In a creative approach to upgrade advocacy efforts by civil stakeholders against violence in Lebanon – particularly domestic and gender based violence (GBV) – ABAAD called on Syrian refugee girls to reproduce on dummies their personal stories of violence and discrimination. A public exhibition displaying the puppets is organised today in Taanayel in Lebanon’s Bekaa region.
Readers who are familiar with Lebanese civil and women campaigns would agree that a notable, rather dramatic, evolution of advocacy tools has marked the past fourteen years. Foreign military “evacuations”, a post-2006 growth in NGOs, access to funding, activist mobility and the “social boom” have all shaped today’s advocacy margin of manoeuvre.
The Adventures of Salwa, an animation campaign to combat sexual harassment, illustrates how the evolution in advocacy allowed it to have a broader outreach and become participatory. That means the fight against sexual harassment and violence must be everybody’s business, even children. By combining eye-attractive animation, real-life scenarios and a sense of humour, this series of videos marked a milestone in advocacy work.
"With the availability of open source platforms, we can no longer ignore creativity"
Ads no longer need to feature public figures, who may or may not appeal to all audiences, and messages do not require large-scale budgets to air on mainstream media. With the availability of open source platforms, we can no longer ignore creativity, catchiness, brevity and visuals when conceptualizing campaigns.
“Visualizing Rights” has in fact been the focus of Tactical Tech, an international non-profit considered the pioneer of info activism. The organisation, supportive of several gender and women advocacy projects throughout the world and in Arab countries (see “Visualizing Women’s Rights in the Arab World”), developed 10 Tactics, followed by Ten Tactics Remixed, a powerful campaigning tool for turning information into action.
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“Selfies” have also taken the world by storm, which received wider attention when international public and religious figures, such as Pope Francis, joined the wave of users. Perhaps unexpectedly, we have lately seen selfies develop into being self-less tools in supporting charitable causes.
Even before the Instagram trend, the Facebook page Uprising of Women in the Arab World constituted a pole attracting auto-captured photos of users who flashed messages of why they supported revolution. Hundreds of photos were being uploaded, tagged and shared daily, highlighting the challenges facing women in Arab countries; from early marriages and lack of sexual education or emancipation to patriarchal legislations and domestic violence.
But there’s more. Fingerprints have today resurged as a powerful advocacy tool in fighting GBV, through the medium of digital petitions. In response to the Lebanese cabinet’s decision to pass a “mutated” domestic violence bill, which does not guarantee a full protection of women and confirms marital rape, KAFA (Enough) launched a Facebook petition where users marked their fingerprints virtually using an application on the organisation’s page. The petition urged the Lebanese president to refrain from signing the draft law and return it to the cabinet – which he never did.
On the other hand the Lebanese activist community and the socially aware public have also evolved and developed their reception, responsiveness and critical eye. Some campaigns supportive – or claiming to be – of women’s issues might backfire at the organizers, despite their creative modulation or outreach methods. Beirut’s Marathon “Women Run Forward” is an example to that. Despite the fact that the marathon gathered an important number of women who “ran for their rights”, activists and feminists objected at the “registration fee”, the “juvenility of the slogans” and the debated “credibility” of the organising association. We saw an outpour of critical comments across all social media platforms. The hashtag “Orkodi” (Run in Arabic) soon trended as a satiric response to the marathon’s media campaign.
Whether the medium is handmade, crafted, or virtually developed, creative content has become an indivisible adjective to advocacy. ABAAD’s use of puppets against violence is only one of many reminders that the voices of hand-made puppets is louder than those of the real-life ones, who contribute daily to the deterioration of women’s rights.