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Hazy Days; 9 awareness weeks you probably didn’t know you missed in November

Movember wrapped up last weekend. “Great!” you think – “my friends no longer run around with silly moustaches, asking me for money!” Now, before you get too excited, did you know that they could now grow the moustaches into full-blown beards, to raise awareness of bowel cancer as part of Decembeard? This is followed by Januhairy - you’re lucky, though, as this doesn’t seem to have caught on quite yet as a fundraiser, so breathe a sigh of relief (until next year?).

Movember wrapped up last weekend. “Great!” you think – “my friends no longer run around with silly moustaches, asking me for money!” Now, before you get too excited, did you know that they could now grow the moustaches into full-blown beards, to raise awareness of bowel cancer as part of Decembeard? This is followed by Januhairy - you’re lucky, though, as this doesn’t seem to have caught on quite yet as a fundraiser, so breathe a sigh of relief (until next year?).

So while admiring everyone’s ‘Mos’ and discussing beard wax, which other awareness weeks, months and activities did you miss? 

The November that just passed was Men’s Health Awareness Month, Pancreatic Awareness Month, Lung Cancer Awareness Month and Mouth Cancer Awareness Month. Last week, you might have missed Self-Care Week, Road Safety Week, Alcohol Awareness Week and Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week.

That’s in addition to Bullying Week, Indoor Allergy Week, National Adoption Week, National Tree Week and Psoriasis Awareness Week at other points in November. Monday the 25th was the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and the White Ribbon Campaign against domestic abuse, followed six days later on December 1st by the World AIDS Day. And November is actually not that busy a month in terms of awareness raising initiatives!

Seasonal awareness programmes serve two main functions for charities; raising awareness and raising funds. Movember raised £27 million in 2012 and has put men’s health on a more equivalent awareness level to breast cancer. World AIDS Day ensures that the fight against HIV and AIDS does not fall off the agenda nationally and internationally and raises vital funds for research and those affected by the virus.

However, despite their positives, the accumulation of seasonal awareness programmes, days, weeks and months makes me feel slightly uneasy. While I’m still not entirely sure why, there are two main trends that contribute to this unease.

The sheer volume of awareness days

The sheer number boggles my mind. The huge number (and publicity) of seasonal awareness programmes means it’s pretty difficult to find an exhaustive list of all of them and how many new ones there are each year. To set up a seasonal awareness program, you don’t have to register anywhere – you just pick your dates and go ahead and market it.

This leads to situations like National Bullying Month in October and Bullying Week in November. That’s different to Cyberbullying Week. Even during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, there are a number of different charities competing for attention and funds.

How do you decide who to give your attention or money to? Attention is maybe easier to be generous with than money, but since many awareness programmes are health-related, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed by all the bad things that could come your way. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to know about them, but sometimes I wish I could switch off a bit from health scares.

On top of this, charity awareness days are competing in the same sphere as more commercial awareness days (apparently, Quality Street or Wonderbra awareness days are a thing). This further competition for our attention is much aided by social media; other not-so-serious awareness weeks are clamouring for our attention online and are easily shared.

‘Serious’ awareness programmes seem harder to engage with if you can partake in another activity which doesn’t ask you to look at hard-hitting questions. Did you know, for example, that November can also be ‘Dinovember’, the month in which parents convince their children that their toy dinosaurs come alive at night? (Ok, I admit that does look like fun). It just seems slightly easier to talk about dinosaur fun than prostate cancer.

Considering all this competition for our attention, are specific awareness periods the best way for charities to raise awareness (and funds)? Or will it mean people will feel overwhelmed by good causes? While charities might only be just starting their big campaigns for Christmas donations, the chances are that someone has already been approached by a whole host of fundraising initiatives in recent months. Does this play a role in donor fatigue?

Commercialisation and abstraction from the cause

On the opposite end of the spectrum to campaigns struggling to make their mark are those that have done a huge amount to raise funds and public awareness. Some of them are doing well across national boundaries, such as World AIDS Day, Breast Cancer Awareness Month (October) or indeed, Movember. Among these, Breast Cancer stands out as the cause with the most merchandise – pink t-shirts, pink ribbons, pink.... everything?

Movember is gathering momentum, though - moustaches have found their way onto mugs, t-shirts, shoes, babygrows. You name it, you can probably buy it with a moustache on it. But how many conversations have you had on prostate cancer or men’s health in November?

In the US, the ‘pinkification’ of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, or ‘Pinktober’ as it is also known, has caused a backlash among some of those affected by breast cancer. Pink merchandise raising money for breast cancer charities can be bought in supermarkets, drug stores and clothes shops. This commercialisation of it, and the dissociation between the products and the disease itself, has led to an outcry that it is presented as too ‘pretty’.

The aggressive and unpleasant nature of the cancer and the treatment, with its long-term side effects, are hidden behind a wall of cute pink products. Pink sells – long-term side effects and metastatic cancer do not. This causes disenchantment by those most able to gather support; those who have suffered from it, or seen somebody else do so, and who know how tough and rough it gets.

Obviously, different interests have to be balanced – a mass appeal vs. representing a smaller part of the population affected. At the same time though, it seems that commercial interests by corporate partners are taking a more central space in many awareness seasons. This is to the detriment of the parts of the condition which don’t sell so well.

So, what’s your take on it? Are you as confused and overwhelmed by them as me, or do you think that they still have an important role to play? Are awareness days, weeks and months the best ways to raise awareness (and funds) for good causes? Do we risk approaching a stage where the public reaches saturation point and becomes disengaged with charity awareness-raising events?

 

Awareness Weeks or Awareness weaks? Leave us a comment below!

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