Gender, health communications and online activism in the digital age


In the age of media saturation, research has shown that NGOs, feminists networks and movements face a series of challenges in advocating for human rights and in favour of complex causes, such as women’s rights and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in particular. Sexual and reproductive health and rights matter both for the advancement of gender equality inasmuch as they do for democratic politics, whilst the strategic use of communications has the potential for shaping progressive policies around women’s rights. Funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), the project Gender, health communications and online activism in the digital age seeks to advance research on advocacy communications for social change, health communications and online activism for gender equality in international development in the particular field of sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Making use of a mixed methods approach, this research has combined both in depth interviews with gender experts and CEOS of health and feminist NGOs with a survey style questionnaire applied to the communication directors and professionals of these organizations. This was combined with content and critical discourse analysis (CDA) of the institutional websites of the organizations, as well as their social media engagement and online presence on Twitter and Facebook. A total of 52 feminist and health NGOs and networks, located in both the North and the South, from Latin America to Europe and the US, have participated in the research. These have included large NGOs, such as Care International UK to CREA India and Anis, Brazil, to medium and smaller grassroots feminist and health networks.

The core research questions asked here have included how can communications be better used for advocacy on SRHR? How are health and feminist NGOs and networks making use of offline and online communication tools, and what are their communication strategies? And how do these reflect on their daily activities? Finally, what are the challenges that NGOs are encountering for advocating around SRHR, and how can we build better and more affective messages amid a context of retreat of rights and growth of attacks against the women’s agenda? This research thus seeks to contribute to theoretical and empirical debates and research in the field of gender and development, health communications and use of media for social change, further aiming to advance discussions on the role of feminist NGOs, particularly from the global South, in advocating for women’s rights (i.e. Alvarez, 1998, 2009; Harcourt, 2005, 2009; Gajjala and Mamidipudi, 1999). It thus aims to assess the ways in which communications, and new technologies, can be better used for gender and health activism under uncertain and challenging times.