Positive narratives to mobilize for change

The human rights movement needs to win back hearts and minds.

The human rights movement needs to win back hearts and minds. The more demagogues and populists stir fear and anger, the greater the need to cultivate hope and empathy. When world events are always presented in terms of risk, threat and crisis, people lose sight of opportunity and progress. Human rights campaigning risks perpetuating this problem if its focus too is only on highlighting acts of injustice, abuse and inhumanity. Although oppression is all too prevalent in today’s world, there is another story, one of resistance and ordinary people mobilizing to effect real change—and doing this by placing their struggle in narratives focused on hope and progress, and with actions that show the practical steps needed to respect and fulfil human rights. From Chile to Gambia to the Maldives, there are examples from all over the world that show how campaigns based on hope, humanity and empathy can create historic, unexpected and lasting change.

The articles in this series aim to show that hope can be a winning strategy; the tactics and strategies they describe offer a range of ideas for basing human rights campaigning in positive narratives.  What are these examples of successful positive campaigns for human rights? What are the key ingredients in designing such campaigns? What does it mean to communicate positively, and how might that change existing practice?  Are there risks that an over-emphasis on the positive might obscure or belittle the horrific forms of human rights abuse inflicted on victims?  If so, how can these be addressed?

This series was produced in collaboration with the Human Rights Lab at Los Andes University in Bogotá, Colombia.


Being BOLD in difficult times: Bulgarians organizing for liberal democracy

By: Dimitrina Petrova
Español | Русский

A new initiative in Bulgaria aims to reinvigorate support for democratic values and human rights by directly engaging citizens in a bottom-up process of deliberative ...

Communicating Women’s Rights with a hope-based approach

By: Camila Chaudron

For those of us who care about the rights of women around the world, International Women’s Day can feel like empty lip service. But there is an approach that can ...

Making the case for a more joyful approach to human rights

By: William Paul Simmons
Español | Français

Joy is essential to understanding the struggle for human rights, and recognizing this can articulate a more positive notion of human rights.

For new narratives, human rights needs new forms of economic power

By: Alejandro Bautista
Español | Français

If compelling human rights narratives are not grounded in sustainable, replicable and scalable projects, it will be hard to outweigh the political and economic ...

Graffiti creates positive human rights narratives in Lebanon

By: Nohad Elhajj
Français | العربية

During widespread protests in Lebanon, street artists have painted messages of hope and human rights activism across Beirut.

Instead of shrinking space, let’s talk about humanity’s shared future

By: Thomas Coombes
Español | Français | العربية

To make the case for civil society, we have to talk less about the threats it faces and more about the values it stands for, how it contributes to society and show ...

Be the narrative: How embracing new narratives can revolutionize what it means to do human rights

By: Krizna Gomez & Thomas Coombes
Español | Français | العربية

An experimental, hands-on narrative change initiative shows how even small civil society organizations can wield pragmatic, activity-based narrative strategies ...

Brain research suggests emphasizing human rights abuses may perpetuate them

By: Laura Ligouri
Español | Français | العربية

Capitalizing on the brain’s capacity to simulate events, messages of positive behavior – instead of repeated exposure to accounts of abuse – could better lead to ...

The fight for “fun”damental rights for sex workers in South Africa

By: Ishtar Lakhani
Español | Français

Humour is one of the most effective tools in our activist arsenal, because it has the ability to bring people together from a space of shared connection rather ...

Hope counters hate in polarized and populist narratives

By: Rosie Carter

Giving people a sense of optimism about and control over their future is the best way to stop populist narratives from taking root.

How values-based campaigns can unite diverse movements

By: Tom Crompton
Español | Français

No cause is an island. Human rights and other movements can better work together by identifying and working to strengthen shared values like social justice, equality ...

Turning anger into positive energy for gender equality in sport

By: Maggie Murphy
Español | Français

Women footballers face discrimination, harassment, and funding challenges every day. But what is more powerful—listing all the problems, or using hope and optimism ...

A hashtag that inspired hope: #GambiaHasDecided

By: Salieu Taal
Français | Español

A movement that started as a simple hashtag, declaring that #GambiaHasDecided, is bringing a fresh wave of optimism and hope to political turmoil in the Gambia.

Why the future of human rights must be hopeful

By: Thomas Coombes
Español | Français | العربية

For a human rights movement dedicated to exposing abuses, positive communication does not come naturally. But to make the case for human rights, we need to promise ...

New year, new human rights narratives?

By: James Logan

Within the human rights community, there is a growing enthusiasm for new narratives to build public support for human rights. But creating a new narrative is about ...

Could “hope and aspirations” end the vicious cycle of poverty?

By: Keetie Roelen

Non-invasive and non-punitive interventions that draw on positive emotions have promising potential to break the poverty cycle, but this approach risks ignoring ...

Documenting progress key to Amnesty’s anti-death penalty work

By: Eric Prokosch
Français | Español

A simple, annual compilation of progress towards abolition provided a conceptual basis for worldwide anti-death penalty campaigning – linking local efforts to a ...

Tailoring the message: How the political left and right think differently about human rights

By: Joe Braun & Stephen Arves

Effectively motivating people to care about human rights depends largely on where they fall on the political spectrum.

“Small places, close to home”: successful communication on human rights

By: Neil Crowther
Español | Français

Effective counter-framing is crucial to improve public opinion on human rights.

It’s all in the frame: winning marriage equality in America

By: Kevin Nix 
Español | Français

Was there a magic messaging bullet that helped change American public opinion on same-sex marriage?

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