By Laura Williams
I’m convinced that our work in the Philippines will be a force multiplier for ending gender-based
violence because of the energy, optimism and commitment we are seeing among the local activists as
they make the shift from individual to systemic advocacy.
With funding provided by “Cummins Powers Women,” an initiative of Cummins Inc., we are working
with leaders from eight local human rights organizations in the Philippines. The goal: build the essential
skills for systems advocacy within local human rights organizations – because we know that local leaders
who understand their country’s culture, institutions and power structures will have the most impact in
driving real change.
We first met with representatives from several women’s organizations last October, and heard about
the challenges they face, including the need for more shelter availability for domestic abuse survivors,
offender accountability and the need for legal reform. In the Philippines, there is no divorce law, no
probation for domestic violence offenders, and the statute of limitations in rape cases remains a barrier
We held an online learning lab in January with those interested in building their advocacy skills to
address these and other challenges. Our on-the-ground Systemic Advocacy Learning Lab (SALL) started
in April and will run through March of 2025 for the eight groups that are committed to partnering with
each other and working on a longer-term project to advance women’s rights in the Philippines. Group
learning will take place in monthly meetings and two in-person sessions in the Metro Manila area – a
total of 17 sessions to explore key concepts and techniques surrounding systemic advocacy.
In late May, we travelled to Manila for our first in-person session. The focus was on how to identify gaps
between what survivors need and what institutions/systems provide and to understand the forces that
shape the everyday challenges faced by police, healthcare and legal institutions.
A highlight of our time together was the energy and involvement of participants in the interactive
exercises during the in person lab. One exercise involved creating a timeline of key moments of activism
around women’s rights and human rights in the history of the Philippines in order to develop a shared
narrative and elevate their work together as change makers. Other exercises provided opportunities to
test out certain methods that we’ll be exploring together over the next two years.
The reflections from participants told me that they understood the concepts and were eager to apply
what they learned:
“Systemic advocacy is about addressing the underlying structures and dynamics that perpetuate issues.
By focusing on systemic change, we can all work towards creating lasting impact and transforming
institutions and society, for the better.” Joey, helpline manager
“Solving a systemic issue requires us to prioritize constructive engagement with the institutions who
hold power and resources.” Jeza, Chief Operations Officer
“The Systemic Advocacy Learning Lab made me realize that although individual efforts are essential,
systemic advocacy seeks to address the root causes of social problems by advocating for broader policy
changes, institutional reforms and shifts in social norms.” Rai, Community Coordinator
This is a new area of work for Global Rights for Women and we are excited about the exponential impact
of skill-building for local advocates to end gender-based violence around the world. As they say in
Tagalog, ang dami mas Maganda! (the more the better)
Laura Williams is Director of Systems Advocacy for Global Rights for Women.