From Advocacy to Empowerment

“Working together, people and the media can change society,” says Teresa Mastin, a professor in the College of Communication who uses media advocacy to bring about public policies that benefit the underserved—the powerless, the misunderstood and the disenfranchised. “Media advocacy is about community leaders, residents and media representatives working together to impact the political process.”  
One group that benefits from Mastin’s expertise is the HerStory Centre in Kenya.
Under the leadership of Dr. Elizabeth Ngugi—who is the director of the Centre for HIV Prevention and Research at the University of Nairobi—HerStory Centre helps reduce the transmission of HIV, AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases among sex workers. It also improves members’ well-being (physical, emotional, economic and social), provides vocational training, supports independent enterprises, cares for the sick and shelters children orphaned by AIDS.
Mastin met Dr. Ngugi three years ago when she went to Kenya on a team of DePaul professors and staff from the Department of Psychology, the Master of Public Health program and the College of Communication.
The team worked closely with the Centre for HIV Prevention and Research in its efforts to fight the disease through programs to increase knowledge, adjust attitudes and alter behavior.  At that time, Mastin could see the important role that media advocacy could play in advocating for women working in the sex trade: The right messaging could sway public opinion and improve the women’s chances of an overall better quality of life.
In 2011, as a Fulbright specialist, Mastin returned to Nairobi to work as the Centre's  communication expert in residence. In that role, she conducted a four-day workshop that promoted dialogue among the Centre’s staff, its members and journalists.
“The Centre’s members are vulnerable to violence and abuse; perhaps just as important, they suffer from social stigma and political neglect. Media advocacy is one way to help these women become real and sympathetic—in their neighborhoods, in their communities, and in the larger society,” she says. 
“In Kenya, most media coverage of sex work is sensational in nature. The real issue, however, is about human rights, and what’s really needed is a new mindset in communities and among legislators. All these women are someone’s mother, someone’s daughter, someone’s sister. They’re all citizens and thus deserve a voice.”
The impact of her work has been measurable and sustainable, as Dr. Ngugi notes:
“Because of the workshops, we have been able to attract media coverage for events designed to reduce discrimination against sex workers. Some journalists have used their networks to increase interest in these events, and journalists now call on us to include our views and opinion on various issues. The women who attended the workshop have the skills to tell their stories and to answer questions in interviews for use on the radio and in print."
In 2013, the students in Mastin's class, Public Relations in Health Care, helped complete the organization’s new website and other public relations materials.  In a trip to Nairobi that year, which was partially covered by the Vincentian Endowment Fund, she extended her work to include LGBTI organizations.
Now, as a faculty fellow of the Irwin W. Steans Center, Mastin is looking to bring her expertise in media advocacy to African-American communities in Chicago.
“Change begins with getting a message out, at the right time, in the right ways," she says. "Media are powerful and pervasive and embedded; they're perfectly situated to work with communities to affect positive social change—changes in thought and action—that when executed effectively bring positive results for society at large.”

Article and images republished courtesy DePaul Distinctions.