What is Advocacy and Why is it Important?

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Daniella Bendo

Founder of Unique Baby Boutique

At Unique Baby Boutique, we believe that advocacy is about changing and challenging one’s ability to influence decision-making processes. Our business has been built on the notion that children shape today and tomorrow’s future which is why we support opportunities to advocate with and for young people. Although one of our main objectives as a business is to ensure our customers receive beautiful products, we also developed the business as a forum to engage customers in supporting child advocacy in a practical setting. As a result, when costumers purchase our baby goods and apparel, 10% of proceeds will be donated to support child rights initiatives.

This article focuses on highlighting and unpacking the term ‘advocacy’ in the context of children and young people and what it means to Unique Baby Boutique. The article further sheds light on how others who are interested in learning more about advocacy or becoming an advocate on all different levels (especially as a parent or someone who engages often with young people) can think about the concept and apply it to their everyday lives.

At Unique Baby Boutique, we believe the following principles construct the meaning of child advocacy:

  • Elevating the voices of Young People
  • Partnerships with Young People
  • Rights Based Approach
  • Creating Change
  • Advocacy as a Lifestyle

Elevating the Voices of Young People

Elevating the voices of children is a crucial component of advocacy. We believe that sometimes young people and particularly vulnerable groups of children, do not always have a chance to share their input or have their opinions taken seriously. At Unique Baby Boutique, we emphasize the importance of enabling children to be decision-makers in the processes they are involved in by offering their own informed perspectives on areas relevant to their lives. This is an important part of elevating the voices of young people so that all groups of children have an opportunity to share their perspectives or speak out when they would like to raise awareness of issues. While it is important to take a stand for vulnerable groups of children and youth, it is also critical to ensure that we do not speak directly on their behalf. We believe that it can sometimes be harmful to speak for those who can and want to speak for themselves. Article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child emphasizes “the right of all children to be heard” (United Nations, 1989) which suggests that by listening to young people and according their views due weight, a sense of equality may be established and obtained for children who should be viewed as participatory citizens in society. Sometimes this might mean taking a second to stop and simply ask children their opinion or what they might like!

Partnerships with Young People

When we define child advocacy in both the Canadian and international context, we like to emphasize the importance of listening to the views and perspectives of young people by partnering with them to understand how to effectively strive towards change in a way that is informed by the views of children themselves. In this sense, advocacy has a lot to do with full participation and creating opportunities and an equal playing field for all groups of young people. We recognize that often, young people require guidance and support which is why providing spaces for children to share their perspectives by encouraging them or guiding them can lead to powerful partnerships. Partnerships should not be condescending or dominating. Rather, partnerships seem to work best when they are reciprocal and supportive. Sometimes this might mean encouraging or guiding a young person, so they have the courage and support to engage and thrive in whatever context they are involved.

Rights-Based Approach

At the heart of child advocacy, is ensuring that children’s rights are recognized and realized. Children have three set of fundamental rights: protection rights (for example, the right to be protected from neglect, exploitation and abuse), provision rights (for example, the right to be provided services such as healthcare, and education) and participation rights (for example, the right to participate in programs and communities and the right to voice opinions and provide input and have them respected).

At Unique Baby Boutique, we take the Convention on the Rights of the Child (the world’s most ratified human rights treaty in history) and make it real in terms of educating people about it and using it as a powerful advocacy tool to highlight that all children, in all countries, have the same set of rights. Children in particular, have an additional set of special rights, such as, ‘the Right to Play’ for example. We also emphasize how problematic it is that young people are not learning or being taught about these rights. Unique Baby Boutique encourages parents, teachers and other professionals working with young people, to educate children about the Convention on the Rights of the Child. As 198 countries have signed the Convention, it makes all countries that have signed advocates, because we have promised these rights to children. As a business that supports Children’s Rights Initiatives, we engage with young people through a rights-based respecting approach.  (Stay tuned for my up-coming blog Children Have Rights, Right?)

Creating Change

Change is an important part of advocacy. In considering advocacy, we ask ourselves: is it influential and is it creating change? Advocacy is more than writing a report or collecting statistics. When we do advocacy, we have certain goals in mind and we value the voices that are heard but we also think about the types of change we are hoping to achieve and how we can carry the voices of young people forward by partnering with them to create a positive change. An important aspect of creating change involves viewing young people as competent beings. Through our advocacy efforts, we hope to challenge and change the way certain groups of young people are perceived and treated.  As 10% of profits are donated to Child Rights Initiatives that we support, Unique Baby Boutique is invested in helping young people create change that matters in their lives.

Advocacy as a Lifestyle

A final element of advocacy is that it should not be a job that starts at 9 am and finishes at 5 pm. Advocacy is not a tool or a practice, it is a lifestyle. Advocacy is how you chose to live your life and it grows out of the ways you think about children and childhood and the way you live your life. It is a fluid and continuous approach to the day-to-day realities of children and should encompass listening with full intention, with your heart, and with your eyes. In the field of advocacy, we recognize that it is not always easy to create change. As such, it is important to highlight that adopting a negative attitude towards unsuccessful situations can be limiting because it does not allow alternative opportunities to be recognized. Advocacy is therefore a lifestyle that requires a positive outlook in order to truly be successful in working with and helping young people achieve their goals. At Unique Baby Boutique, we adopt advocacy as an important part of our lifestyle which we have channeled into our work with youth-led initiatives.

Thanks for reading! We hope that this article has provided insight on what advocacy means and why it is important, particularly for those of you who engage with young people often.

Daniella Bendo, M.A., B.A.

Founder of Unique Baby Boutique

Ph.D. Candidate Law and Legal Studies

Carleton University, Ottawa, ON, CA.

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