Looking ahead: Expanding our efforts to protect civic space

SG DECEMBER update 2 1A message from Lysa John, Secretary-General of CIVICUS

Dear CIVICUS members and allies,

We were excited to host the CIVICUS Board and representatives from our key networks – Affinity Group of National Associations (AGNA) and the Youth Action Team (YAT) – in Johannesburg this November! It is the first time we have met together in South Africa since the start of the pandemic. On 30 November, we hosted our online Annual General Body Meeting (AGM) and launched a series of events to mark our very first ‘Membership Engagement Month’. Our annual report for 2021/22, which is available in three languages, was also adopted in this period and provides an excellent summary of our achievements and challenges in the past year.

We expect 2023 to be an exciting year for the CIVICUS alliance! Our flagship reports – the State of Civil Society and People Power Under Attack – will be published in the first half of the year. Together, these will provide a refreshed range of evidence and resources for activists and networks defending civic space and advocating for civil society.

In keeping with the key shifts outlined in CIVICUS’ Strategic Plan for 2022-27, the Secretariat will make a deliberate effort to ensure that the intersection between civic space restrictions and structural forms of discrimination is the focus of our actions and investments at all levels.  We will continue to invest in strengthening the freedom of peaceful assembly and creating better protection mechanisms for human rights defenders through a combination of advocacy and solidarity efforts, and expect to initiate an exciting range of initiatives program on digital freedoms with a number of global and regional partners.

2023 will also be a moment to mark three decades of our own existence. We will coordinate a series of campaign actions to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration for Human Rights and the 25th anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. We anticipate working closely with CIVICUS members and allies to amplify issues that need public and political attention in this period, and invite you to discuss opportunities for collaboration with our teams.

Finally, as many of you know, recent events related to an unfortunate accident have caused considerable shock and distress to staff, partners and allies who have been connected to our colleague, Mandeep Tiwana’s work. A number of processes to respond to the event are underway, this includes coordinating with Mandeep and his family to support his recovery and phased return to work. Our Board and staff have been an immense source of wisdom in this period, and we are working closely together to put in place measures for additional capacity. We wish him much strength and thank all of you, our members and allies, for your compassion and support.

CIVICUS offices will close on 21 December and re-open on 3 January. We look forward to connecting and co-creating with you again next year.

In solidarity,

Lysa John

 

Women activists are standing up against the assault of the Taliban on rights and freedoms

Afghan protests in Herat Sept 2021

Horia Mosadiq, is an Afghan women human rights defender (HRD) and founder of Safety and Risk Mitigation Organization (SRMO) and a CIVICUS member. SRMO aims to empower, support and protect Afghan civil society activists and organisations.

 

What can we learn from Brazil’s election?

By Ana Addobbati, CIVICUS Board Member and Feminist Activist

Photo credit: Andressa Anholete / Getty Images

 

Brazil has one of the largest democratic populations in the world. But democracy has not been around for very long in the country whose dictatorial past of the 1980s continues to haunt it in the 21st century. Now that Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has defeated Jair Bolsonaro in the second round with less than 2% of the votes in an election marked by threats of a military coup, the need to reinforce the importance of democratic debate and to challenge misinformation is necessary.

The strategy for the extreme right who wished to end social policies that support most Brazilians was to quickly dominate Congress and the Executive to create an authoritarian regime. Like Trumpism, Bolsonarism used fear to reinforce the image of a saviour. Bolsonaro and his supporters sought to taint the right to protest by equating it with vandalism. They promoted the idea that any opposition to his rule was an obstacle to follow through with the plan to fight corruption. They even spread fake information on social media that electronic voting machines, one of the most sophisticated and secure systems for running elections in the world, were being rigged.

Moreover, in the current era of fake news and biased algorithms which create opinion bubbles, we had a scenario in which memories and historical records of exile about restrictions on freedom of opinion and widespread torture were swapped for a simplistic discourse based on the image of Bolsonaro as a hero fighting corruption. We had conspiracies that a coup was being set by the communists to make Brazil the new Venezuela of South America. Images of demonstrations supporting the right to land and housing were manipulated and projected as demonstrations of violent attempts to usurp private property.

We can see how key democratic values such as the right to protest and having a voice were misrepresented in an effort by extreme right-wing groups to generate fear and legitimise authoritarian acts by the former president, who denied existing racism in the country (with the largest Afro-descendant population in the world),  and the existence of COVID-19 (Brazil being responsible for 11% of the world's deaths during the pandemic). The strategy was wrapped with the fight for family values, God and honor.

In the recent elections, President-elect Lula had to unite forces with several parties, in what he called the Alliance for Democracy, to win votes against the extreme right. Bolsonaro resisted admitting defeat at the polls. As a result, thousands of Bolsonaro supporters blocked roads, causing chaos and violence in the country. They didn’t allow hospitals and markets to be supplied. After negotiating with his base of supporters, Bolsonaro finally admitted defeat and called for the violence to end. However, there is still a chance for a coup to take place since Bolsonaro is supported by the Army.

Looking ahead to 2023, Brazilian Congress has challenging prospects with a large number of legislators allied with the Center-right. However, democracy and its mechanisms will enable civil society to keep up the pressure to respect the Constitution and support Brazilians facing deprivation. Brazil has returned to the UN Hunger Map after being cited an example of combating malnutrition in the world.

Our request to the international community is to consider investments in support of democracy and accountable governance. Recently, the Norwegian government reinvested in the Amazon Preservation Fund. Support will be needed through development cooperation to overcome the turmoil in democracy in the past few years. Brazil’s take over by the extreme right should not be seen as an isolated event.

Finally, we need to engage new generations of voters on the value of democracy as a complex process that demands debate and patience beyond the instantaneous or immediate gratification of social networks. On the other hand, we need to see transparency and fighting corruption as an agenda that belongs to all sides to prevent it from becoming hostage again to a demagogue who was able to undermine secular values, freedom of expression and even life by delaying the acquisition of vaccines.

We must reinforce critical thinking and appreciation for democratic values ​​to make them so strong that no algorithm or fake news can overcome generational struggles for freedom.

 

Supporting grassroots groups better through shifts in resourcing and practices

By Nosibabalwe Socikwa, Membership and Network Intern.

