The Ambivalence of Advocacy: Representation and Contestation in Global NGO Advocacy for Child Workers and Sex Workers

Kristina Hahn & Anna Holzscheiter (2013) The Ambivalence of Advocacy: Representation and Contestation in Global NGO Advocacy for Child Workers and Sex Workers,
Global Society, 27:4, 497-520, DOI: 10.1080/13600826.2013.823914

Full article available here.

In this article, we explore the ambivalent relationship between international advocacy non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the constituencies on whose behalf they act and speak in institutions of global governance. Our overall argument is that advocacy NGOs whose legitimacy and authority depend on their role as representatives of marginalised and disenfranchised populations are in many cases prone to exploit discourses on vulnerability and victimhood in order to fortify their own identity as “advocates”. Exploring and comparing two case studies on prostitution and child labour, we seek to demonstrate that the ascription of identities by advocacy NGOs to their beneficiaries is an empirically contested phenomenon. When the allegedly weak and “voiceless” persons whom advocacy NGOs claim to represent start to defend their own interests and publicly contradict the positions advocated on their behalf, conflict between these groups arises. We observe this dynamic particularly concerning the “abolition” of harmful practices, such as child work and prostitution. Child workers and prostitutes contest the way in which they are portrayed by their advocates in public discourse and especially resist the ascription of a “victim” identity.

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