On International Women’s Day, Debora Singer MBE, shares her experience of running a campaign that benefits women seeking asylum from human rights abuses abroad.
Since July 2018 single parents can leave their children to play safely whilst they attend their asylum interviews.
I led Asylum Aid’s campaign to persuade the Home Office to provide such childcare. It took 11 years.
So how does this campaign reflect the theory of campaigning which I learnt courtesy of NCVO’s certificate in campaigning?
Campaigners are always taught that they need to start by identifying a solution as well as a problem.
In our case, the problem was women having their children with them at their asylum interviews. This meant they had to choose between disclosing all the abuses they had experienced or traumatising their children. But women didn’t have friends or family they could leave their children with and couldn’t afford childcare.
The solution identified was for the Home Office to provide an on-site crèche at the eight asylum interview centres around the UK.
Theory of change
Although we did not write it down formally, we had a clear theory of change.
Our objective was written into the title of our campaign document:
For the Home Office to provide childcare for women asylum seekers during asylum claim interviews.
Was this a SMART objective?
Our objective was clearly specific and measurable. Our analysis was that it was also realistic and achievable.
We never discussed a timeframe. In retrospect this was an advantage as the campaign was continued until the objective was achieved.
Who was the target of this campaign?
If the power to make the change had been held centrally we would have had a straightforward theory of change.
But the Head of Asylum at the Home Office told me that those with the power to bring in childcare were the regional asylum directors, located in the interviewing centres. The regional directors were clearly our targets at the start of our campaign.
Seven years into the campaign the Home Office brought everything back under central control. We shifted our target to this central focus.
As a London based charity, it was very clear that we did not have access to the regional directors around the UK. We would need to engage others to reach the regional directors.
The people who could reach the regional directors were the 50 members of the Refugee Women’s Stakeholder Group (RWStG). Asylum Aid was a founder member.
This resulted in a classic influencing tree.
Unlike campaigns that are plotted in huge detail in advance, this campaign was very organic. We didn’t target specific stakeholders to take it forward. We simply shared resources. We set up a google group allowing campaigners to connect.
The resource we shared in April 2007 was a campaign document written by one of the RWStG members. It was entitled Why the Home Office should provide childcare: Campaign for the provision of childcare for women asylum seekers during asylum claim interviews.
We focused on an insider campaign as the stakeholders had access to the people with the power to bring in childcare.
The campaign resulted in two types of campaign activities. Local stakeholders directly lobbied regional directors in their area. National NGOs produced letters and reports and raised parliamentary questions.
These activities happened spontaneously as a result of the campaign, demonstrating the sense of ownership attached to it.
Our first campaign success came very quickly when pressure by the Welsh Strategic Migration Partnership resulted in childcare being set up at the interviewing centre in Cardiff.
Within two years the Home Office were calling the childcare provision in Cardiff a pilot and proposing national roll out within a year. It seemed the campaign might succeed very swiftly.
By 2009 campaigners in Glasgow, Leeds and Solihull had persuaded their local interview offices to provide childcare.
However London and Liverpool remained elusive. And by 2015 Leeds and Glasgow’s childcare provision had been discontinued.
With no framework or national policy to ensure its continuation regional childcare provision was vulnerable.
I remember Mark Lattimer, author of The Campaigning Handbook talking of boosting campaigns to overcome the bell curve trajectory. We boosted the demand for childcare through two subsequent campaigns.
The Charter of rights of women seeking asylum was launched in 2008. Shared “Women’s Asylum Charter” branding helped the sense of ownership of the campaign.
But despite early success, it would be a decade before there was national provision of childcare during asylum interviews and we didn’t let the matter drop.
We included the demand in the Protection Gap campaign in 2014. The Protection Gap campaign focused on the revised target, the Home Office at a national level.
In response, in 2015, a proactive Home Office civil servant with an interest in gender issues and access to senior management and resources took up the demand. She developed a national operational strategy and a business plan and obtained funding.
This resulted in a consistent model of childcare provision being consolidated across the UK.
In July 2018 the Home Office announced that childcare was available at all eight asylum interviewing centres.
Monitoring and evaluation
At Asylum Aid I monitored the campaign through a simple narrative table showing progress in each region and national activity by NGOs.
Two evaluations were initiated by different stakeholders during the campaign. These are further examples of the sense of ownership of the campaign.
There was no budget.
The childcare campaign was part of my workplan as Women’s Project Manager at Asylum Aid. Staffing and activities costs were absorbed by each stakeholder involved. Costings were reduced by the development of shared materials and shared branding. As a result, the campaign was not restricted to time-limited funding.
As well as celebrating success with the many people who had contributed to the campaign, we wanted an opportunity to congratulate our target, the Home Office, for their achievement. We invited everybody to a celebration. Our theme was a children’s party complete with cake, competitions and a magician, creating a really positive atmosphere.
By asking them to speak at this event, we got the Home Office to demonstrate their commitment to childcare in public. This means we are in a stronger position for childcare to be maintained in the future when funding arrangements change.
As a result of this campaign, no woman needs to be faced with choosing between telling her whole story at her asylum interview and traumatising her children.
The UK appears to be the only country in Europe that provides childcare during asylum interviews.
So how does this campaign fare in relation to the theory of campaigning?
It demonstrates a clear influencing tree in its methodology of changing national policy and provision by focusing on the regional level.
Enabling organic growth replaced meticulous planning. This allowed stakeholders to take ownership of the campaign.
In conclusion I identified three critical elements as leading to the childcare campaign’s success:
a clear theory of change, ownership and persistence.