Having worked in the human rights and social justice space, I have realised the impact of grassroots movements, organisations, and activists and their role in fighting against inequality, oppression, and unmet social, political, economic, or cultural demand. In the face of political power challenges brought by a global economic crisis, there has been a growing network of social movements, organisations, groups, and activists collectively coming together to fight against the power dynamics that often threaten their fundamental human rights.

However, despite their efforts in fighting against these injustices, they often lack funds to catalyse their growth. These grassroots groups and movements are often unregistered and have limited capacity in comparison to large and established civil society organisations. The grant-making system that supports civil society is built in a way that excludes these types of group, as they are unable to comply with donors’ bureaucratic and sometimes illogical eligibility requirements to access resources and funding.

Such donor requirements include being formally registered, providing financial audits, Monitorig, Learning and Evaluation plans and/ or recommendation letters. This is near impossible for informal or small groups that perhaps are in their starting stage and have limited capacity and resources. These groups face challenges to secure funding and tend to have a short lifespan, thus limiting their potential to drive for locally led lasting change.

To continue functioning, some groups rely on personal contributions from the communities they serve, who are closer to the problem and understand the urgency of a solution. Of course, this furthers their disappointment with donors. It is counterproductive, unfair and reinforces colonial thinking that donors continue to undermine local communities' work by excluding them from accessing urgent resources. It also enforces power dynamics and promotes donor-driven projects that have no standing to represent and reflect the grassroots groups' struggles. Grassroots groups must determine their destinies, lead their own paths towards development, and participate in decision-making. However, the current support system for civil society makes it difficult for grassroots groups to sustainably thrive.

We need an urgent shift in how grant-making strategies for grassroots groups are designed and implemented to achieve social justice. To achieve social justice for all, no one must be left behind, so it is crucial for donors and grantees, together, to transform the grant-making space with more collaborate and meaningful relationships and support practices.

The CIVICUS Solidarity Fund (CSF) is one of the initiatives I have learnt about, through my internship at CIVICUS, that has undergone such a transformation. Recently, the CSF put its grant application process under review because it was not as accessible and inclusive as they thought it was. The CSF team decided to look inward, listen to their grantee-members, understand the costs and barriers they face when applying for their grants, and make some changes to make the CSF more accessible. This process involved redesigning the application, reporting, monitoring, and learning processes by considering the power relations at play, limited financial and non-financial resources available to grassroots groups, and thinking of new ways to avoid propagating the culture of competition. Through this transformation, the CIVICUS Solidarity Fund team learnt that building relationships and trust with its grantee-members is very important to the grantees.

I hope to see the CSF improve even more and inspire and empower others who are resourcing grassroots groups. Donors and grantees need to build friendly relationships based on trust and respect to maintain civil society's long-term longevity and development.

 

Safety & Cyber Security: 8 Tips for Civil Society Digital Defense

The month of October is officially declared as CyberSecurityAwarenessMonth, and the digital age has ushered in a new era of human rights activism, journalism, and social justice. But it has also introduced new risks, such as hacking and surveillance. The ability to produce, share and disseminate information has empowered social movements in many countries to demand basic human rights. But it has also facilitated efforts by authoritarian regimes and the private sector to monitor citizens—such as using sophisticated facial recognition software—and identify those who pose a threat. For digital rights to be upheld, digital activists must develop strategies to protect their online presence from surveillance and hacking.

This guide provides some basic cyber security tips to help vulnerable internet users protect themselves online. It is intended for those who are not experts in the field but may be at risk because of their work. The 8 tips below will give you some basic knowledge and insight on what to do next.

1. Avoid Spear Phishing and Advanced Persistent Threats (APT) Attacks

Recent studies have found a surprisingly high number of journalists, human rights defenders, and activists who have experienced cyberattacks. Most of these attacks targeted those who received phishing emails and email attachments. These individuals are often targets because of the information they possess or distribute and their popularity. One needs to differentiate between authentic email addresses and authentic email. Remember that hackers can send you an email from your trustworthy friend or colleague through spoofing techniques, and victims mostly trust the mail content and perform action communicated as the email address is real. At the same time, it is been spoofed by hackers.

Recently researchers discovered an APT group based in China, tracked as TA412 or Zirconium, targeting U.S.-based journalists largely using spear phishing attacks.

Fake domains are another challenge in Spear phishing attacks where victims cant see a minor difference. e.g google.com, and googIe.com look the same, but one is google with small “l” while the other is with a capital “i.” The same Turkish alphabets (Ç, Ş, Ğ, I, İ, Ö, Ü) are used to create fake URLs that look trustworthy to victims who are unaware of technicalities. Make sure you read and confirm the URL you click via your emails or messages.

2. Safe Browsing and Social Engineering Attacks

Today we browse the internet regularly with our devices. As we browse, we leave a trail behind us. This trail can be collected by others and used for personal and targeted attacks on our digital selves. There are various ways to avoid this, such as not clicking on links from unknown sources or creating strong passwords that can't be easily broken.

Social engineering is the psychological manipulation of victims to perform actions. It is used to gain access to computer systems, networks, and physical locations to commit crimes such as espionage, sabotage, or data theft. Social Engineering attacks propagate via attackers guiding victims to install a malicious app, software, and device update, which can lead to monitoring and surveillance. Pegasus spyware is an example of social engineering, executed via URL click and monitors your phone activity, including camera, microphones, apps and gallery etc.

3. Data Backups and Encryption

You need to be very aware that there's a huge chance for someone in civil society to suffer an incident that can result in losing their phone and laptop, or someone can snatch your devices and retrieve data despite them being password protected; the data remains readable through data retrieval techniques. An attacker can easily remove the hard drive from your PC and install it in an external case to use with a new computer so that you don't have to log in. Encrypting the devices can help in this case which makes your data unreadable until valid secret keys match and decryption happens. Veracrypt is recommended by security experts, while TrueCrypt or Bitlocker is a service offered by Windows for encrypting drives, and FileVault is available for Mac devices in the same way. Phones have limited options in the same way, but few mobile companies offer encryption abilities. To protect the security of your iPhone, you can configure the device to delete all its data after several unsuccessful attempts at unlocking it. (see privacy settings)

4. Enable two-factor authentication and Rotation of Passwords

Having different passwords for each website is a good practice. Not only will it ensure that your personal information isn't leaked, but it can also help you remember what password you had last time and which site you used it on. Hackers have a multitude of different methods for breaking into accounts, and even strong passwords get compromised. 2-step verification will add a better layer of security to help keep your information secure. All social media and email platforms provide you with a 2-step authentication option which can be implemented easily with a phone number.

