positive and sustainable change for all women. Here is how you can do it in 6 steps (YWCA, 2020):
More information on intersectionality and its relationship to power, privilege, identity, oppression can be found in the YWCA’s Advocacy Toolkit.
Step 2: Appealing directly to politicians
a) WHO should you target?
Local representatives have made a commitment to representing their local community members. As a result, they are the typically the first point of contact and can be helpful for gaining access to advisors, ministers and relevant committees.
Advisors prepare briefs on bills going through parliament and help the Minister and their department engage with stakeholders. They play a role in ensuring policy decisions are made on behalf of the community. Convincing advisors of the importance of your issue is a key first step in gaining the approval of Ministers/Shadow Ministers.
Ministers and/or Shadow Ministers are best positioned for producing structural policy change at state and federal levels. A list of the current ministers and shadow ministers can be found on the Parliament House Website.
These resources can be used to understand what issues are important to politicians and their constituency. This research will help you to target politicians who will be sympathetic to your cause and frame your advocacy issue in a way that appeals to their interests and values:
a) Parliamentarians first speeches. These speeches are found on the parliamentarian’s profile pages that can be found on the parliament house website.
c) The Hansard: Provides an online written record of parliamentary proceedings
d) Social media and media reports
e) Committee membership: Found on the Parliamentary Profile Page.
f) Party Platform
b) WHAT can parliamentarians do to help your advocacy?
In the following ways, members of parliament can increase recognition of your cause, spark debate and challenge government to recognise the presence of dissenting voices (Richards, 2019).
c) HOW can you advocate to parliamentarians?
Data Collection and Ethical Story Telling:
Whilst storytelling humanises your advocacy, data provides politicians with measurable and accessible evidence that supports your claims. It is essential that you gain the explicit permission of any person/group/organisation whose story you wish to include and provide them with the opportunity to be involved throughout the lobbying process. Data must be reliable (drawn from reputable sources), honest and straightforward (Richards, 2019).
Messaging and Framing:
It’s a good idea to design a short and simple advocacy message that reflects your objectives, targets and strategy. Your message should be framed according to the values and interests of your target parliamentarians and their electorate, however it’s important to ensure community voices are not compromised in an effort to appeal to parliamentarians (Richards, 2019).
Unlike parliamentary inquiries that provide an agenda and due date for submissions, lobbying can be done at any point of the political cycle. In saying this, some times are better than others, including:
- When a party is settling its platform. Prior to an election campaign, politicians have the most flexibility to work with advocates on policy change.
- During sitting week (this requires travel to Canberra):
- Monday and Tuesday of sitting weeks are the days parties hold most of their policy committee and party room meetings
- parliamentarians are also required to attend question time from 2.00 pm to 3.10 pm every day during sitting weeks.
- The House of Representatives and the Senate usually operate between 9.30 am and 8.00 pm.
- On a significant date. E.g., when a new bill is up for debate, when an issue is topical in the news (e.g., sexual violence in Federal Parliament) or on a noteworthy date such as International Women’s Day.
Inappropriate times for advocacy include:
- During an election campaign (this is too late to engage politicians).
- The weeks prior to a long break is a difficult time for politicians to gain any momentum on your issue before parliament goes into recess.
- Budget week. This is a busy time, where politicians have little extra capacity to engage with advocates (YWCA, 2020).
Preparing for an Interaction
Who should I take?
Limit your group to three. Assigning roles and tasks to each member can help to ensure your meeting flows smoothly.
What should I take?
It is recommended to bring (and leave behind) a one-to-two-page support document. This should include evidence and data supporting your advocacy case.
What should I say?
Begin your meeting by briefly explaining who you are, who you represent, what work you do, and why you have asked to meet with them. Make sure you use a mix of evidence. It’s important that you illustrate that your issue exists (by using data) and that it matters (by using case studies).
What if I get a bad response?
Following the meeting, send any requested evidence or information to the politician’s office. Also re-examine any notes and/or feedback to make sure there were no misunderstandings during your meeting.
Advocacy is often the most successful when it reflects the concerns of the broader sector and community. Remaining intersectional, developing strong relationships, acknowledging political contexts and framing problems and solutions in a way that centres politics are therefore all vital components for driving sustainable policy change that benefits the lives of all women in Australia.
For more information on feminist advocacy please see the following sources:
- Y Advocacy? An Intersectional Feminist Toolkit (YWCA)
- 50/50 Foundation – Advocacy Toolkit
- Plan Your Power: A toolkit for Women’s Rights Advocacy Planning (IWDA & Womankind)
- Messaging this Moment: A Handbook for Progressive Communication
- JASS We Rise Toolkit
- The Oxfam Guide to Feminist Influencing
- Womankind Worldwide, Implementing the Sustainable Development Goals to Advance Women’s Rights and Gender Equality: An Advocacy Guide
- UNICEF – Youth Advocacy Toolkit
- Girls Advocacy Alliance – Youth Advocacy Toolkit
- Young Feminists Want System Change
For more information on intersectionality and how to be an ally please see the following sources:
- 10 things allies can do
- “Why are white people so bad at talking about race”
- How to be an anti-racist ally
- How to be a trans ally
- How to be an ally to survivors of gender-based violence
- How to be a good Indigenous ally
- Count me in – Mini guide to LGBTQI+ allyship
- What can our allies do to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sex workers in our struggle for rights and recognition?
- Intersectionality: A Tool for Gender and Economic Justice