Today marks the end of Advocacy Awareness Week 2018.

Working with advocates is one of our primary work streams here at BIHR and an awareness week offers an opportunity to stop and reflect on its importance.

We’ve been sharing a different story every day from our Advocacy Project, “Care and Support a Human Rights Based Approach to Advocacy.” These stories are real and show the life changing difference Human Rights based advocacy makes to people here in the UK. One of these stories was Nina’s. Nina was moved 200 miles from home for mental health treatment, it was difficult for Nina’s family to visit and she began self-harming. Her Independent Mental Health Advocate, trained by BIHR, stepped in and wrote to the Commissioners about Nina’s Article 8 Right to Private and Family life, Nina was moved closer to home.

Advocacy Awareness week emphasizes that Nina’s story is sadly not unique. The need for advocates to challenge unlawful decisions on behalf of the human rights of the most vulnerable in our society is ever present.

As the week drew to a close, our Policy and Programmes Manager, Sophie Howes, and our Human Rights Officer, Leonard Lewis, attended the Advocacy Conference run by Kate Mercer Training in Birmingham.  Every year, this conference is an opportunity to bring the sector together to reflect on how far we’ve come and refocus on where we need to be. There were over 200 people there representing up to 100 organisations and we were delighted to be asked to deliver a presentation and be offered a seat on the afternoon’s panel discussion.    

It was a highly successful conference, with some very interesting presentations on the powerful contributions of advocates and how the sector can continue to develop its important role of giving a voice to the voiceless.  Sophie used the platform to express how crucial it is that all advocacy practice be grounded in human rights. Advocates are fighting for people to be heard and “human rights gives you the legal basis to do this, to challenge decisions which aren’t person centred.” There were also a number of informative and interesting workshops on issues such as the Mental Capacity Act (Amendment) Bill, and the right to enjoy legal capacity in law and society.  The day concluded with a 'Question Time’ panel discussion which Sophie participated in, sharing her experience of working in advocacy in Australia and here at home, and calling for better support and coordination to drive through systematic change. While Sophie did this, Leonard was able to gather vital feedback from advocates on our new Health and Human Rights Online Tool (funded by the Legal Education Foundation).

The conference was followed by the National Advocacy Awards, a ceremony which celebrated and reinforced the vital contributions that the Advocacy sector makes to our society. There are so many incredible advocates and organisations making a difference to individuals, families and communities every day so to say that we were honoured to be shortlisted in the category of Best Supporter would be an understatement.  Although we were sad not to win the award, BIHR congratulates all of the worthy winners.  Everyone in that room, and beyond in the wider sector, are all so worthy of celebration and heartfelt thanks for the work that they do.

Advocacy has the power and impact to change people’s lives. To help someone have their voice heard at a time when they feel at their lowest is one of the most crucial things a person can do and we must continue striving to do this in the strongest way that we can - through human rights.