5. Caution for Fake & Malicious Apps

Hackers have become well-equipped to develop fake apps and malware, but being attentive is easy to identify them. These apps generally have some common features that are dead giveaways. These apps have good reviews (Hackers buy fake reviews to maintain a safe reputation) and good usability. They are simple to use to ensure they do not raise any alarms but ask for many permissions, which the apps don’t need to perform functions but to execute the real spyware or malware by using the privileged permissions. Sometimes authentic apps are also being developed by nation-state actors to monitor and retrieve data from users. So we never know how approved and the well-reputed app is accessing our data and how they are utilizing it. It is suggested to take precautionary measures and avoid any extra app installation especially cracked and nulled apps that offer premium services as free, and check the phone regularly for any unknown app existence (Settings>Applications) as there are FUD (fully undetectable) apps that don’t appear on phone menu but exist.

6. Secure Communication

Activists, Human Rights Defenders, Bloggers, and Journalists risk being spied on when they cover sensitive stories. This can lead to self-censorship, resulting in journalists limiting their journalistic output to avoid government surveillance. In E2E (End to End) encryption, conversations are protected from third-party surveillance and interference so that messages can be read only by the sender and recipient. The Signal app is the best encrypted messaging app offering custom security features, including metadata privacy, and doesn't share your data with third parties.

7. Digital Security Awareness and Drills

Digital security has become a growing concern over the past decade and is a topic that we are all likely to hear about on the news. The best way to keep safe is to be aware of new techniques used by hackers and conduct cybersecurity training and real-time attack drills to check your organization's preparedness and defensive approach. Cybersecurity training is an important aspect of keeping your information safe. When you are aware of the kinds of threats, it becomes easier to avoid them.

8. Final Defense Cheatsheet

  • It is important to use strong passwords, and it is also not effective to use the same password on all accounts.
  • It is important to always check the URL before entering a password.
  • Avoid clicking on any links that are irrelevant to what you're looking at or seem suspicious. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. These messages are often just a ploy by hackers to get into your system with malicious intent.
  • Encrypt the drives of all your computers
  • Avoid downloading attachments at all costs. If you do need to view them then make sure to do so in a well-protected environment.
  • Protect your accounts by enabling 2-step verification, a crucial defense in the battle against hackers.


About Author

Babar Khan Akhunzada is a cyber wizard and hack-o-preneur, Founder of SecurityWall and CIVICUS Solidarity Fund grantee-member. SecurityWall is a first-generation cyber security startup stacked on technology to help enterprises and individuals to enhance security capabilities through a hybrid audit approach, actionable threat prediction, and processed remediation. Babar also leads Civic Digital Security Forum, an Emerging secure digitalization forum for the safe civic community through cyber diplomacy and confidence building.

The author is a speaker who gives his thoughts and analyses on Cyber Security Operations, Cyber Warfare, Privacy, Cyber Policy, and OSINT. The author can be reached at

 

CIVICUS At UNGA77: Key Highlights & Takeaways

A message from Lysa John, Secretary-General of CIVICUS 

Dear CIVICUS members and allies, 

For the first time in three years, this September, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) session and associated meetings were organised in person. Together with a broad array of civil society actors, CIVICUS staff participated in several side-events and meetings on a range of issues aimed at assessing progress on UN related commitments and bridging the gap between decision-makers and those affected by the outcomes of intergovernmental policy-making. 

We participated in the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data Board meeting and the Data Values Campaign launch which focused on the importance of strengthening data systems for better decision-making, especially in the Global South. The #UnstoppableAfrica summit, hosted by Global Africa Business Initiative, offered us the opportunity to speak on the role of the continent’s leadership in the framing of the #SDGs and the importance of investing in civil society. The UN SDG Action Zone hosted a diverse panel of civil society actors and provided a space to discuss ways to safeguard against threats and protect civil society. 

UNGA77 served as an ideal platform for funders and civil society representatives to engage in much-needed discussions around civil society resourcing and the barriers grassroots activists face in efforts to secure sustainable funding. We participated in two high-level conversations hosted by the International Peace Institute and the UN Foundation aimed at bettering the processes of resourcing for civil society and youth activists. 

The importance of civil society participation and open civic space was one of the key messages at the 2022 Global People’s Forum and at an event to mark 30 years of the UN Declaration on Minority Rights. Following concerns raised at the Civil Society Pillar meeting of the Community of Democracies about civil society’s lack of access to the UN premises during the high-level segment of the UN General Assembly, the Secretary General of the Community of Democracies issued a positively worded statement calling on the UN to reverse the suspension of annual and temporary NGO passes enter the UN headquarters.  

The World Benchmarking Alliance’s (WBA) Alliance Action Forum highlighted how civil society mobilisations and solidarity have helped ensure corporate accountability.  While WBA’s High-Level session event which was held on 22 September focused on the role of corporate accountability in an effective global governance system. 

As civic space conditions continue to deteriorate throughout the world, human rights defenders continue to face severe consequences for speaking truth to power. During UNGA77 it was critical for CIVICUS to participate in spaces and activities that allowed us to spotlight the need to defend civic freedoms and call for the release of all imprisoned human rights defenders. The Global Citizen Festival and the drafting of the 2022 Global People’s Assembly Declaration which was released during an engaging press conference with various civil society actors, provided good opportunities to raise these issues. We also engaged Lifeline Embattled CSO Assistance Fund governments and civil society partners in overcoming the challenges faced by CSOs operating in closed political spaces and countering authoritarianism and supporting civil society defending environmental and Indigenous peoples’ rights. 

Finally, I would like to extend my gratitude to all those who attended CIVICUS’ Meet & Greet at our New York office on 19 September. There is truly nothing more powerful than civil society activists, funders and allies working together with the common goal of creating a better world for all.  

