Advocacy From the Margins: Identifying Opportunities to Facilitate Social Services Delivery to the Disadvantaged
Across North America, women account for slightly more of the population than men, yet their earnings and opportunities for career advancement remain far less than their male counterparts. Certainly, some of these disparities are based on biological reasons involving the need for women to care for young children, but many other gender-based factors that marginalize women are founded on religious grounds or spurious rationale that has historically favored men in many world societies. Given the enormous numbers of people who are involved and affected by the outcome of advocacy efforts it is therefore important to identify opportunities to facilitate the delivery of social services that are by definition scarce in a fashion that is timely and effective. To this end, this paper provides a review of the relevant literature to compare advocacy from the margins to feminist activism and a critical analysis of the foundations of advocacy. Finally, an assessment of the value-based decision-building process is followed by a summary of the research and important findings in the conclusion.
Review and Analysis
Comparison of Advocacy from the Margins to Feminist Activism
As the concept suggests, "advocacy from the margins" indicates that some people are marginalized in some social force or fashion and need help in overcoming the forces that have placed them at a disadvantage compared to others. This concept is congruent with the definition provided by Black's Law Dictionary which states that an advocate is "one who assists, defends or pleads for another. One who renders advice, aid, or pleads the cause of another" (p. 55). By extension, then, advocacy in the context of social services involves helping marginalized individuals by providing them with the guidance as well as the voice they need to overcome the challenges they encounter in the social realm. Because an inordinate percentage of marginalized people are women, advocacy from the margins is highly congruent with the precepts of feminist activism. For instance, Evans reports that, "Advocacy must be based on an analysis of what needs to be changed and why... this analysis must be feminist because only feminism gives an analysis of patriarchy and how it is linked to the structures and relationships of power between men and women that perpetuate violence" (p. 10).
Certainly, not only violence but a broad array of other adverse circumstances affect women disproportionately compared to men (Chinn, 2008), and these gender-based forces tend to perpetuate themselves unless and until they are exposed to the harsh light of reality. These powerful historical structures and relationships of power that have adversely affected women in countless ways are well documented, making the need for informed feminist activism all the more important given the growing recognition that these forces remain firmly in place around the world today. Just as many of these structures and relationships of power have a lengthy history, so too do the foundations upon which modern advocacy is built, and these issues are discussed further below.
Analysis of the Foundations of Advocacy
According to Chinn (2008), the foundations of modern advocacy can be traced to the origins of feminism that embraced the ideal that equitable treatment for all should be a given irrespective of gender. In this regard, Chinn reports that:
A. Feminist traditions value women's experiences and ideas and work toward a world in which women are no longer disadvantaged in any way.
B. Feminist traditions value the full humanity of all people -- women, children and men -- and do not accept any condition that gives one group of people more privileges than others.
C. Feminist traditions value fundamental human rights for all and approaches that nurture full human potential, health and well-being for all (2008, p. 2).
In sum, then, modern advocacy from the margins is truly built on the shoulders of giants in the field, and current approaches are the result of theoretical refinements that have taken place over the years in what have been described as a series of "waves" of feminist activism (Bromley & Ahmad, 2006). While there remains some controversy between proponents of the various approaches to advocacy advanced by the different schools of thought, a common element that has emerged from the foundations of advocacy has been an increased focus on solidarity among women to provide the support needed to overcome the firmly embedded obstacles that are involved.
Modern advocacy, then, has expanded to include the need for addressing the wide range of gender-based policies that have been institutionalized in Western society in ways that are sometimes difficult to discern but which have a cumulatively negative impact, particularly for women who subscribe to religions that are different from the mainstream in the society in which they live. In this regard, Jafri (2006) emphasizes that, "While most Muslim women embrace Canada as their home, many tend to be disengaged from the civic and political life of the country. They tend to [less] socially engaged in broader Canadian society. They are also more likely to be unemployed, underemployed, or absent from the labour market despite high levels of education" (p. 98). Consequently, the foundations of advocacy have evolved to include these more pragmatic considerations for women in the workplace as well as the larger society in which they live as well. For instance, Evans (2010) notes that today, "Advocacy that is specifically feminist in nature is designed to advance women's rights through reforming gender-discriminatory policies, laws, corporate behaviour, and cultural practices which affect women around the world" (p. 11).
Furthermore, the foundations of modern advocacy have created a framework in which solutions to real-world problems rather than conjectural or theoretical analyses can be produced. In this regard, Evans adds that, "Feminist advocacy is intimately connected to -- and grounded in -- the local struggles of real women, and takes its legitimacy and direction from these women, who are experiencing injustice and inequality of different kinds at first hand" (2010, p. 11). In sum, then, the foundations of advocacy from the margins are not new, but rather date to the mid-20th century where historic structures and relationships were increasingly scrutinized for gender-based discriminatory practices (Rebick, 2005).
Analysis of the Value-Based Decision-Building Process
Perhaps the most difficult part of value-based decision building is conceding that not everyone is going to agree to even the most thoughtful proposals based on reasons that might not have occurred to their proponents. Achieving a value-based consensus in any organizational setting requires extra effort on the part of everyone, a step that may be especially difficult to achieve given the tendency of many people to lose sight of what is truly important to them during the decision-making process. According to Chinn (2008), though, it is possible to achieve positive outcomes if everyone involved is willing to make the effort to understand each others' perspectives and interests and seek to achieve mutually satisfactory compromises. In this regard, Chinn emphasizes that, "Building communities for the future calls for everyone in the group to value both cohesiveness and diversity. Putting these values together into action brings forth solidarity" (p. 34).
Admittedly, the value-based decision-building process is challenging, requires a significant amount of time compared to autocratic decision-making techniques and not every outcome will be as successful as others. Despite these constraints, authentic value-based decision building means that all stakeholders will have a voice in what is decided. It also means that decision-makers must realize that their views may not be shared by everyone, a personal concession that may be especially hard for some people. For example, Chinn adds that, "This means that you come together knowing that you will disagree, have different opinions, and see things differently from one another" (2008, p. 34). This point is made again by Chinn in her analysis of the need for cooperation in groups as a fundamental requirement for successful outcomes. For instance, Chinn writes, "A group's commitment to cooperation grows out of mutually defined values, where each individual's viewpoint and abilities are honored equally" (p. 12). While this approach may sound labor-intensive (and it is), it is only in this fashion that legitimate value-based decision building can take place.
By "keeping their eye on the prize," though, value-based decision making can produce solutions that might otherwise be overlooked and will help model the way for others who are seeking to use their scarce organizational resources to their best effect. As Chinn concludes, "Rather than seeking to agree, or pretending to agree, you acknowledge things that divide or could divide you. You resolve to work together to understand one another and work toward mutual resolution of differences that get in the way, and celebrate those differences that enrich everyone" (2008, p. 34). Some steps recommended by Chinn (2008) to facilitate the value-based decision-making process include:
A. Carefully considering another point-of-view when the immediate response is to reject it;
B. Taking deliberate actions to keep oneself and the group open to welcoming others who are different or new; and C. Paying attention to subtle…