Civil Society “Contested and Under Pressure”, says new report

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Civil society around the globe is “contested and under pressure” according to a 22-country research findings report released by CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, and The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL). The report, Contested and Under Pressure: A Snapshot of the Enabling Environment of Civil Society in 22 Countries, brings together insights from Enabling Environment National Assessments (EENA) conducted around the world between 2013 and 2016.

The EENA, a locally-driven, participatory and action-oriented research methodology piloted by CIVICUS and ICNL, analyses the extent to which national environments enable the work of civil society.  The EENA explores, in particular, the ability of civil society groups to form, operate, access resources, freely express their opinions, assemble peacefully, and engage with their government in decision-making processes.

“The synthesis report comes at a time when civil society space is shrinking across the world from Bolivia to Cambodia, Jordan to Uganda,” says Ine Van Severen, Policy and Research Analyst with CIVICUS. “The overall picture revealed by the EENA research is one of gaps at several levels between aspiration and reality, policy and practice.”

According to ICNL, 161 laws restricting civil society space have been introduced worldwide since 2012. In line with these findings, EENA reports show that the laws and regulations that affect CSOs are often disabling, despite the enabling language of constitutions.  There are gaps between the stated purpose of laws and how laws are applied in practice, with overbroad and vague provisions giving officials wide scope for the exercise of arbitrary discretion. Restrictions are often made on grounds such as the protection of national security and public order, and the prevention of terrorism, but they have the effect of making it harder for CSOs to form and function.

Challenges arise often from inadequate and incoherent legal and regulatory regimes that have not kept pace with the contemporary development of civil society. Additionally, in several cases CSOs are not free to act without the state’s permission and are faced with increasing restrictions on the access to international resources. The impact of these constraints is to absorb the energy and resources of civil society, and reduce its ability to respond creatively to the challenges of the day.

“Across the research, CSOs expressed that they do not want an environment that is free of laws and regulations,” said Margaret Scotti, Legal Advisor with ICNL. “Rather, they want laws and regulations that recognise their autonomy and the important role they play in society, and that enable them to work more effectively.”

The report concludes with a call for laws and regulations that are predictable, manageable, transparent and free from political interference. Enabling legal environments are needed to help ensure that CSOs can play a full range of roles, including partnership with governments and others to advance social change.

For more information, contact:


Ine Van Severen

Policy and Research Analyst

T: +27 11 833 5959 (extension 104)

M: +27 71 026 29 69


Editor’s Notes

National based EENA reports are available on the CIVICUS website. For further information on trends in civic freedom, please see ICNL’s Civic Freedom Monitor and Civic Freedom Resources, as well as updates from the CIVICUS Monitor. 

The EENA was financed by the Government of Sweden through the Civic Space Initiative, which was jointly implemented by ARTICLE 19, CIVICUS, ICNL, and the World Movement for Democracy. The Government of Sweden does not necessarily share the opinions expressed in the EENA project. The authors bear the sole responsibility for the content.

The 22 EENA countries include: Benin, Bolivia, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Cameroon, Colombia, Honduras, India, Jordan, Lebanon, Mexico, Mozambique, Nepal, Nigeria, Panama, the Philippines, South Africa, Tajikistan, Tunisia, Uganda and Zambia.