In solidarity, 

Lysa John 

Secretary-General, CIVICUS 

@LysaJohnSA 

 

CIVICUS' New Strategic Period: A Time to Actively Engage Members and Allies

A message from Lysa John, Secretary-General of CIVICUS

Dear CIVICUS members and allies,

On July 1st, we marked the beginning of a new strategy period for the CIVICUS alliance. In this update, I’m excited to share headlines from the efforts that we have been making to align our work and interrogate the outcomes we need in relation to our strategic priorities for 2022 to 2027.

The 11th edition of our State of Civil Society report was published on 27 June and has received an encouraging response. In addition to a consistent social media push, we have been able to use the analyses to generate op-eds on key issues, and offer presentations to a wide range of activist, academic, and donor networks. Since its release, we have received much appreciation for the report’s assessment of meta-trends in civic space and democracy and for showcasing examples of where and how civil society has been successful in influencing change. Media coverage of the findings from the report include an op-ed by our editor-in-chief, Andrew Firmin and an overview by Mandeep Tiwana. The CIVICUS Monitor Watchlist was also updated during this period and includes Chad, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Mexico and Sri Lanka.

On Mandela Day (18 July) this year, we marked two years of the ‘Stand As My Witness’ campaign. The initiative aims to mobilise the public and policymakers to act for the release of prisoners of conscience. The campaign has profiled over 20 detained activists and has allowed us to contribute to global efforts resulting in the release of nine defenders. A dialogue with activists and networks linked to the campaign was organised on the second anniversary of the campaign and provided important insights on how our collective efforts could better assist the struggles of human rights defenders. Our teams have also been actively engaged in the 50th session of the Human Rights Council in this period. In addition to contributing to and presenting key statements, we were actively involved in amplifying demands from civil society on the process to elect the next UN Human Rights Commissioner, calling for the UN to renew its expert mandate on sexual orientation and gender identity and contributing to processes that have led to the adoption of a new resolution on the right to peaceful protest.

Yet another initiative, namely the ‘Grassroots Solidarity Revolution’ campaign, has received considerable support and attention in this period. Updates from local dialogues and jam sessions held in five countries were shared online by a range of participants, including young leaders, grassroots networks and donors. Reflections on the lessons learned from the initiative by participants and co-travelers such as Dumiso Gatsha, Otto Saki and Yessenia Soto have provided an important opportunity to reflect on the questions and challenges being brought to light by this initiative, and its potential to catalyse the deeper and more difficult introspection on individual and institutional values that is essential to the discourse on localisation and decolonisation. In this context, we are pleased to report that a formal response to the joint letter to USAID Administrator Samantha Power from 1289 southern organisations has been received. The response, signed by the Administrator Power, acknowledges the priorities raised in the joint letter and outlined initiatives being taken to strengthen USAID’s direct engagement with and support to local civil society actors. These shifts were also reiterated as a priority in the dialogue on democracy organised between the USAID Administrator and civil society leaders organised on 16 June.

Network-led developments include the launch of CIVICUS’ Youth Action Team’s report on youth trends in activism and civic space and the VUKA! Coalition’s consultation with the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) to contribute to their next thematic report on HRDs working on issues related to migration, refugees, and asylum. A joint gathering of regional networks working together on the freedom of peaceful assembly (FoPA) was also held in July 2022. The meeting included a review of collaborative efforts that have been organised since 2021 as part of a co-creation process with six regional platforms to identify context-specific needs and priorities and to produce resources that would support them as key interlocutors on the right to peaceful protest.

Our newest offering, the CIVICUS Lens has helped us draw on the voices and experiences of diverse civil society groups to provide real-time analyses and perspectives on geo-political trends and developments. Articles published through CIVICUS Lens have – along with other aspects of our work - helped us forge partnerships with wider platforms for dissemination. Across June and July, we have published multiple op-eds and recorded over 84 media citations across global, regional, and local platforms including Reuters, IPS, Open Democracy, The Diplomat, Afrika NewsRoom, and El Pais.

Finally, we are proud to have recently completed the Accountability Now reporting cycle for 2021-22. The review report includes commendations about the transparent and inclusive process undertaken to refresh our strategic plan and an acknowledgment of CIVICUS as a trusted and valued partner whose work has remained relevant to members in a time of rapid context changes. Efforts being made to provide a safe and equitable working environment have also been acknowledged in the report. Three key areas for improvement have also been identified in the review process and include: (i) Improving the indicators we use to measure strategic progress (ii) Improving our risk mitigation processes, and (iii) Increasing staff awareness and use of internal complaints mechanisms. Actions to address these areas of improvement have been identified and included in this summary of the process that has been published on the CIVICUS website.

None of this would be possible without the active engagement of our members and allies. We are grateful for your support and look forward to your continued engagement in the work and outcomes of the alliance!

In solidarity,

Lysa John

Secretary-General, CIVICUS.
@LysaJohnSA

 

Dialogue to Protect Young People in Civic Space

The UN High-Level Global Conference on Youth-Inclusive Peace-Processes

 

Stronger Together: Strengthening the Dynamic Accountability Community of Practice

DACoP July2022The Dynamic Accountability Community of Practice (DACoP) is a joint initiative by Restless Development, CIVICUS, and Accountable Now as the Secretariat of the Global Standard Partnership. Its purpose is to provide a space where a wide range of civil society practitioners can come together to share good practice, deepen knowledge, and build solidarity on the topic.

While there has been positive feedback on the DACoP and its activities, a key challenge remains; that there has been limited interaction from members. An in-depth consultation with current members and wider stakeholders was therefore undertaken to explore options for the future of the DACoP. More specifically, this included how to increase its long-term sustainability and be more member-led, along with an examination of what resourcing this would require.

The consultation has suggested that the DACoP is viable and worthy of our continued time and investment, but only if we can make the changes required to sustainably increase coordination capacity, boost engagement, and deliver more practical outcomes for community members. This summary provides an overview of the consultation process’ findings, along with an initial proposal on the way forward from the current DACoP coordinators.

 

Every single person is a potential activist today 

Civil society actors and leaders from around the world gathered from 30 May to 3 June 2022 at the World Justice Forum in The Hague, the home of the United Nations’ International Court of Justice, and online to share insights and recommendations on three important priorities for strengthening justice and the rule of law.

The forum, which focused on fighting corruption, closing the justice gap, and countering discrimination, served as an ideal platform to collectively address the declining state of civil society. I had the privilege of participating in the Ruth Bader Ginsburg Legacy conversation with Sherrilyn Ifill and the Recommendations, Commitments, and Investments to Advance Justice and Rule of Law plenary.  

