2. Advocacy

Advocacy is the deliberate process of influencing those who make decisions about developing, changing, and implementing policies. Advocacy is one of the strategies available to CARE to respond to the humanitarian needs of people affected by emergencies. Advocacy may be an appropriate way to make positive changes to the policy decisions or conditions that are causing or maintaining a situation of acute humanitarian need. Humanitarian advocacy during an emergency is usually primarily directed at ensuring people’s access to life-saving assistance and protection in line with core humanitarian principles. It aims to uphold people’s rights in crisis, which are codified in international humanitarian and human rights standards.

Despite global humanitarian advocacy being an increasingly crowded space that needs better coordination, CARE’s gender expertise and demonstrated experience advancing gender equality across the Humanitarian, Development, Peace Nexus (HDPN) adds significant value to the humanitarian advocacy community at all levels, from local to global, and horizontally in various relevant thematic and sectoral groups. Compared to CARE, few INGOs are able to speak to our same level of authority over, and generate evidence for, most key humanitarian policy issues with a consistent gender lens and focus on women and girls’ rights and needs.  Our legitimacy as advocate for a gendered humanitarian response is firmly embedded in our partnerships with women’s organizations on the frontline, including in FCA settings, as well as our ability to convene and connect our partners in strategic humanitarian national, regional, and global spaces and across the HDPN. Though our practice does not yet entirely reflect our vision for equitable partnerships and our commitment to feminist principles, the growing Confederation-wide political will to redistribute power from inside CARE to our partners and to have the difficult conversations on discrimination and racism in our sector, can add significant value to our advocacy on localization and decolonizing aid, particularly if we are able to humbly share our lessons, progress, and challenges on our own organizational transformation.


1.1 CI roles and responsibilities for advocacy

1.2 Role of a policy and advocacy advisor in an emergency

All advocacy steps should be taken in cooperation with partners – with partners, affected population-led and women-led groups leading the way. CARE’s value of meaningful and equitable partnerships must be at the forefront in every step of the advocacy process.

  • Consider the range of advocacy approaches that could help achieve CARE’s and partners’ programme goals, and how they complement / support operational approaches and actual program delivery.
  • Use advocacy as one of the options that CARE and partners have to promote a rights-based gender transformative response to the emergency.
  • Develop a basic understanding of key international and regional legal frameworks that underpin rights-based humanitarian advocacy (e.g. Annex 11.14), in refugee crisis, etc.
  • Coordinate with the various actors in CARE International to activate support for CO-level advocacy actions and to coordinate global level advocacy initiatives.
  • Assess CARE and partners’ staff training needs and hold necessary trainings on relevant topics (e.g., relevant normative and policy frameworks, humanitarian principles, international humanitarian law, etc., but also on advocacy itself, the different methods and tactics, etc.).
  • Undertake with partners a process of problem identification and prioritisation, aligned with CO, regional and global advocacy priorities, to determine what the most important issues are that could be addressed through advocacy.
  • Apply basic criteria and risk analysis to emerging issues to determine what kind of advocacy tactic (public, private, CARE alone, collective, etc.) is an appropriate and feasible response and ensure that potential benefits outweigh risks.
  • Develop an advocacy strategy that is appropriate to the emergency context and the needs and wants of affected people. This may be simplified in an acute crisis, or more comprehensive in a protracted crisis but Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and Girls (GEEWGiHA) should always feature centrally.
  • Ensure that the advocacy strategy is based on a sound analysis of the problem, is informed by Rapid Gender Analysis and the views / priorities of crisis affected people in all their diversity, especially women’s organisations.
  • Develop a reliable base of information / evidence.
  • Identify with partners clear goals and objectives for the advocacy strategy, which outline the specific policy changes that are sought.
  • Analyse and identify the key target audiences of CARE and our partners’ advocacy strategy.
  • Map relevant groups and movements to engage with. Identify allies and opponents.
  • Define with partners key messages, tools and actions to be used.
  • Plan the timing of the strategy carefully to take advantage of key events and opportunities to influence the target audience.
  • Identify and secure human and financial resources required to implement the strategy.
  • Include specific actions to mitigate and manage risks in the advocacy strategy and to share risks fairly with partners.
  • Develop with partners monitoring and evaluation mechanisms to track progress and impacts.

