Download our new toolkit for Framing Equality here!
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We’re in Poland in the unpredictable summer of 2013. Progressive movements are collectively rolling their eyes at an attack on gender equality from the fringes of the religious right. It looks ridiculous: an attempt to discredit what they call ‘gender ideology’. The gender equality ‘agenda’ is denounced as a threat to social order; sexuality education, they say, is a tool used by paedophiles. Members of the progressive movement—including feminist and LGBTI groups and academics—are writing sneering responses in the media: teaching gender equality in schools is about improving the prospects of young girls; and no, masturbation lessons are not on the agenda.
But by 2014, the progressive movement is in emergency response mode: it’s no longer just the fringes of the right-wing who are using these arguments. They’ve spread across the establishment and, despite facing ridicule from much of the media, are deeply embedded in the (particularly rural) public consciousness. Academics in the field of gender theory are receiving death threats. A ‘Stop Gender Ideology’ committee is set up in Parliament. And it actually looks as though the Istanbul Convention (which sparked off the whole debate) might not be ratified by the Polish government.* On the other side of Europe, in France, these arguments were being simultaneously used in protests that erupted around the legalisation of equal marriage, largely under the banner of La Manif Pour Tous. They were victorious in halting the extension of adoption and surrogate rights to gay couples.
Across the water, in the Irish Republic, the received wisdom at this time has been that this traditional, Catholic nation will never accept rights for LGBT people. By early 2015, this is completely overturned, when the public discourse is claimed by campaigners for equal marriage. The Yes Equality campaign successfully tells the story of an inclusive, fair, generous and equal Ireland that the population agrees with. The shift is palpable: and the referendum for marriage equality results in a resounding win.
Understanding framing is key to understanding social change
What do these stories have in common? They’re all about dedicated and effective campaigning. And they’re about effective framing: telling stories, creating meaning, shifting discourse, influencing thinking. The different ways the issues we care about are framed can dramatically impact how we respond to them. Understanding framing strengthens our movements.
It’s in this context that ILGA-Europe and PIRC start working together: to explore how to frame LGBTI equality for meaningful, lasting social change. Our aim was to learn as much as we could from the knowledge within the movement. We ran workshops, had hundreds of conversations, ran interviews, did a call-out for literature, and supported a testing process. The toolkit represents what we learnt.
So how do we frame effectively?
We’ve boiled it down into three (deceptively) simple steps:
1. Define task
What are you framing for?
It may sound ridiculous, but it’s unbelievably easy to lose sight of your vision. We can get so focused on the tasks at hand that we forget why we’re doing it. Reconnect with it! And then connect that vision with how your audience currently understands your issue in order to define your framing task.
What the hell does this mean?
For Intersex Awareness Day, 2016, IGLYO, OII and interACT produced a video called We Are Here, showcasing five young intersex people talking about their own experiences. It was strongly connected to their vision: an end to pathologisation, discrimination, secrecy and isolation; and an informed, empowered, connected intersex community. The video is centred on the voices of young intersex people, talking informatively (‘the issues are…’) and positively (‘you are perfect’), expressing clear goals in advance of this vision of empowering its audience—particularly other intersex people—both through clear information and through creating this sense of community. IGLYO also use a participatory process to shape their campaigns: several days of intensive work with young people in which participants reflect on their own lived realities and find ways to share their story that not only benefits them, but can help others or progress a cause.
2. Create frame
How do you inspire and motivate your audience?
It’s easy to think the people we want to talk to have very different concerns from ourselves. But most people are driven by similar motivations: wanting a nicer society and a better life for themselves and those around them. We need to find ways of finding common ground and speaking to people’s best selves. Make it real, and talk about how change is possible.
What does this actually look like?
Campaigners in the Yes Equality campaign in Ireland built common ground with their audience by talking about an Irish society that many could relate to: with strong families, full of generosity, and with a concern for fairness and equality. They had spokespeople from across Irish society: from grandmothers to children. The acceptance of equal marriage was painted as part of the collective Irish future, representing their generosity and fairness. It was a positive campaign, built around real stories and voices.
3. Test & refine
How do you know your frames work?
Your newly crafted frame is just a beautiful idea until you see how it works in the real world, with people outside of your closest circle. Seeing how people actually respond to what you’re saying is an irreplaceable part of framing development, whether it’s in a focus group or big survey run by a research agency, in the pub, or at a place of worship.
We’ve got a whole separate guide on testing (coming soon) if you want to read up on methodologies; including how to do it at low cost.
We think that any testing is better than no testing. Obviously, the more time and other resource you can put into it, the more certain you can be of your results. But it’s good practice to test, and then once it’s out in the world for real, reflect on how it’s gone. This helps you to keep learning and iterating.
We worked with Legebitra (Slovenia) on developing and testing some message frames late last year. They ran focus groups and the staff all watched them with popcorn. They were fascinating, and infinitely helpful. Their refined campaign has just launched.
What are you waiting for?
Want to get into it with a group of people at a workshop?
Fancy hosting one for a group you’re involved with?
Get in touch!
*It is, in the end.
This toolkit is the result of two years of conversations, workshops, research, and thinking with ILGA-Europe and its members, and inspired by activists and campaigners across the globe. Read more about our methodology in the toolkit.