Ever sat at the family dinner table and tried to make your carnivore relative understand the merits of cutting meat out of your diet? Tried to get your school to start composting? Tweeted a world leader with Global Citizen? Or even shared one of our posts to your Instagram stories?

All of these things have something in common: they’re examples of speaking up in defense of something you believe in. That’s basically what advocacy is: speaking up in defense of your own or someone else’s rights to try and get the people who make decisions (ie. your uncle who thinks veganism is for rabbits) to share your position or perspective.

“In a perfect world,” says Liz Agbor-Tabi, vice president of global policy at Global Citizen, “we would have equitable social and economic systems which deliver justice for all. But because that's not the perfect world that we live in, we need people who can use their voices to demand a different world, a better world. For me, advocacy is the work to make this world a reality.” In many ways, that’s the world imagined by the UN’s Global Goals

Advocacy is at the heart of Global Citizen’s mission. We harness the voices of everyday people, activists, and artists to encourage governments, businesses, and philanthropists to make commitments to support the Global Goals. We then follow up to make sure that whatever promises they make are kept.

In 2022, we launched End Extreme Poverty NOW — Our Future Can’t Wait, a campaign that is rallying millions of people around the world to demand that the world’s top political and business leaders take immediate action in three critical areas on which the world can no longer afford to wait: empowering girls across the world; breaking the systemic barriers that keep people trapped in poverty; and taking climate action.

The thread that links these issues is civic space and advocacy. The kind of huge social change we’re demanding can only be brought about through open civic spaces — that’s when citizens and civil society organizations are able to organize, protest, dissent, and have their voices heard without fear of reprisal or intimidation.

That’s why defending advocacy is the bedrock of creating change. Without the space to demand change, there can be no change. 

All over the world, people advocate for a better world, whether that’s speaking out against gender inequality, speaking up for climate justice, or handing a megaphone to those whose voices are silenced. 

But while it might be safe and legal to do so in some countries, authoritarianism, repressive laws, and legal proceedings (like SLAPPs) make it unsafe in others. 

Every day, people are harassed, jailed, and even killed for speaking out against injustice. But for many of them, advocacy and activism are not a choice; they’re a matter of life and death.  Here’s everything you need to know about advocacy, why it needs defending; and how you can join Global Citizen in taking action to defend the world’s advocates. 

Advocacy vs Activism: What’s the Difference?

At first glance, they might seem like the same thing but there are some subtle differences — and there’s a need for both. 

Advocacy involves influencing decision-makers, demanding better policies, and using your voice.

Activism is sometimes considered more “direct” action such as organizing a protest, boycotting a company, doing a survey about an issue and sharing the results, or even locking yourself to an oil refinery pipe.

Does Advocacy Work?

“Is this even making a difference?” It’s a question we’ve all asked ourselves when signing a petition or sending a tweet to hold a world leader accountable. The answer is yes, but usually not in the way and timeframe that many people think.

From the US civil rights and Stonewall movements to the Arab Spring; from Black Lives Matter to #MeToo; from voting rights to labor rights; from ending apartheid to the Fridays for Future mobilizations; from protests against Shell and corporate boycotts — throughout history, social change has been brought about by individuals speaking out and people coming together to assert their rights. That is the power of advocacy and activism working together.

Ultimately, both activism and advocacy are about changing people’s minds, a sometimes slow but profoundly powerful and important process — and one that is central to our mission to end extreme poverty around the world and eliminate its underlying causes. 

Why Does Advocacy Need Defending?

Advocates and the right to advocate itself are under attack, in developed and developing countries alike. 

Zhang Zhan, for example — a citizen journalist who risked everything to report on COVID-19 when it first appeared in Wuhan — is in prison in China because of her work reporting on the outbreak. The Honduran Indigenous campaigner, Berta Cáceres, was murdered for her environmental activism in 2016. In Nigeria, Imoleayo Michael is facing prison for taking part in the 2020 #EndSARs protests. While in Colombia in 2022, Indigenous leader José Albeiro Camayo, one of the founders of the Indigenous Guard, an unarmed collective of land defenders, was assassinated. 

Meanwhile many governments have cracked down on free speech (including Russia and China most recently) and used new technologies as an excuse to pass repressive laws that restrict people’s ability to advocate. 

3 Things Global Citizen Is Doing to Defend Advocacy

1. Elevating Advocates’ Voices at Our Events and Festivals
We are amplifying advocates’ voices, particularly from the Global South and youth movements. Our annual awards ceremony, Global Citizen Prize, shined a light on activists, including youth activists, who are working to end extreme poverty in their own communities and foster social change across the world. Find out more about the remarkable 2022 Global Citizen Prize winners here.

Defending civic space will also be a key issue area at the Global Citizen Festival in September 2022, where we will broadcast stories of civil society leaders from around the globe.

2. Advocating for Advocacy
Through Twitter Spaces, our social media, and articles like the one you’re reading now, we’re working to raise awareness of civic spaces, what they are and why they're so important, and where they’re at risk. Find out more about the campaign and how you can take action to support it here

3. Get World Leaders to Commit to Protecting Civic Spaces

We are working to obtain specific commitments by heads of state and governments as well as corporations, to uphold or adhere to commitments to respect and promote civil liberties.

4 Advocacy Actions You Can Take Right Now 

Global Citizens are action takers and impact makers. Our voices inspire action to defend the planet, defeat poverty, and demand equity. We post, tweet, message, vote, sign, and call to influence leaders and citizens to act. Join us and take action today.

1. Download the Global Citizen App — Our app makes it easy to take action to demand equity, defeat poverty, defend the planet, and more. Download it here
2. Take a Quiz — Find out if civic space is open in your country by taking our quiz here.
3. Sign a Petition — Sign this petition demanding that the Bahraini authorities release human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja here.
4. Email the Government — Email German ministers and urge them to strengthen humanitarian aid and support NGOs working on the ground in Afghanistan here

Head to our Defend Activists NOW campaign page for more actions you can take to help defend and protect advocates, activists, and civic spaces around the world — and keep checking back in to see the latest actions you can take with us. 

Global Citizen Explains

Demand Equity

The World’s Advocates Need Defending NOW. Here’s What That Means & How You Can Help.

By Tess Lowery