Author Archive

Will the Brazilian Autumn blossom into progressive social change or wither on the vine?

July 15, 2013

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Brazil Protests photo by Flickr user Semilla Luz

Flummoxing my own assumptions about how change would not happen in Brazil, ‘the established inertia of Brazil has been transformed with the occupation of public spaces, from the National Congress to the squares and central avenues of our cities’  as CAFOD’s partner, Jubileu Sul Brazil, comment.  Over the last few weeks, hundreds of thousands of people have participated in the biggest protests in Brazil in over twenty years. Whether these mass mobilisations lead to lasting positive social change and increased openness of the government to listen to the people will be a hot topic for at least the next 12 months.

The demonstrations appeared as a spontaneous response to the R$0.20 increase in bus fares (which is equivalent to 5kg of rice, 2 kg beans, 3 litres of cooking oil and 5 litres of milk for a family of four making 200 journeys per month according to CAFOD’s partner Apoio). However, the demands from the street  echo many of the themes long tackled by CAFOD’s partners in Brazil. Lack of investment in public services, denial of human rights, and prioritisation of mega-events and infrastructure projects over education, health, housing and transport are not new concerns. CAFOD partner, Jubileu Sul Brazil has played a central role in the Comitê Popular da Copa  (People’s Organising Committee of the World Cup), and put the issue of families displaced to make way for new stadiums firmly onto the public agenda, to give just one example.

Clear wins have already been seen. (more…)

A day in the life of an advocacy accompanier

April 29, 2013

Accompaniment

As an Advocacy Accompanier, I probably have one of the strangest named, but most interesting jobs in CAFOD. I support CAFOD’s partners to do advocacy on issues like children’s rights, economic justice, land grabs, extra-judicial killings and climate change and in the last year I’ve worked in six different countries. But how can you be an expert on so many different places and issues, my friends often ask me? The short answer is that I’m not. And nor do I need to be. The local organisations on the ground have a wealth of knowledge gained from the work that they do every day that is different from mine. My role is to support them think through the how of advocacy and together we grapple with questions such as: How can you make sure that your land grabs report lands you in the Minister’s office and not in jail? How can make the public buzz about budgets? Why would a sceptical politician choose to attend Stakeholder Dialogue meeting at your community centre and not steak barbecue lunch at the 5* hotel corporate lobbying fest ? I ask these questions because effective advocacy always requires a strategy: it’s not enough to be passionate about a cause, to publish a lengthy report or spend your time convincing those who already agree with you.

The kind of support I give varies: workshop facilitator, mentor, critical friend, sounding board, or researcher – everyone has different needs so there is no one size fits all approach to this job! Perhaps it would be a lot less work and cheaper to run a generic advocacy course in order to disseminate a CAFOD approach to advocacy. However, I suspect that this would be ineffective, out of touch with local reality and risky in the long-run.

So, why this word accompaniment in my job title? (more…)

The Other Side of the Coin: linking gender equality and budget advocacy in Zambia

November 21, 2012
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Gender Responsive Budgeting Workshop in Lusaka

My arms sink as I try lifting the book in the air to show to participants. This huge yellow-paged tome is the Zambian Government’s official budget document. Hoping to pull out a few nuggets of useful information about current spending priorities, I flick through and am dazzled by chains of long numbers dancing across the page. Scanning the subheadings, I search for at least one term that I recognise. But, it’s no use: it would take a stronger woman than me, and someone with a lot more knowledge of accountancy, to make any use of it. For the ordinary Zambian man or woman wanting to know how the government spends its money and how they benefit, it’s clear that this entry point is inaccessible to all but those with the most advanced technical knowledge.

I’m in Lusaka with civil society organisations who are discussing regional initiatives on Gender Responsive Budgeting (or GRB).  GRB is an approach to public budget decision-making which seeks to ensure that spending decisions are aligned to gender equality policies and strategies. In practice GRB means: identifying what the different needs of men and women are; establishing whether existing policies and services address or exacerbate those needs; and monitoring whether public spending is closing this ‘gender gap’. Whilst GRB may help identify the need to budget for women-specific services, such as maternity care, it is more concerned with the needs which arise due to the different social roles of men and women. A woman who missed out on schooling, because as a girl, she was expected to fetch water each morning will have different adult educational needs than a man who, as a boy, never missed class for such household chores. For this reason, GRB advocates that budget decisions should aim to reduce the gender gap, rather than suggesting that resources should be divided equally between males and females.* (more…)

Solidarity and the City: advocacy and the self

June 27, 2012

March for housing dignity in Sao Paulo

I’m waiting by the Teatro Municipal  in the centre of Sao Paulo where 2000 families are waiting with banners unfurled. An atmosphere of calm expectation and quiet fortitude is in the air. The families come from all over the city, from occupations in the centre, houses in flood-risk zones, self-built settlements on the periphery, and social housing tenements. Some will have risen before dawn to reach here, balanced on crowded buses for two or three hours or more. Many will have forgone a day’s wages from their washing, selling and cleaning jobs. All ages – from the very young to the old are present, with women outnumbering men by about two to one. They are from Sao Paulo’s housing movements and they are here to march for the right to decent housing.

(more…)

Economic Miracle Makes for Taxing Times in Zambia

April 4, 2012
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Sunday Market, Lusaka by Flickr user mvcorks

I pass a shiny new shopping centre on my left, flanked by marketeers selling ‘traditional’ sculptures, jewellery and copperplate handicrafts on the pavement and an enormous parking area full of new cars to my right. This is not quite the scene I imagined when I heard I would be travelling to Lusaka – this disatisfying juxtaposition of sanitised informality and aspirational urbanity. But I’m even more surprised when my eye is drawn by a necklace identical to one I have at home. Brightly coloured, it has red, purple and yellow wooden beads and flowers. I’m puzzled. My necklace came from the Amazon, but today I’m in Lusaka, thousands of miles away, passing the Sunday market. So where did it come from? I wonder. Brazil? Zambia? South Africa? China?

I don’t manage to discover the necklace’s the exact origins but a bigger truth is revealed in that oddly  – that Zambia is increasingly inter-connected to the wider regional and global economy and that this is bringing many changes. With its status as a Highly Indebted Country well in the past, Zambia’s economy is now growing at around 6% per annum and the country is nearing middle-income status. However, despite this African economic miracle, many Zambians remain poor and hungry, with Zambia ranked 68 out of 81 countries compared on the 2011 Global hunger index, 68% of the population living below the poverty line and life expectancy at birth just 45 years.

So, in such a dynamic and complex economic context, how can civil society organisations identify, and advocate for, the changes needed to benefit the poor? (more…)