Throughout the conference, immense emphasis was placed on the constant threats to and continuously shrinking civic space. Our research from the CIVICUS Monitor shows that, currently, only 3% of the world’s population live in conditions of open civic space, where their governments broadly respect and promote the democratic freedoms of association, peaceful assembly, and expression and allow their citizens to participate meaningfully in the decisions that affect them. Data from the CIVICUS Monitor also shows that in the last year, the top two violations in relation to civic space were the detention of protestors and the intimidation of human rights defenders. This points to a trend of a lack of investment in and strengthening of institutions that are meant to defend human rights and the people that speak on behalf of human rights.  

In the wake of Russia’s attack on Ukraine, we are witnessing a number of states, and international institutions, particularly in European democracies, divert funding and resources away from institutions and mechanisms that are devoted to defending human rights and strengthening civic space. Not only does this pattern of behaviour display a negative vote against democracy, but it contributes to the continuous fall of trust in public institutions, and not enough is being done to challenge the lack of investment in civil society from those in power. At this point, the fight for democracy rests solely on the shoulders of individuals who are constantly putting their lives at risk to fight against the worldwide decline of civic space.  

While international and public institutions have the power and resources to address the humanitarian crisis that faces us, their abstinence from actively investing in and protecting civil society displays a glaring lack of moral empathy for those on the ground.   

In light of these global challenges, the panel discussions at the World Justice Forum brought forth much-needed insights and recommendations to rebuild and strengthen civil society and the rule of law with respect to the three main priorities of the forum.  

One of the key recommendations from the World Justice Forum’s Outcome Statement highlighted the need for states to create enabling environments for innovation and for civil society to operate. During the pandemic, we witnessed some of the most significant protest movements despite extreme COVID-19 restrictions; this indicates that people are able and willing to mobilise regardless of restrictive laws intended to silence dissent.  

Conversations during the forum also pointed to the dire need for people-centred approaches. A practical example is citizen assemblies whereby people-driven resolutions are prioritised at international levels. Access to information and access to solidarity mechanisms also play a vital role in enabling people on the ground to advocate for fundamental rights, and states must invest in creating spaces for citizen participation.  

A stronger effort needs to be taken to ensure that institutions are open to scrutiny and to being held accountable. Too many a times do we witness leaders making promises of a better tomorrow on international stages but do not hold open dialogues with and remain accountable to those who elected them. This includes extending open standing invitations for UN experts to visit and provide recommendations to affected countries.  

There is a need for norms, narratives and investments that will help stimulate larger segments of trust and support towards civil society from a wide range of state and non-state actors. Concrete examples of how this can be done are available from CIVICUS’ work on reviewing approaches to civil society sustenance and resilience, including in the context of the pandemic.  

In the 2020 Sustainable Development Goals, we said that this would be the Decade of Action, it is actually the Decade of Agitation, and governments that wake up to this sooner will be wiser because every single person on the planet with a phone is a potential activist today.  


Lysa John is the Secretary-General of CIVICUS. She is based in South Africa and can be reached via her Twitter handle:@LysaJohnSA. 

 

What does accountability mean to youth-led initiatives?

YAC learningProdcutReportFor the past three months, CIVICUS’ Resilient Roots project and Youth Action team have engaged youth-led initiatives to explore how they understand and practice accountability to their constituencies, i.e. the communities they serve and support.

Youth leaders from 16 countries, focusing on various issues ranging from critical service provision and women empowerment to citizen engagement and human rights activism, attended these conversations. Despite different contexts, their definitions and experiences were similar. We documented some of these experiences and facilitated practical learning sessions to help them further strengthen their accountability approaches. This is an account of some of the core themes we learned from how they practise constituent accountability.

Access the full report and read their recommendations here.

 

  

ConstituentAccountabilit RRYouth Blog0921We also spoke to youth leaders from India and South Africa about how they have been practicing accountability to their constituents. They have each done this by highlighting one of the three dimensions of constituent accountability: giving account (sharing information about who they are and what they do); taking account (continuously listening to and acting on feedback from their constituents); being held to account (including the role of constituents in organisational decision making).

 

A strategy that sets out to mend broken systems

Secretary-General Update: March 2022

We are pleased to report on the adoption of a revised strategic plan for the period 2022 to 2027. The plan was developed through an extensive process to review and refresh CIVICUS’ strategic priorities. The CIVICUS Board unanimously confirmed the adoption of the revised strategy in March 2022. Reader-friendly and multi-lingual versions of the strategy will accordingly be developed and published on our website by the end of April. Our current strategic plan has been effective from July 2017 to June 2022 and will be replaced with a refreshed strategy in July 2022. 

Addressing new realities 

The revised strategy is the outcome of deliberations held across stakeholders of the CIVICUS alliance. We began this journey with several trends and foresight analyses exercises undertaken with members, partners and staff across October 2020 to March 2021. These assessments contributed to the development of future scenarios and strategic steers, which were reviewed by the CIVICUS Board and led to a decision on updating our existing strategy. The Board outcome indicated an opportunity to restate our ambitions with greater clarity and determine how best to address new realities and challenges for civic space and civil society. In describing the strategy that we have now developed, I want to quote our youngest Board member Vandita Morarka who said, “What I am most proud about is that this is not a polite strategy... it does not shy away from mending broken systems.” 

Interrogating our Theory of Change 

Between July and November 2021, drafting teams comprised of Board and staff members collaborated to review and restate key assumptions related to CIVICUS’ Theory of Change. We interrogated the successes and hurdles we have faced in the delivery of our current strategy and contrasted these with an analysis of developments in civic space across the last ten years (2011-21). In doing so, we were able to identify tensions and opportunities in relation to how we define the change we seek and actively contribute to it. This assessment informed the development of a draft strategy, which underwent two levels of review by the Board and staff between November 2021 to January 2022. 

In February, the draft strategy was shared with key stakeholders of the CIVICUS alliance through a range of interactions, which included two sessions of Board & member engagement on our proposed priorities and a joint meeting with key donors. The interactions generated a large amount of feedback and queries on various aspects of the strategy. I am happy to share that teams involved with drafting the strategy were able to close the feedback loop by dedicating time to respond to queries raised by various groups. Key themes that emerged in our exchanges with CIVICUS members are captured in this Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document, which is available in three languages.  

