Adapting advocacy in the face of COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a seismic shift in the way our world operates. In this context, we ask ourselves: how do we ensure that we adapt our work to this “new normal”?
The Voice for Change Partnership programme empowers civil society organisations (CSOs) as advocates for policies and practices benefitting poor and marginalised communities. As measures to combat COVID-19 have limited the possibility to organise face to face trainings, exchanges and workshops, or plan in-person meetings with policy makers, the programme has had to adapt.
While its objectives stay the same, many CSO initiatives within the V4CP programme have adapted their channels and messaging in order to stay relevant in these changing times.
CSOs have taken a pro-active approach to the situation. They have adapted by finding innovative solutions to continue engaging with policymakers on the issues they advocate for, such as:
approaching policymakers and sharing gap analyses of the changing situation,
adapting messaging to the COVID-associated disruption,
engaging with government to provide COVID-specific solutions,
using digital solutions to continue their advocacy, such as local radio and social media,
and providing on-the-ground response and training.
Below are specific examples of how the advocacy work of CSOs has been adapted, from the four thematic areas V4CP works in:
In Kenya, county governments expressed the need for information, education and communication (IEC) materials on correct hygiene. As a result, CSO networks printed posters and distributed them to health facilities and other key services in the counties.
The partners expressed the need for CSO members to be trained on COVID-19 by county trainers, so they could become trainers themselves (Training of Trainers, ToT). In Homa Bay CSOs were trained to enable the county to reach all Community Health Volunteers at sub-county level. Sensitisation campaigns were organised in Elgeyo Marakwet and Homa Bay counties to ensure COVID-19 messages were shared in the most difficult to reach areas. In these counties, as well as in Kericho, the CSOs also spearhead use of radio and social media to reach their communities.
CSOs are advocating for county governments to install water tanks in key areas like ferry landing sites and county markets, as well as voicing other WASH needs that have been identified become more urgent due to the crisis. CSO networks also joined the Health Department in advocacy efforts for the county governments to allocate funds for COVID-19 prevention while they continue to audit current WASH projects and advocate for increased WASH-related budgets for the upcoming financial year.
In their response the crisis, the Kenyan government proposed new tax measures. While the government intends to cushion the impacts of the crisis on businesses and consumers, the draft tax amendments include re-introduction of VAT on clean cookstoves, LPG, biodigesters and raw materials for clean cooking technologies – products that were previously exempted from VAT to accelerate the transition from harmful cooking methods (such as open three-stone fires) to cleaner technologies. Reintroduction of taxes on clean cooking means a backtracking on the government’s own target to reach universal access to modern cooking for all Kenyans by 2030. This can be counterproductive especially as household air pollution exposure can worsen respiratory viral infections.
V4CP CSOs immediately came into action and submitted a memo to Parliament and the relevant Ministries, calling on government to reconsider the tax amendments, as they will slowdown adoption of clean cooking, with risk of worsening COVID-19 impacts. Parliament members have been mobilised to speak out on the issue. An opinion article of the CEO of the Clean Cooking Association Kenya (CCAK) was published in national media, and all V4CP partners pushed on social media in order to change the government’s intentions.
In Burkina Faso, the CSO APESS produced an analysis of how the COVID-19 crisis impacts agropastoral family farms. Based on this analysis, CSOs are engaging national government and donors through the Permanent Secretary, who manages the crisis and vulnerability in the livestock sector, to prioritise needs of Agro-pastoralists and pastoralists COVID 19 response plan development.
In Kenya CSOs are engaging County Public Health Officers (in Isiolo and Marsabit) and the Ministry of Interior Coordination & Security to sensitise pastoralists in remote regions on COVID-19 awareness, to ensure pastoralists and livestock traders access terminal markets through issuance of transport permits.
Food and nutrition security
In Rwanda, a partial lockdown kicked off at the start of the planting season. A key emerging concern was a trend where agro-dealers began to overprice inputs and services, due to reduced mobility. At the same time, the government had made a commitment to ensure minimal disruption of farm activities.
V4CP CSOs took a lead in advocacy using local radio and the social media to encourage agro-dealers to desist from overpricing, and to ensure that farmers have access to seeds and inputs at affordable price and in time for the planting season. As a result, the CSO Imbaraga has been co-opted into the committee that is undertaking inspection of agro-dealer on pricing.
In Rwanda, during the lockdown, the government put in place a social safety net programme to support people affected by the measures. Seeing as food fortification is mandatory for the six food drivers, CSOs felt that both government and private sector should provide fortified and other nutrient-rich food to people in need, in order to address both hunger and malnutrition.
During the lock-down the CSO ADECOR issued messages on how government can support continued fortification efforts amidst the crisis, suggesting solutions such as ensuring public health commodities are prioritised for clearance at ports or at border sites.
The Voice for Change Partnership (V4CP) programme is a collaboration between the Dutch government, SNV, and IFPRI to empower civil society organisations (CSOs) as advocates for policies and practices benefitting poor and marginalised communities using evidence. The programme aims to influence systems change in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Honduras, Indonesia, Kenya, and Rwanda, focusing on food and nutrition security, resilience, renewable energy, and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH).