By Felister Makandi
On Tuesday 25th and Wednesday 26th June 2013 I attended a policy scan dissemination conference and advocacy training that was held at the Sarova Panafric Hotel in Nairobi. The conference was an initiative of MenEngage Kenya Network (Menken) jointly with Sonke Gender Justice Network and UN Women. The conference was to facilitate the launch of the MenEngage Africa policy report and bring together different stakeholders for policy advocacy training.

The policy report was an outcome of scan of policies, laws and plans from thirteen African countries focusing on HIV and AIDS; gender-based violence (GBV); sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR); and parenting. The reports show the strengths, gaps and weaknesses of policies around the above mentioned areas and make recommendations that will ensure the policies’ language is gender equitable and also reflects constructive engagements of men and boys. One can access all African reports from both the Sonke and MenEngage websites.
The policy advocacy training was aimed at building capacities of CSO and NGOs on policy advocacy and skills and strategies in GBV and HIV/AIDS.

By definition policy advocacy is a specific form of advocacy. It is the process of taking action using a series of strategies, to influence the creation and development of public policy. It also means engaging with key people and institutions that are involved in the development of advocacy and includes – but not limited to: government; civil society; media and affected communities. In many instances, these are separate entities which are at the same time interrelated and check each other in matters of policy reinforcement.

Although advocates for gender equality and women’s empowerment have existed for a number of centuries, women worldwide still experience greater marginalization.
Perhaps one would think it gets better with time, but no, it’s many times a story of different cast, different scenes – but same old story. The last two decades has seen a paradigm shift with increasing strategies of engaging men and boys to be gender advocates. Engaging men and boys in the fight to end GBV and the spread of HIV/AIDS has over time proved to be an effective strategy of empowering women because it is not only beneficial to women but also to children and men themselves. Gender norms that prescribe to masculinity encourage men to engage in negative high-risk behavior that increases their vulnerability and that of women to HIV/AIDS infections. Research has shown that gender-based violence is not only a violation of human rights, but also contributes to the spread of HIV/AIDS. Rigid cultural norms encourage men to react to problems with violence and make it acceptable for men to control and dominate their partners. In order to mitigate GBV it is important to work with men and women to change social norms that encourage GBV.

Policies are implemented across a wide jurisdiction and as such their effects are felt by a large number of the citizenry. Sadly, some advocates can carry on the status quo which defines, informs and sustains societal norms and sometimes negative norms. In light of this it evident that policies determine opportunities men and women can enjoy and if well formulated policies can bring about positive change. It is also important to keep in mind that policies alone cannot bring long term changes. They are just an integral first move which must be followed by effective implementation.

Felister Makandi is an Intern at the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET). You can connect with her on twitter @makandigitonga and email

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