How can we make human rights advocacy more popular? Reality TV might have some answers
By Justice Hub
Human rights advocacy is not in vogue. According to an Amnesty International report released late last year, human rights advocates the world over are presently having to contend with an “onslaught of harassment, intimidation, ill-treatment, restrictions, unjust prosecution and detention.” The Amnesty report echoes the findings of other recent studies that have documented how the world’s rights defenders are risking personal peril to do their work.
The hostility towards human rights advocates has taken its toll. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Hussein has announced that he won’t be seeking a second 4-year term because of the “appalling” climate for advocacy. Subtly referencing the lack of support for human rights advocacy among certain world powers, Zeid said he felt keeping his job “in the current geopolitical context, might involve bending a knee in supplication; muting a statement of advocacy; lessening the independence and integrity of my voice — which is your voice.”
In these circumstances, it is easy to succumb to despair. However, there are some human rights advocates who believe that this moment of history is ripe with opportunities to find new ways to reach out to the masses. Among them is Colombian lawyer Matilda Gonzalez Gil. Gonzalez, herself a transgender woman, is an independent consultant with a passion for championing human rights and the rights of LGBTI.
Gonzalez was among eight LGBTI and gender rights defenders from Colombia, Bangladesh, China, Egypt, Nigeria and Ukraine, Russia and Kenya invited to speak at a recent Hague Talks. She used her talk to reflect on the global human rights climate and to challenge other rights defenders to channel popular entertainment as a way of winning over the public.
"I think that communicating and mainstreaming social justice, democracy and human rights issues right now in the historical moment we are living in [is difficult]. Worldwide we have people using fear and populist ideas and taking advantage of prejudice and fear. They are very effective at mainstreaming their message,” said Gonzalez.
In a talk littered with cultural references, Gonzalez stressed the importance of finding new ways to communicate effectively with an often distracted target audience. Even if it means using tropes made properly by reality TV:
"I think it's key to mainstream our message. That’s why I think it's very important to have justice to dress provocatively or to have empathy be as popular as Miss Universe and to have solidarity be the rock star or to have diplomacy not being the person in the reality show that says like I'm not here to make friends,” she explained.
It’s not just reality TV that Gonzalez thinks human rights advocates can learn from. She also thinks it is possible to draw some useful lessons from popular TV shows like Sex and the City:
“I also think that it's crucial that arguments, science and facts, like Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City, they need to be intelligent but they also need to be bold,” argues Gonzalez.
“Most important, I think that right now we need to make sure that love and creativity are our only weapons, with no exceptions. Love and creativity needs to be strong like Elle Woods in Legally Blonde. She's like very pink and they underestimate her but at the end she manages to achieve her goals with conviction with hope and always with love,” she concluded.
To watch Gonzalez’s talk in full, click on the video below:
We have stories on the important work done by human rights advocates around the world on our website. Check them out:
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On growing up with albinism in Africa: "I didn’t want to be seen as nonhuman" https://justicehub.org/article/growing-albinism-africa-i-didnt-want-be-seen-nonhuman
Victims of the Russo-Georgian War want to see high-level perpetrators punished https://justicehub.org/article/victims-russo-georgian-war-want-see-high-level-perpetrators-punished
Jimena Reyes of FIDH: If the ICC wants to keep its legitimacy it has to open a preliminary examination in Mexico https://justicehub.org/article/jimena-reyes-fidh-if-icc-wants-keep-its-legitimacy-it-has-open-preliminary-examination
“Were you tortured? Yes, sure”: In conversation with Syrian activist Bassam al-Ahmad https://justicehub.org/article/were-you-tortured-yes-sure-conversation-syrian-activist-bassam-al-ahmad
Clément Abaifouta: “Forgiveness does not come easy after this kind of suffering, but we are working on it.” https://justicehub.org/article/clement-abaifouta-forgiveness-does-not-come-easy-after-kind-suffering-we-are-working-it
Reed Brody on victims' long quest to bring Hissène Habré to justice https://justicehub.org/article/reed-brodys-long-quest-bring-hissene-habre-justice
Photo: Maaki Nurmeots/Hague Talks