To maintain our commitment to the localized participation and leadership of, and accountability to affected people, including women and girls, CARE strives to consistently apply the following general principles to ensure advocacy efforts align with our values:

  • Make sure to be guided by the views of our women-led partners and of women leaders we consult on advocacy priority issues and tactics to ensure they reflect their agenda and priorities, with GEEWG.
  • Attempt to open and create spaces and opportunities for organizations representing the most marginalized crisis affected people of all genders and in all their diversity so they may directly participate and speak in relevant advocacy fora. To accomplish this, CARE will cede space, implying a decrease of our visibility necessary to strengthen our credibility among local and national actors.
  • Strive to be more deliberate about adhering to feminist principles for humanitarian action in our advocacy, as defined by the Feminist Humanitarian Network.
  • Use our humanitarian advocacy to stand by our partners, particularly women’s organizations, to help them speak boldly on the abuse of crisis affected people’s rights. In so doing, we will simultaneously weigh our efforts against safety and security risks to staff, partners, and participants, and against humanitarian principles.

Advocacy generally involves a variety of approaches which may be public or private, collaborative or confrontational, collective or individual or a combination of all these. Advocates use a diverse number of tools and methods, including statements and media outreach, closed door Chatham House rules meetings, grassroots mobilisation, lobbying with policy makers, networking, and coalition-building.

Public advocacy might involve public statements and published policy papers. Approaches for private lobbying with decision-makers include sharing specific information confidentially and supporting local coalitions, particularly in contexts where public activities may carry some form of risk (see section 8.2).

Communication strategies are an important element of advocacy approaches. As advocacy aims to specifically influence policy, it is important to distinguish advocacy activities and statements from other types of public statements that CARE may make, such as those aimed merely at taking a public stance on a crisis to profile CARE, or for fundraising purposes. It is critical, however, that CARE’s different types of communications are coordinated so that they reinforce each other and avoid any potential undermining of each other’s messages and goals. (See Media). There may be instances where a document that is not inherently an advocacy document is still used for the purpose of advocacy, in which case it would need to align with the appropriate public or private advocacy messaging.

Advocacy can take place at different levels, from local to global, depending on where the greatest capacity to effect change is. Humanitarian advocacy may involve direct, immediate interaction with officials at local, provincial and national levels. Advocacy concerns can also be shared internationally in government capital cities and multilateral institutions at a global level to reinforce messages delivered locally or to unlock issues at that level (e.g. asking a specific donor government to issue a humanitarian exemption on a sanctions regime, etc)

Advocacy can be carried out by the people and groups directly affected by injustice, by local NGOs and international organisations such as CARE on their behalf, or by a combination of both. Our first choice is always to cede space to partners, especially women’s organizations, and let them speak for themselves.

The key question for determining the appropriate advocacy role and approach for CARE include:

  • What are the wishes / capacities of partners?
  • What role is likely to be most effective? What is the political environment and what are CARE’s best strengths for exerting influence – for example, public statements, private lobbying, technical advice to policymakers and providing support to third parties. This question needs to be revisited regularly (at times, daily or weekly) to adapt the strategy to the evolving situation on the ground.
  • The current Humanitarian Advocacy Strategy (HAS) will help in determining this.

CARE’s humanitarian mandate identifies advocacy as a tool that can be used as a response to humanitarian needs in emergencies. This reflects the organisation’s commitment to a holistic rights-based, gender transformative approach to humanitarian relief.

CARE’s humanitarian mandate extends to protracted crises and post-crisis recovery where issues related to community rehabilitation, peacebuilding, and reconstruction can be important for advocacy strategies. Country Offices considering longer-term advocacy strategies should refer to the CI Advocacy Handbook (available in multiple languages).

Country Offices may also identify advocacy as a strategy for reducing risk in their emergency preparedness plans. Refer to the chapter on Emergency Preparedness Planning, for advice on including policy analysis and advocacy in scenario development and risk-reduction measures.

The issues CARE influences are enshrined in four interrelated and mutually reinforcing bodies of international law (International Human Rights Law,  International Humanitarian Law, including the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols, International Refugee Law and International Criminal Law) supplemented by Security Council resolutions (particularly on children and armed conflict, on protection of civilians and on Women, Peace and Security) and by General Assembly resolutions (The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW); The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action; The Agenda for Humanity (Annex to A/70/709) developed ahead of the 2016 WHS and precursor of the commitments under the Grand Bargain); the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and SDGs (A/RES/70/1), and specifically SDG 5, aiming for gender equality by empowering women and girls using the Leave No One Behind (LNOB)  agenda). Humanitarian operations are also guided by the ICRC fundamental humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality, and independence, all of which are re-affirmed in UNGA resolutions.