Refining our strategic objectives 

Key shifts outlined as part of this revised plan which will guide CIVICUS’ strategic course for the period from July 2022 to June 2027 include: 

  • The framing of one overarching goal, i.e., To strengthen civil society and civic action for expanded civic and democratic space. The goal reflects our emphasis on actions that are not just defending but also improving civic and democratic freedoms - through a combination of influencing, organising and solidarity interventions. The strategy outlines five core objectives that support the achievement of our overarching goal, which are: (i) generating timely knowledge (ii) coordinating targeted advocacy (iii) contributing to stronger emergency & sustained support eco-systems (iv) strengthening public discourse and civil society narratives (v) building counter-power with most affected groups. 

  • An explicit focus on working with and for groups affected by the combined impact of civic space restrictions and structural forms of discrimination is also integrated across the revised strategy.  The revised strategy includes a deliberate focus on collaborating with movements led by communities facing structural discrimination. This implies a greater emphasis on solidarity and alliance building across levels of our work, and the stronger representation of issues of civic and democratic freedoms from a social justice lens.  

  • A clearer articulation of our contribution to long-term, systemic change is captured in four outcome statements that connect and consolidate the impact of our work across all levels. Our core objectives will be the basis for a comprehensive framework to measure results and communicate lessons from our progress more effectively.   

A roadmap for implementation 

The next step in this process is the coordination of a phased plan for the implementation of the strategy. This includes the design and activation of a Results framework and the coordination of programmatic and operational alignments required to deliver our refreshed strategy.  A robust process for continued stakeholder engagement with our strategic progress is also envisaged as part of this plan and includes the coordination of Membership Month, a new initiative that will take place annually to enable exchanges on civil society strategy and impact across the alliance.  

We look forward to your continued engagement and support in this important period! The election of a new CIVICUS Board this year will be an important opportunity to play a direct role in overseeing the transition our refreshed strategy and activating a year-long campaign to mark the completion of 30 Years of CIVICUS’ existence in 2023. If you have not done so already, do look at our Board election timeline and contribute to its outcome. 

In solidarity, 

Lysa John 

Lysa John is Secretary General of CIVICUS. She is based in South Africa and can be reached via her twitter handle: @lysajohn

 

Human rights must be on the agenda ahead of presidential elections in South Korea

By Soo Suh, Program Manager at the Asia Democracy Network (ADN) and Josef Benedict, Asia Pacific Researcher for the CIVICUS Monitor

South Korea elections2

Photo Credit: Jung Yeon-Je/AFP via Getty Images

Voters in South Korea will go to the polls in presidential elections on 9 March 2022, in what is expected to be the tightest race in 20 years. 

The two front-runners are Lee Jae-myung of the ruling Democratic Party and Yoon Suk-yeol of the People Power Party. Lee is a former governor of Gyeonggi province who came to prominence through his aggressive handling of the coronavirus pandemic and his advocacy of a universal basic income. Yoon is a political novice but has gained popularity, thanks to his image as a staunch prosecutor-general who steered high-profile investigations into corruption scandals engulfing aides to former President Park Geun-hye, South Korea’s first female president, and current President Moon Jae-in.

 

Four Practices to Strengthen Youth Activism

2021 Reflections By Elisa Novoa, Enhle Khumalo and Leonardo Párraga  

Thanks to the richness and power that the CIVICUS Youth communities hold, the CIVICUS Youth coordination team learned and built up our practices in 2021 around: 

  1. How to run a genuinely inclusive recruitment process by shifting the decision-making power 
  2. How to bring onboard new members and transfer information in an effective way 
  3. How to create opportunities and spaces for networking and visibility 
  4. How to create a culture of peer accountability and solidarity

The following series shares the learnings and reflections encountered by the CIVICUS Youth team during 2021 while engaging with our different youth communities. We want to show the challenges and possibilities of meaningfully engaging young people to promote stronger civic spaces.

BACKGROUND

The second year of the COVID-19 pandemic left many learnings for civil society practitioners working to foster a culture of collaboration and solidarity among like-minded people and groups. The CIVICUS Youth coordination team is one of those groups of practitioners that aims to strengthen youth civic participation following innovative, dynamic, and peer-support approaches. The following reflections include experiences about creating a culture of accountability, inclusion, and resilience with a membership of 3400+ young civil society actors from 150 countries. CIVICUS youth communities are based in multiple time zones, work on diverse topics and have a wide range of different needs and expectations, adding extra layers of complexity to our youth engagement practices. 

The two central communities of CIVICUS Youth are the Youth Action Team (YAT) and Youth Action Lab (YAL). YAT serves as a leadership body setting the agenda for the CIVICUS Youth members and interfacing with the CIVICUS Secretariat and Board of directors advocating for meaningful youth engagement in the alliance. The second one, the Youth Action Lab (YAL) exists to test models and approaches to better engage and support young individual activists and youth-led collectives or movements with non-youth focused organisations. The YAL offers financial and in-kind resources to make their activism more effective, resilient, and sustainable. In 2022, a new community of Young Ambassadors will be launched to bring all these learnings from youth power to national youth networks.

SERIES

In the first quarter of the year, we started recruiting the 2021 cohortsof the YAT and the YAL with a one-month gap and two different objectives and target audiences. One group is formed by young activists belonging to national or regional networks of young people - primarily well-established or registered – (Youth Action Team). The second one is integrated by outstanding and brave individual activists from unregistered associations, collectives, or movements who have not received funds so far and have not participated in an international forum before. 

In the second quarter, we continued onboarding the successful young candidates(11 from the YAL and 13 from the YAT). Due to travel restrictions, these processes happened online using simultaneous interpretation and communication platforms such as Zoom, e-mail, WhatsApp and Google Drive. 

In the third quarter, we focused on networking opportunities among the groups and external stakeholders to grow their networks and visibility. These efforts used different virtual event formats and dynamics adapted to the specific objectives of each meeting and audience. 

In the fourth quarter, we saw the outcomes of the efforts put into trust and community building through group evaluation and check-in sessions. Activists were being very transparent about their progress, challenges, and availability to continue with the teams, and we saw expressions of team solidarity and peer support without the intervention of the Youth coordination team. 

We hope you enjoy reading about our experiences. These would not have been possible without all of you – members, partners, friends in the non-for profit and justice seeking groups and organisations. 2022 will be a year of showcasing the inspiring work, achievements and struggles members of the Youth Action Lab faced in 2021. Hope to see you there and have the opportunity to meet them or connect with them again.

 

How Accountable are CIVICUS’ Resourcing Practices?

AccountabilityAccelerator.ThumbnailAt CIVICUS, redistributing funds to our members and partners is a crucial way in which we work towards the alliance's strategic goals. This new mini-series from Resilient Roots is looking inwards, capturing how we are striving to be more accountable in our resourcing, and where we must go further.

Part 1 sets the scene, emphasising the delicate balancing act we must perform in our role as an ‘intermediary’ between institutional donors and civil society actors. Subsequent parts discuss how successfully our resourcing work is informing, listening to, and being directly driven by our members and partners, along with the extent to which it is helping these constituents enhance their own accountability practices.

 

Solidarity in the face of adversity

Message from Lysa John, CIVICUS Secretary-General

Dear CIVICUS members and allies,

Another year is now drawing to a close. 2021 began with a glimmer of hope, as we saw the promised development of a COVID-19 vaccine becoming a reality. Yet, complex challenges, lack of global collaboration, and the far-reaching impact of the pandemic on every aspect of society has meant that this year we continued to operate in a world that has now changed dramatically. 

The pandemic has put intense pressure on civil society, and the individuals at the heart of people power. It inspires me that despite all that is happening in the world, people continue to collectively act for change. In this past year, millions challenged big business, protesting changes to WhatsApp’s privacy policy, forcing one of the world’s most influential companies to retrace its steps in the face of an unexpected global backlash. At the same time, we saw growing calls for racial justice and climate action. 

On the other hand, civil society is still facing an alarming number of harassment and intimidation cases. Findings from the CIVICUS Monitor’s People Power Under Attack 2021 report show that 9 out of 10 people live in countries where civic freedoms are severely restricted, including the right to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly.

This critical context makes the work that we are doing to reinforce the importance of civil society and civic freedoms even more pressing. At the Secretariat, we are working to improve how we engage public and non-traditional stakeholders. With our media engagements, we strive to reach beyond civil society, while being part of multi-sector networks allows us to participate in a range of governance and strategy circles. Working together to respond to civic space challenges and violations across the world, CIVICUS Alliance continues to progress and we proud to share the following highlights:

  • We continued advocacy efforts, joining global calls for the release of human rights defenders as part of the  #StandAsMyWitness campaign. We celebrated the release of 3 Human Rights Defenders, namely Loujain al-Hathloul, Teresita Naul and Sudha Bharadwaj.
  • We continued to create platforms and spaces that support long term civic space resourcing, we have launched the Donor Finder and the Grassroots Solidarity Revolution campaign. 
  • The AGNA network successfully initiated 3 national pilots to test the ‘Rebuilding for Good’ framework
  • The CIVICUS Monitor, which marked its 5th year anniversary this year, produced a thought-provoking COVID-19 research brief, as well as a Climate Justice paper during COP26.

At the CIVICUS Secretariat, we have also been looking inwards, to improve processes and policies, as well as review our organisational strategy. This has included: a strategic amendment review, racial justice review, and drafting an operational strategy on data and digital rights. We held our virtual Annual General Meeting from 1-7 December 2021, which outlined CIVICUS’ efforts in fostering a culture of accountability - as a board, within the secretariat and across the alliance.

CIVICUS offices will be closed from 23 December to 3 January. Thank you for your solidarity, perseverance and efforts. It is an honour to work with such a diverse and remarkable alliance of activists and organisations. We look forward to connecting with you again next year with renewed energy and ambition.

Lysa John 
CIVICUS Secretary-General 
@lysajohn 

 

Take Action: 16 campaigns tackling women’s rights and gender inequality

Across the world, brave and resolute women rights defenders are taking action on everything from advocating for equality, access, and justice, to standing up to corruption, environmental violations, and even persecution of fellow activists. For many, the COVID-19 pandemic made already difficult operating environments even worse: an increasing number of governments have used COVID-19 as a smokescreen to implement repressive measures that strangle civil society, as well as roll back progress made for gender equality and reproductive rights. Yet, the fightback continues. Here are 16 people-powered movements and campaigns to add your voice to this 16 Days of Activism.

1. #Lifeinleggings

#Lifeinleggings is one of the winners of this year’s Nelson Mandela - Graca Machel Innovation Awards. This campaign was founded in 2016, speaking to gender-based issues and discrimination faced by women and changing the mindset and the lives of women in the Caribbean. The campaign started with the hashtag #LifeinLeggings in virtual spaces as a safe space for women who experienced sexual harassment and sexual assault. It was a call of solidarity and empowerment to speak across social media platforms. While the hashtag spread in the Caribbean and the diaspora, they transferred the conversations to the physical spaces. They transformed it into a grassroots movement called for social transformation and committed to dismantling the rape culture within the Caribbean through advocacy, education, empowerment and community outreach and forward to dismantling the patriarchal system that affects both men and women.

Be part of the transformation and spread the word about #Lifeinleggings

2. #OrangeTheWorld Campaign 

Each year, the United Nations invites people to Orange the World, in support of ending Violence Against Women. Civil society and women's rights organisations, governments, schools, universities, the private sector and individuals host orange themed events - film screenings, exhibits, radio shows, etc - to raise awareness and get people talking. The campaign helps share knowledge and innovations, amplify stories, and promote women and girls' leadership. COVID-19 has triggered a rise in gender based violence and women's rights violations,  making this campaign more important than ever.

Join the movement, take action and orange the world. 

3. Drop Case 173 

In Egypt, Case 173 of 2011, also known as NGO Foreign Funding Case, continues to undermine women’s rights and civil society organisations working towards defending human rights. After a decade of the systematic targeting of organisations and persecuting activists, women human rights defenders, and feminists, Egypt refuses to close the case entirely and stop the judicial harassment of women’s rights defenders like Magda Adly, Suzanne Fayyad, Aida Seif ElDawla and Azza Soliman. 

