- Pandemic has accelerated major economic, political and social problems
- Civil society has proven its value by winning key breakthroughs over the last year
- The fight is now on to build a better post-pandemic world – civil society is in the forefront of this battle
The COVID-19 pandemic, and the lockdowns imposed in most countries, are having a profound impact on economic life, the rights of vulnerable and excluded groups and civic freedoms. But the economic, political and social problems exposed and accelerated by the pandemic are long-standing and plans for recovery must address them.
A new report, the State of Civil Society Report 2020, published by global civil society alliance CIVICUS, sets out civil society actions to tackle these major problems. These actions are already making a difference and should inform any recovery plans.
The report describes the massive people’s mobilisations to demand democracy, urge fairer economic policies, challenge inequalities, call for more accountable global governance and insist on urgent action on the climate crisis. A wave of mass people’s movements have achieved breakthroughs. In 2019, civic action proved its value from Sudan, where a longstanding dictator was ousted and military rule resisted, to Chile, where consultative processes to write a new constitution are now underway, all as a result of mass mobilisation.
Meanwhile the urgent need for climate action became widely understood in 2019 as a direct result of civil society action, in the global school strike movement and a host of acts of non-violent civil disobedience.
“When we look at the past year through the lens of the current crisis, what we see is how time and again civil society has proved its value and its ability to make a difference. Civil society must now be seen as a vital force in bringing the world out of the crisis in a way that marks a break from the economic, political and social policies that were already failing so many,” said Lysa John, Secretary General at CIVICUS.
During the pandemic, repressive governments have cracked down further on rights to express dissent and take part in opposition, using emergency powers as pretexts. The poorest people have suffered the worst consequences of the suspension of economic activity, while people in low-paid and undervalued frontline jobs have faced the greatest risk. In lockdown, women and other vulnerable groups have experienced heightened levels of abuse. Meanwhile the pandemic has exposed major weaknesses in international coordination. If there has been one upside, it has been in some lower levels of greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental degradation.
As societies start to leave lockdown, civil society is highlighting the danger of attempts to return to business as usual, or of even worse measures being pursued – such as a resurgence of economic austerity policies, the retention by governments of emergency powers, or a carbon-fuelled dash for GDP recovery – that exacerbate the problems identified in the report.
Civil society is urging that another recovery is possible, in which rights are respected and measures that make societies fairer, greener and more just are prioritised. The many solutions advanced by civil society and set out in the State of Civil Society Report 2020 can make a huge difference to how societies recover.
“Civil society ideas – such as the green new deal to ensure sustainable jobs, a universal basic income and debt cancellation for global south countries, among many other civil society solutions advanced in recent years – must be an essential component of a socially just and rights-respected recovery,” said Lysa John.
“For that to happen, we need restrictions that hinder civil society to be lifted, and for an enabled, networked and properly resourced civil society to be recognised as a vital partner in reconstruction,” added John.
About the State of Civil Society Report 2020
Each year the CIVICUS State of Civil Society Report examines the major events that involve and affect civil society around the world. The report draws from 50 interviews with civil society activists, leaders and experts across the globe and presents findings from the CIVICUS Monitor, our online platform that tracks threats to civil society in every country.
CIVICUS is a global alliance of individuals and organisations that work to promote civil society and protect and defend the space for civil society and democratic freedoms around the world, with over 8,000 members in 180 countries.