Communicating ethically centres on one key question – who has power? Every human interaction is affected by power dynamics. These dynamics depend on personal characteristics – like gender, race, ethnicity or age – and how they are valued in the interaction. How people feel in this dynamic depends on who they are interacting with, for what purpose, and how much agency – that is, opportunity to choose and act on those choices – they have.
A girl, adolescent or young woman sharing her story will always feel these power dynamics, as will the person she is sharing her story with. The storytelling process can lead to a girl feeling reduced or silenced, or – if the process responds to and mitigates unequal power dynamics – able to express her autonomy, voice and choice.
Communicators in the end child marriage movement are responsible for ensuring the storytelling process is a source of power for contributors, and that contributors feel positive about the following portrayal. This means examining biases, story and image choices, and decision making to ensure they reflect contributors’ wishes, as expressed by them. It also means constantly learning and improving approaches to ethical communications based on contributors’ diverse experiences and feedback.
These guidelines outline ethical communications principles and good practices for the end child marriage movement, and include the practical considerations and tools needed to deliver on them. They are designed to support those communicating around the issue of child marriage to consider a) if their communications materials reflect the wishes and expectations of the girls, adolescents and young women who share their stories; and b) how communications materials are received by external audiences.
Below are the four core principles of ethical communications that have guided the practical steps and tools outlined throughout this document. Adoption and implementation these principles will be different depending on the objectives and resources of different individuals and organisations. Overall, these guidelines can be used in the day-to-day work of anyone who creates communications materials with a purpose of ending child marriage and advancing girls’ rights and agency.
In ethical communications:
- The rights, safety, autonomy and agency of the girls, adolescents and young women with whom we work – directly and indirectly – are our first concern, prioritised above any need to tell a story.
- The girls, adolescents and young women with whom we interact in our communications work are our partners. Their knowledge and expertise in their own experience is recognised, and editorial decision-making is shared throughout the process and final portrayals.
- The communications process prioritises informed consent, and facilitates it as a multi-staged and ongoing dialogue.
- Stories – in whatever format – challenge stereotypes and do not contain over-simplified narratives that can dehumanise individuals or groups of people.