At a more operational and technical level, CARE influences and adheres to all relevant Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) / Core Humanitarian Standards and other relevant (e.g. specific clusters) guidelines, policies, and standards, especially when they are related to gender (e.g. IASC Policy on Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and Girls (GEEWG) in Humanitarian Action endorsed in December 2017,  IASC Gender Accountability Framework, IASC GBV Accountability Framework (2018), Call to Action on Protection from GBV in Emergencies, etc.).

These frameworks establish the obligations of governments, parties to conflict, humanitarian agencies and other actors in emergencies to ensure that affected populations receive assistance and protection (refer to Annex 28.5 Summary of relevant international standards) and take GEEWG into account.

These principles must guide CARE’s programming and advocacy response in any crisis. See the Chapter on Humanitarian policy framework and the Chapter on Quality and accountability for practical advice on achieving this. The responsibilities of other actors – such as states and parties to conflict – to ensure populations receive assistance and protection strictly based on needs, provide a basis for humanitarian advocacy targeting policy and decision-makers.

For more details on the relevant legal and policy framework for CARE’s humanitarian advocacy, refer to this policy analysis document.

See also, Humanitarian Impact Area Advocacy Strategy. 

6.1 Support for CO advocacy efforts

6.2 Global-level advocacy

Emergencies raise a large number of potential advocacy issues, at a time when capacity is often stretched. The CO must carefully identify and prioritize a few issues and determine whether advocacy would be an appropriate and feasible response for the CO and others in CARE.

Advocacy is usually based on programmatic priorities as determined by the concerns of affected communities and local and national organisations, including women and girls and women-led organisations, and on the extent of humanitarian access. In an emergency, issues may be identified based on response activities, programme experience, research, witnessing and observation.

The following questions can help issues prioritisation:

  • Does the issue affect a large number of people?
  • Does it have a significant impact on affected populations in terms of threats to life or welfare?
  • Does the issue affect CARE’s and our partners’ field work or response priorities and access to affected populations?
  • Is the issue one that the CO has previously advocated for?
  • Does the issue connect to /align with  CARE’s global advocacy initiatives and overall mission?
  • How can CARE support the efforts of partners?
  • Where does CARE fit into the policy landscape? Who are our likely allies and what level of effort is already being devoted to the issue?
  • Does CARE have credibility with aid recipients, partners, and oplicymakers on this issue?

7.1 Common advocacy themes in emergencies.

When key issues are identified, the decision to engage in advocacy must be considered by reviewing CARE’s criteria for engaging in advocacy in an emergency (see section 8.1).

The decision whether to engage in advocacy as part of a humanitarian response should be made by the Country Director, together with the CO Advocacy Advisor/RAA and senior management team. For issues requiring global advocacy, the decision should be made in consultation with the Lead Member and CEG through the Crisis Coordination Group.

A rapid SWOT analysis can help the CO to assess its internal strengths and weaknesses against the external opportunities and threats.

See CARE’s paper and decision-making table on Speaking Out in Advocacy to help inform the decision to undertake public advocacy or speak out against challenges such as shrinking humanitarian space.

8.1 Key criteria

8.2 Assessing risks of advocacy

When the decision has been taken to engage in advocacy, a clear advocacy strategy must be developed.

9.1 Different levels of planning

9.2 Key questions and strategy format

9.3 Problem analysis

9.3.1 Information gathering

9.3.2 Problem analysis checklist

9.4 Goal and objectives

9.5 Rationale for CARE’s engagement

9.6 Target audience

9.7 Identifying allies and opponents

9.7.1 Collaboration on humanitarian advocacy

9.8 Advocacy messages

9.9 Tools and actions

9.9.1 Case Study: CARE Advocacy and the Gender Reference Group

9.10 Opportunities and events

9.11 Human and financial resources

9.12 Risk management

9.13 Monitoring and evaluation

When CARE sets up an emergency response in a country or region where it has no prior operational presence, an initial advocacy response is likely to be limited to support positions of national and local partners or peer organisations (based on fundamental IHL principles), or building on relevant CI policies on thematic issues such as humanitarian coordination, aid effectiveness, and ‘humanitarian space’.

The decision to do any longer-term advocacy must depend on agreement with partners, a solid understanding of the local context, knowledge of key actors and credibility with policymakers. If advocacy is still determined to be essential, the CI approach should be based primarily on collaboration with partners, allies, or coalitions who have more experience locally so as to rely on their deeper contextual understanding and credibility.