When we think about sustainability and our future on this planet, it’s easy to focus on the environment and the impacts our current lives have on it. However, the United Nations (UN) defines sustainability as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the needs of the future across three key pillars: people, the planet, and the economy. Therefore, to have a truly sustainable future, we must also consider the two other pillars of sustainability – economic viability and social equity.

Without healthy, happy, and thriving people and communities, we cannot solve the challenges that the world faces today, from climate change to food insecurity and social injustices.

Take, for example, the role of women and girls in society. There are inequalities in the access and quality of education for woman and girls, compared with men and boys. Compounding this, women and girls are among the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Educated and empowered women and girls are powerful agents of change, and without them it will not be possible to achieve any of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Stepping FORWARD

As a communications agency that prioritises sustainable development within our own organisation, we feel that it’s important to use our skills as communications experts to also support causes outside of our organisation that support sustainable development.

In February 2021, FORWARD (Foundation for Women’s Health Research and Development) and the University of Huddersfield, UK, published a report based on new research conducted in Bristol, which documented how the targeted measures put in place in the UK to safeguard girls against female genital mutation (FGM) may in some cases be undermining the welfare of the women and young girls they aim to protect.

The calls to action

The research revealed how members of African diaspora communities are feeling racially profiled, criminalised, and stigmatised, and are increasingly reluctant to interact with professionals or access healthcare services out of fear of being scrutinised. Professionals in health and social care, teachers and the police echo those concerns and say they are increasingly witnessing distrust and disconnection from the communities they work with.

The report proposed a series of recommendations to address FGM in a more inclusive and compassionate way in Bristol and on a national level within the UK.

Whilst the report was aimed at policymakers and multi-agency professionals, FORWARD also wanted to engage and mobilise the African diaspora community itself, and concurrently launched a broader campaign to extend the reach of the report’s recommendations.

FORWARD’s objective for the report launch and associated campaign was to:

  1. Increase awareness of FGM and the failings of the UK’s current safeguarding policies
  2. Build advocacy and mobilise action to address FGM in a more compassionate and inclusive way across a multi-stakeholder audience

AXON worked with FORWARD on a pro bono basis to help them to achieve these objectives.

What we did

Through close collaboration with the incredible team at FORWARD, we used insights to craft a strong, cohesive campaign narrative, to ensure it resonated with the multi-stakeholder audiences that FORWARD were trying to reach, taking them on a journey from awareness to engagement and ultimately to advocacy and action.

We then employed a multi-channel, individualised, and targeted approach to reach the different audiences in the right places, in the right formats and at the right time with the right messages.

Stepping FORWARD together, we were able to increase awareness through coverage in global, national, and regional media outlets, including an exclusive online and print story in The Guardian; coverage in The Voice – the only British national black newspaper; and discussion within Media Diversity Institute – an international group working to promote media and information literacy, combat disinformation and facilitate responsible coverage of diversity issues.

We engaged with influential voices in FGM and female empowerment – in particular, those who influence communities impacted by FGM, as well as stakeholders in safeguarding and policy decision-makers.

We also built advocacy and mobilised action through compelling and challenging discussions online, including engagement from Munira Wilson (MP and Lib Dem speaker for health, wellbeing, and social care), councillor Kalthum O Rivers and Labour MP Sarah Champion. The report was also published on the NHS NICE safeguarding evidence website and The National Police library, which was a testament to the reach and impact of the campaign.

Our social media campaign focussed on education, empowerment and advocacy and saw some of the best performing social media content ever posted by FORWARD. An Instagram and Facebook filter were developed to enable users to showcase their support for the campaign and to build conversations and awareness online.

Watch the video below to see some of the highlights from the campaign:


A word from FORWARD

‘’We are delighted to have worked with AXON on this campaign and to see the achievement it has made. The campaign allowed us to bring our evidence research to life through powerful and compelling messaging – not only ensuring that the voices of the African diaspora communities are heard, but also garnering action and support for our cause. Working with AXON, we’ve gained significant public attention via media coverage, and opened invaluable conversations with key influencers, from policymakers, to multi-agency professionals, to diaspora communities themselves. The campaign has been a stepping stone on our advocacy journey in reaching our ultimate goal for the re-examination of FGM safeguarding policies and procedures across the UK.’’ Amy Abdelshahid, Head of Evidence and Knowledge Management, FORWARD.

What can you do as an individual or an organisation?

We believe that, as members of the healthcare sector, we have a responsibility to take steps to protect the health of current and future generations, minimise environmental impacts, and facilitate social justice.

We need to step FORWARD together, as one, to address all three pillars of sustainability. Only then will we be able to ensure a sustainable, healthy, and happy future for all. Perhaps there may be opportunities to support organisations such as FORWARD, which are striving to empower women and girls.

Diversity is having a seat at the table,
inclusion is having a voice,
and belonging is having that voice be heard.

To find out more about FORWARD, please see https://www.forwarduk.org.uk/, and to hear more about AXON and how our Sustainability Group can support you, please get in touch at AXONSustainability@axon-com.com.