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Today, APC kicked off Day 1 of the Advocacy International: Advancing our digital rights agenda for Asia workshop. This workshop is a culmination of many discussions over the years at APC on a crucial issue – the representation of more Asian civil society voices in international advocacy spaces, who had largely been absent so far and who could influence important outcomes. The workshop therefore was designed to familiarise civil society working on digital rights issues with international advocacy and its ecosystem, as a way to encourage more organisations to engage with these spaces. This workshop, however, is not meant to be a deep dive, but rather to give the participants directions, information and options in order to further our advocacy in these spaces.
The workshop is being attended by 23 participants from APC’s member and partner organisations in Asia, and we are lucky to have participants from across the region – Taiwan, South Korea, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Nepal, India and Pakistan.
Day 1 had two substantive sessions – the first one was Introduction to International Advocacy. This session was facilitated by Paula Martins, the human rights policy advocacy lead at APC. In this session, participants were asked to come up with a definition of advocacy, with participants reflecting on advocacy as “change” and a way for “protecting rights” and “changing laws” but also often as “frustrating” and the “great wall” to be overcome. An interesting point of discussion was whether all advocacy can be assumed to be good simply because it is advocacy. There was agreement that it was hard to classify advocacy as simply good or bad; it is often complex and multilayered, with different degrees of expectations and views of what the intended outcomes should be. Advocacy is also a process, requiring the re-identification of issues, audience and messages, and thinking of means of delivery, implementation and evaluation.
The session also focused on the pros and cons of international advocacy, which is aimed at other states, inter-state initiatives, associations of regulators, regional bodies and international bodies like the United Nations. As Paula noted, international advocacy can be very effective as a boomerang effect for creating momentum for national causes and issues, helping to make some noise and gain visibility, and acting as a last recourse for accountability. When pursued by civil society, it can also help international law reflect ground realities. However, international advocacy can also be bureaucratic, decentralised and expensive to engage in. It can carry risk of reprisals from governments and is dependent on the vagaries of geopolitics. Ultimately, it is important to remember that advocacy takes time and requires rigorous monitoring and a learning approach, and every small milestone is a success!
The second substantive session of the day was Stakeholder mapping and understanding the landscape, facilitated by Verengai Mabika, the senior policy advisor of the Global Public Policy Team at Internet Society, Zimbabwe. Verengai spoke to participants about the origins of multistakeholderism in internet policy, and the idea that it should encompass all the voices and decisions of the people from all perspectives, and not only be confined to those more concerned with the technical design of the Internet and those coming from the same circle of technical communities. So multistakeholderism attempts to ensure that private sectors, civil societies, governments, academia and media are able to work together on shared principles and norms on matters related to internet policy. However, in practice, this often is limited to just communication and coordination, and no hard decisions. There is also a very serious concern about how different stakeholders are represented in multistakeholder forums, and the power dynamics that are inherent in the model.
A very interesting discussion during the session was on the kinds of influence large states like the US, China and Russia have and could have on internet policy, and its impact especially on countries in the region. There was an acknowledgement that multistakeholder processes are very unequal and could be potential “smokescreens”, allowing some voices to be heard but not influence final decisions. It is therefore crucial to take a step back and do a comprehensive analysis of the capacities and competencies of our stakeholders before engaging in these processes, to consider our own place in this system in order to find ways to negotiate a favourable outcome.
Day 2 of the workshop will focus more specifically on some of the instruments, spaces and mechanisms available to us to engage in international advocacy, particularly at the United Nations.
For more information on the event and to explore the full agenda, please click here.
This workshop is being organised by the Challenge project, which is funded by the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights.