2015 has been a busy year as we have traveled the world for our advocacy work. Did we achieve anything? Have our efforts made any difference?

2015 has been a busy year. We have travelled the world in our heart-driven effort to help build a global society, a world where all human beings are free to live up to their fullest potential, and free from harm caused by alcohol and other drugs. It’s a world of peace, democracy and justice that we strive for, a global society where free and healthy citizens actively contribute in all levels.

And while we do a lot – myself, I have been in Europe (Geneva, Oslo, Vienna, Udine, Edinburgh, London) a number of times in 2015; and I’ve been travelling for IOGT International in my own region, too (Bangkok, New Delhi, Sharjah) – we also want to use this opportunity in the end of 2015 to take a moment and reflect: What are we achieving with our advocacy efforts? Are we in any way successful in our political work?

As a matter of fact, we have had quite some advocacy successes in 2015, where our work – together with our members, partners, colleagues and friends and supporters – has made a difference. We are humble in the face of our achievements and so, I think it’s good to start not by celebrating the successes but by taking a look at the unfinished business of 2015.

Unfinished business 2015

Some policy processes didn’t develop the way that we had wanted them to unfold. We were simply not able make the impact we had hoped for to contribute to better outcomes. Here are four examples, that are serving as lessons for us going into 2016.

  • WANTED: EU Alcohol Strategy

The European Union still does not have a new alcohol strategy. The old one expired already in 2013. From an outside perspective the situation has become grotesque: The European Parliament has adopted a resolution demanding immediate action from the European Commission:

Calls on the Commission to start immediate work on a new EU Alcohol Strategy for the period 2016-2022…”

The Member States of the European Union have reiterated their call for an EU Alcohol Strategy in June at the Council of Health Ministers. Civil Society has been clear in its criticism of the European Commission and finally chose to leave the European Alcohol and Health Forum – one of the pillars of the expired EU Alcohol Strategy.

Despite the calls of civil society; despite the urgent demand from the European political institutions representing the European people and the member states; despite the evidence of alcohol harm in Europe and despite Commission President Juncker bold claim:

I want to be serious about being big on big things and small on small things.”

Alcohol is the 3rd leading risk factor in Europe for ill health and NCDs. 12 million people in the EU are dependent on alcohol. Around 9 million children in the EU are living with parents who have alcohol use disorder. Alcohol harm costs €156 billion every year.

  • Alcohol taxation omitted from “historic” agreement on financing of development

The global community came together in Addis Ababa this year  for the Financing for Development Conference (FfD3) and adopted the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, which has been hailed as “historic” agreement.

While the agenda highlights tobacco taxation as important source of revenue to mobilise funds for development, alcohol taxation is strangely missing. And that is a political choice, driven by alcohol industry lobbying, that does not reflect the evidence.

We have shown in our report on alcohol taxation what the potential is in alcohol taxation measures to generate streams of funding for development.

  • On the fence about FENSA

For the past 4 years and as part of WHO reform, World Health Organisation and its governing bodies have been discussing new set of policies, currently called Framework of Engagement With Non State Actors (FENSA). This is an important document as it is set to determine whether WHO will be an agency able to protect its independence, integrity and credibility.

Already in May this year, during World Health Assembly, did NGOs voice their worries:

The Framework for Engagement with Non-State Actors, initiated to safeguard the independence, integrity and credibility of the World Health Organisation (WHO), now seems to bear the threat of facilitating and legitimising the corporate capture of the organisation, civil society groups have charged.

In October new rounds of negotiations took place where WHO Member States discussed a new problematic document – referred to as a Non-Paper – that has been prepared by the WHO Secretariat. In response to the “Non-Paper” 66 NGOs working in health, right to food and nutrition or human rights have written an open letter to WHO Director General Dr Chan, calling on her to protect the UN and overall policy-making from corporate takeover.

As IOGT International we have been supporting this open letter and are part of the NGO movement to ensure a robust FENSA that addresses conflicts of interests comprehensively.

New criticism of WHO and member states emerged this December from the dialogue on strengthening international cooperation on non-communicable diseases (NCDs), organized by the WHO Global Coordination Mechanism on NCDs.

  • Child rights in narcotic drugs policy debate

In general, we are lacking a robust child rights perspective in the discussions of the policy response to the world drug problem. There is ample ground for including a stronger focus on child rights within the context of Narcotic Drugs policy debate. The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) provides the legal context and evidence from around the world provides a compelling case. However, so far the dominating perspective is the one of the rights of drug users.

It’s important to protect and promote the right to treatment, recovery and reintegration into society of people harmed by drug use. But drug use brings with it harm impacting not just the users themselves but people, family and community around them – and so it is crucial to take into consideration the needs and interests of the most vulnerable, the world’s children.

These four points illustrate the unfinished business of 2015 that we are committed to take care of in 2016. As the phrase goes: We have our work cut our for us. And so, I think it’s good to take a look at the advocacy success that we enjoyed in 2015 for some inspiration.

Advocacy successes 2015

2015 has brought us some advocacy successes that we can actually point to.

  1. New Sustainable Development Goals

    The new Agenda 2030 was adopted in September (where Kristina was representing our global IOGT movement) by world leaders. Our advocacy efforts over several years helped to ensure that the new Sustainable Development Goals do address harm caused by alcohol and other drugs. So, for our efforts this has been a massive success. The new SDGs will set the agenda for the next decade and alcohol will be part of that agenda.

    Specifically there is SDG3, the health goal and target 3.5:

    Goal 3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
    3.5 Strengthen the prevention and treatment of substance abuse, including narcotic drug abuse and harmful use of alcohol

  2. Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescent’s Health

    The Global Strategy (2016 – 2030) is a roadmap to achieve the highest attainable standard of health for all women, children and adolescents. The new Strategy – updated through a process of collaboration with stakeholders led by WHO in which IOGT International has been submitting consultation contributions and has conducted advocacy meetings – builds on the Every Woman Every Child movement as a platform and puts women, children and adolescents at the heart of the new UN Sustainable Development Goals.

    The advocacy success we have had with this political process can be seen if you compare the 2010 strategy with the new one: The 2010 “Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health” did not mention “alcohol” once. Alcohol is a major risk factor for violence against women and for ill-health of children and yet the old strategy completely left alcohol out.

    The new “Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescent’s Health 2016-2030” mentions “alcohol” four times: It stipulates that alcohol taxation is a tool to mobilise resources for health spending; In annex 2, it highlights the need to address alcohol use as risk during pregnancy and it highlights the need for promotion of healthy behaviours among children and adolescents, meaning for instance the provision of environments free from alcohol and other drugs.

  3. Framework to Underpin Action to Prevent Violence against Women

    UN Women starts addressing alcohol as a risk factor for gender-based violence. That’s great news. And our advocacy success is – much like with the Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescent’s Health (see above) – that we have helped ensure that this crucial policy frameworks mention alcohol and take up alcohol policy as effective tools.

    The focus of this new framework is prevention and its purpose is on to underpin action of the UN System to prevent violence against women. The framework provides guidance to policy makers and opinion leaders, and it will soon be accompanied by a series of additional tools and resources which provide more detailed information about what to do for preventing violence against women that can be adapted to national contexts and needs.

    “Alcohol” is mentioned 18 times throughout the document. Alcohol use disorder is taken up as consequence of violence against women; alcohol is pointed out as a risk factor for violence against women, including intimate partner violence, and non-partner sexual assault. Importantly, as part of the framework for action, “alcohol misuse” is pointed out as “condition that needs to be addressed to eliminate the problem”. It is also recommended to collaborate across policy areas because of overlapping issues – and the recommended policy measures should both address the individual as well as the community level. Particularly “reducing alcohol availability” is recommended as intervention to prevent intimate partner violence.

There are more success stories from our advocacy work to be told – on local and national level we are contributing to progress in different parts of the world. But I wanted to highlight these three advocacy success stories because they show:

  • You cannot accomplish advocacy success on you own. It’s a team effort.

Concerning the SDGs and the new Agenda 2030, we have been working within a larger civil society movement called Beyond2015. We have also closely worked together with NCD Alliance, especially their staff in New York, and with the Global Alcohol Policy Alliance. And we were able to rely on and build on the expertise of our Member Organizations, like CEM, ADIC, SCAD, and the Norwegian and Swedish IOGT movements (to name a few).

  • It’s a marathon effort, too. You must be persistent and work with a long-term perspective and commitment.

We have been working for many years (too many to count) with addressing alcohol’s role in the global epidemic of violence against women. And it took a long time, multiple efforts, trial and error to find ways to convince both the Women’s Rights community as well as decision-makers and opinion leaders that alcohol needs to be addressed for preventing gender-based violence. As evidence about alcohol being a risk factor, still in 2010 the UN system did not find it relevant to take it up as part of the response. This year, we can see that our persistent work has had impact.

  • And most importantly: It’s up to us to use these success stories now.

In those document I mention above, we can see that our contributions have had an impact. Those documents are as such tools but they are also symbols for (often tough and slow) political processes in the background. Reading the documents, we can see that our work made a difference in those political processes.

And now that we have those documents, it’s crucial that we make them tools and that we hold decision-makers accountable.