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?


Brain research suggests emphasizing human rights abuses may perpetuate them

June 18, 2019
By: Laura Ligouri
Español | Français | العربية

Capitalizing on the brain’s capacity to simulate events, messages of positive behavior – instead of ...

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

June 12, 2019
By: Ishtar Lakhani
Español | Français

Humour is one of the most effective tools in our activist arsenal, because it has the ability to bring ...

Hope counters hate in polarized and populist narratives

May 23, 2019
By: Rosie Carter

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

How values-based campaigns can unite diverse movements

April 11, 2019
By: Tom Crompton
Español | Français

No cause is an island. Human rights and other movements can better work together by identifying and ...

Turning anger into positive energy for gender equality in sport

March 19, 2019
By: Maggie Murphy
Español | Français

Women footballers face discrimination, harassment, and funding challenges every day. But what is more ...

A hashtag that inspired hope: #GambiaHasDecided

February 28, 2019
By: Salieu Taal
Français | Español

A movement that started as a simple hashtag, declaring that #GambiaHasDecided, is bringing a fresh wave ...

Why the future of human rights must be hopeful

February 19, 2019
By: Thomas Coombes
Español | Français | العربية

For a human rights movement dedicated to exposing abuses, positive communication does not come naturally. ...

New year, new human rights narratives?

January 11, 2019
By: James Logan

Within the human rights community, there is a growing enthusiasm for new narratives to build public ...

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

September 11, 2018
By: Keetie Roelen

Non-invasive and non-punitive interventions that draw on positive emotions have promising potential ...

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

February 27, 2018
By: Eric Prokosch
Français | Español

A simple, annual compilation of progress towards abolition provided a conceptual basis for worldwide ...

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

August 10, 2017
By: Joe Braun & Stephen Arves

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

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

September 15, 2015
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

September 8, 2015
By: Kevin Nix 
Español | Français

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