Social Advocacy: A Career Overview

Malala did it for girls’ education, Martin Luther King lost his life fighting apartheid, Mahatma Gandhi became an international symbol spearheading the non-violent movement.

And recently in India, the citizens did it for Jyoti, the rape casualty and in turn for all the women of the country; all those different causes were fought for, advocated for.


Social advocacy is not new and this approach continues to be used by individuals and groups in a wide variety of issues, ranging from rape to trafficking to environmental pollution.

Many organisations specialise in Social Advocacy addressing and fighting the injustice suffered by a group or individual. It is based on the philosophy of humanism: all are equal, entitled to the same rights and hence no one should suffer injustice from anyone. Organisations that use social advocacy are therefore people who are so committed to human rights that they will launch a struggle on behalf of groups who are oppressed and for various reasons are not able to fight against the injustice themselves. It does not castigate the entire social system as corrupt or unjust but fights against only certain social structures that are responsible for the specific injustice thereby fighting to modify the structure or order by ultimately influencing a policy or law. The most recent example is that of legalisation of gay marriages in many of the cities of USA.

Social Advocacy is a lengthy process and needs plenty of planning and strategizing. To understand this field one needs to go behind the scenes of this interesting career choice. The plan of action or the strategies used can be broadly described under three areas:

  • Development of an organization around the problem.
  • Building up a strong case
  • Launching the action

Development of an organization around the problem

The concept of power becomes important while advocating a change in society’s structure or order. The group needs to garner sufficient clout to give a jolt to those committing the injustice and to wake up the authorities to their responsibility to take necessary action. An individual or just a few people are inadequate for such task. One of the first steps in advocacy is the development of a strong organisation of like-minded persons who will work with consistent vigour for the cause. The size and skills will vary according to the magnitude of the issue.

Building up a Strong

Case Before launching any action programme, the organization has to build up a strong case against the injustice. It has to be armed with facts concerning the unjust situation. What is the nature of the injustice? To what extent does it exist in the society? Under what conditions of life the victims live? How are they treated? What is the suffering involved? A clear analysis has to be made of the reasons why the injustice has been taking place. What social forces are contributing to it? Which groups in society are mainly responsible for it and what are the vested interests involved? How do they maintain the injustice?

An analysis on these lines will expose the reactionary forces at work behind the injustice. Existing legislation relating to the problem has to be scrutinised and analysed by legal experts to find out the loopholes that allow the injustice to continue. How should this legislation be modified in order to stop the unjust practices? If modification will not help, what new legislation should be brought forward?

Launching the action
Based on the analysis of the problem, action strategies have to be planned and carried out: In the early stages, the facts concerning the injustice and its perpetrators should be fully exposed before the public through the effective use of print, electronic and social media. They should describe the details of the situation of the victims and all the sufferings that they undergo: the attitudes and treatment towards the victim/survivor. Notice has to be served, formally or otherwise, on those who are responsible for the injustice that they cannot continue as before. Pressure has to be put on them in various ways. Often it may be necessary to lodge a police complaint and have the defaulters arrested. And legal proceedings have to be launched against them. Along with mounting an attack on the unjust situation, the legitimate authorities have to be approached for reform of the social structures involved. When this authority is government itself, then the members of the legislatures at the state and national level, key officials and politicians have to be convinced, or if necessary, even persuaded to act in the matter. Even after the necessary legislation has passed, the organization will have to play a watch-dog role to see that the new law is suitably implemented. Right through the struggle, in most types of injustices, the victims would need some kind of help. In many cases, they will need legal help. A free legal aid bureau may have to be set up, which will fight individual and group cases in court relating to the cause that has been taken up. In many cases, even financial and material help may have to be given.

Social advocacy has proven to be very effective in bringing about big and small change in the social structure, the women’s suffrage movement finally empowered women to vote and stand for office. If used carefully and with commitment, social advocacy can prove to be very effective in resolving issues and bring about concrete change.

This field requires people who are persistent, patient, organised and most of all passionate, who will see the issue reach its rightful end. Brains and a whole lot of heart is what social advocacy asks of you.

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Charu Chaturvedi

I am a psychology graduate from State University of New York. I received my Masters in Social Work from Nirmala Niketan, Mumbai. I have worked on varied social issues, ranging from animal rights, teaching special children to working with commercial sex workers and their children. I am extremely passionate about gender issues, especially women’s’ rights and hope to one day walk the streets of the world as free as my male fellow human beings. My other love is animals and dream of opening a shelter for animals of all sorts. I love traveling, am an amateur singer and fine arts artist.

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