How to identify and influence potential allies for your movement

Written by Isabella Muthoni, Equality Now

Please describe a situation when your organisation or project has had to navigate political barriers to your larger shared goal.

Equality Now uses the law to address discrimination against women and girls. One of our thematic areas is to end harmful practices of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) and child marriage, which are barriers to girls’ right to access education. There has been a recent regime change in one of the countries where we work and, as a result, the operating environment for organisations working on social justice and human rights issues became restrictive. Organisations faced a lot of resistance from the regime on speaking on rights and freedoms. The government threatened to deregister organisations working around issues that the government considered sensitive or ‘forbidden’ to address. Furthermore, activists who attempted to convene or lobby against such restrictions have faced arrest. Our partners have also had their communications monitored and intercepted.

How did you work on this problem and what changes did you make?

To address these particular challenges, we had to find different ways of implementing our planned activities and also addressing the rights of the women and girls that were being infringed upon. As we are a regional organisation and implement our work regionally, we moved our conventions to a neighbouring country where it was safe to convene around issues of ending discrimination against women and girls. We made use of our online platforms and published messages that condemned the oppressive acts of this particular government’s regime, and took advantage of the regional bodies to issue statements concerning the worrying trends that this government was adopting.

What did you achieve?

We achieved the immediate outputs that we intended to, which were to bring actors together to call against the oppressive laws and ordinances that negatively affected girls, and for appropriate measures to be taken against perpetrators of sexual violence. We were also able to amplify our messages to the government, the general public and the international audience that acts of oppression against women and girls are not acceptable.

What did you learn from this experience?

Through this experience, we learnt that there are other ways of organising and campaigning against unfair laws and policies, especially in a restrictive environment. We had to prioritise the security of the organisations and human rights defenders, yet not be silenced on speaking about critical issues affecting the girls. We learnt that it is important to connect with other players and actors who are doing similar work in order to collaborate, utilise their expertise and explore different ways you can advocate for change.

What are your top tips for someone facing the same or similar issues?

  1. Make use of your networks and the support of other organisations that are doing similar work and can amplify your messages calling for reform.
  2. Organisations can write letters (either as individuals or in a coalition) to request support from other actors who are collaborating with their governments in development projects, such as bilateral governments and the World Bank. This happened Tanzania, when the World Bank halted a $300 million loan on education until the government had shown its commitment to addressing the issue of girls’ education.
  3. Always inform the funder of challenges you are facing in implementing activities due to changes in the operating environment.

Isabella Muthoni, Equality Now

Isabella Muthoni is a Grants Officer at Equality Now, where she provides guidance on grants management and processes. Isabella works closely with the programme, communication and finance teams to ensure compliance with donor requirements, timely submissions, accurate grant reporting, preparation of project proposals and development of project budgets. Isabella has experience in project design and developing quality proposals as well as increasing funding and diversifying funding sources for the organisation. Isabella is an Advocate of the High Court in Kenya, a feminist lawyer and a champion for women’s human rights and equality.

Equality Now