CIVIL society organisations have an obligation to speak up on behalf of the people because lawmakers base policies on the voices they hear, says the Zambian Cancer Society.
Zambian Cancer Society (ZCS) executive director and founder, Udie Soko, said yesterday that political advocacy was not about conflict, but about collaboration.
“Whilst it is the government’s primary role to take care of the health of its citizens, as stakeholders, we have a vital part to play in assisting government’s efforts,” she said.
Soko said the ZCS in collaboration with the Southern African Litigation Centre (SALC) organised a one day capacity-building cancer advocacy training workshop on February 11 as part of ZCS’s ongoing commemoration of World Cancer Day.
She said the workshop which was sponsored by the Ford Foundation brought together participants from the Breakthrough Cancer Trust, Centre For Infectious Diseases and Research in Zambia’s Cervical Cancer Prevention Progamme, Coalition of Women Living with HIV and AIDS, Zambia Heart and Stroke Foundation, Tobacco Free Association of Zambia and Cancer Support Network of Zambia.
“Speakers included representatives from SALC, ZCS, and the Treatment Advocacy Literacy Campaign (TALC). This introductory advocacy workshop served as a follow- up to a meeting held in November last year, organised by ZCS and SALC to consider the findings of research carried out by SALC in 2011 on improving access to cervical cancer services for women in Southern Africa including, Zambia,” she said.
She said one of the key research findings from Zambia was that many women did not know their health care rights due, amongst other things to the fact that Zambia does not yet have a National Cancer Control Plan.
“As stakeholders that work directly with the people affected by cancer and other diseases, we felt that improving our knowledge and skills in advocacy in general and political advocacy in particular, would enable us to more effectively share real life experiences and provide information to help our decision makers at all levels develop policies that enhance the quality of lives of its citizens,” she said.
Soko said advocacy, which was about using effective strategies to effect change, encompasses a broad range of activities such as working with the media, public education, fundraising, community outreach, support services, research and political dialogue.
She said whilst participants knew that political advocacy was important it was initially not considered a priority.
“Some of us regarded the political advocacy process as time consuming and somewhat intimidating and because of limited resources, put this type of work on the back burner….we had a better appreciation that through political advocacy, we are giving a voice to the voiceless that are very often the most vulnerable. Lawmakers base policies on the voices they hear. Hence, as civil society, we have an obligation to speak up on behalf of the people we represent to help improve outcomes at an individual, community and policy level ” said Soko. “Whilst it is the government’s primary role to take care of the health of its citizens, as stakeholders, we have a vital part to play in assisting government’s efforts. Besides, in the larger scheme of things, political advocacy should contribute to our missions, make our services more effective and enhance other parts of our efforts such as fundraising.”