#DropCase173,a campaign led by regional and international feminists, women’s rights and human rights organisations, calls on the Egyptian state to dismiss cases against civil society activists and organisations persecuted under Case 173 and immediately drop the charges and lift any travel bans and asset freezes against them. 

Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) in Egypt should not be silenced and harassed for carrying out their work, call on the government to #DropCase173 

4. GHANA: Reject the anti-LGBTI+ bill

While some progress has been made in a number of countries towards LGBTI+ rights, the rights of this community continue to be under threat in many parts of the world. Ghana, is one such example. The government of Ghana has brought forward the “Family values” draft bill that would criminalise the country’s LGBTI+ community and its allies. If passed the bill will amongst many other things discriminate LGBTI+ community and criminalise the promotion and funding of their activities.

This bill and many others that criminalise rights of people based on their gender stands to reverse the remarkable gains made over the years in LGBTI+ equality. In order to achieve equality and inclusivity we need to step up the struggle for LGBTI+ rights, especially in countries like Ghana. Here’s a first step you can take, show solidarity by signing a petition calling lawmakers to reject this bill

5. Stand As My Witness 

High numbers of women human rights defenders are facing persecution for their activism, making the global Stand As My Witness campaign mportant to support right now.

Launched in 2020, the campaign calls for the release of human rights defenders jailed as a result of their work and who they are.  The campaign  is currently calling for the release of Teresita Naul- an advocate for the rights of poor and marginalised people,  María Esperanza Sánchez García - a Nicaraguan human rights defender targeted for her civic activism, and Sudha Bharadwaj - a human rights lawyer who defends Indigenous people’s rights, and many more.  The #StandAsMyWitness campaign urges people to write letters on behalf of the defenders, sign a petition rallying for their freedom, and share the defenders’ individual stories on social media using the hashtag #StandAsMyWitness

Find out more about the campaign and how you can get involved here

6. Free Saudi Activists

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has a long history of forcefully silencing men and women who dare to stand up to the country’s unjust laws and patriarchal gender norms. The crackdown on freedom of expression, association and assembly in Saudi Arabia continues to worsen, with the CIVICUS Monitor rating the state of the country’s civic space as closed.

On 15 May 2018, a few weeks before Saudi Arabia lifted a ban on women driving, authorities launched a large-scale coordinated crackdown against women human rights defenders in the kingdom. Tens of prominent WHRDs, among many others, have since been arrested. Saudi authorities targeted WHRDs who fought to lift the country’s driving ban on women, and those calling for an end to the male guardianship system, which requires women to get permission from a male relative to travel, marry or work. While some women's rights activists, including Loujain al- Hathloul,  who spoke against this system have been released, some remain in jail and others continue to have travel bans and asset freezes imposed against them. 

Stand in solidarity with women human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia, sign this petition today. 

7.FAIR SHARE of Women Leaders

Women are under-represented in leadership positions in many sectors including the social impact sector. FAIR SHARE of Women Leaders is an initiative established to advocate for Feminist Leadership and accelerate gender equity in the social impact sector by monitoring the proportion of women in leadership and advocating for Feminist Leadership. Recently, FAIR SHARE of Women Leaders hosted 8-week-long series where they explored many topics around Feminist Leadership, from accountability and authenticity to collective leadership and sisterhood.  With the belief that “true and lasting transformation is not a matter of checking boxes, but rather the sum of small changes we live and breathe in our everyday life”, the initiative continues to take tremendous strides towards ensuring that more women are in places of leadership. 

Join the movement and be an advocate for Feminist Leadership.

8. #JusticeForFikileNtshangase

On 22 October 2020, Fikile Ntshangase, a grandmother in her sixties, and an activist from the Mfolozi Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO) who resisted and spoke out against the activities and expansion of the Tendele anthracite mine on her community's doorstep, was murdered in her home in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. Despite many public outcries from civil society actors and world leaders, her family are still waiting for her murderers to be apprehended. Fikile joins a long list of environmental defenders who have been brutally killed for defending their community’s land and environment. 

This campaign draws our attention to the plight of many environmental women human rights defenders who are killed with impunity around the world. Sign this open letter calling for #JusticeForFikileNtshangase

9. She Changes Climate 

From the sinking small islands to drought-stricken villages, women bear the lion’s share of the burden of the climate change crisis. It is for this reason and many others that now more than ever, women, women’s rights activists and organisations are calling for meaningful inclusion in climate decision making processes. #SheChangesClimate was launched in November 2020 with a #5050 vision to address women leadership in decisions and policymaking related to the climate crisis. 

The campaign calls for greater representation of women, in all their diversity, at the top levels of all future climate delegations. In the lead up to and during this year’s COP meeting, #SheChangesClimate actively ensured that gender imbalance of decision-making didn’t go unnoticed. There is no denying that we need urgent solutions to the climate change crisis, for #SheChangesClimate, the need for women's voices and insights in the climate discussions is equally important.

Together, let’s call for women’s participation in climate decision making processes : She Changes Climate 

10. #FreeViasna Campaign

Tatsiana Lasitsa and Marfa Rabkova, the two WHRDs among other members from the Viasna group in Belarus, are currently in prison. Since 2003, the Belarusian authorities have been harassing Viasna because they have been actively monitoring and documenting human rights violations. The reprisals against Viasna are a part of the broader repression and the systematic silencing of the civil society in Belarus. More than 200 civil society organisations have been shut down or in the process of being closed down. 

The #FreeViasna Campaign was launched in September 2021 by a group of international human rights organisations. They demand the release of Viasna members and hundreds of the victims of politically motivated prosecutio. Further to this, the campaign calls on the government to respect and protect human rights defenders' work and ensure the rights to freedom of association, peaceful assembly, and expression of all people in Belarus.

The members of Viasna and other human rights defenders need your action, support #FreeViasna

11. #TurkeyTribunal

Erin Keskin, a lawyer and a human rights activist in Turkey, who dedicated her life to amlifying the voices of women and exposing abuses happening to them in Turkish prisons. Keskin has been among many other activists and human rights defenders, arrested, imprisoned, and subjected to numerous lawsuits related to her human rights activity and now she is one of the leading witnesses in the Turkey Tribunal.

The Turkey Tribunal was founded in 2020 to document and investigate the increasing number of human rights violations committed by the Turkish government towards activists, lawyers, journalists and human rights defenders. This tribunal aims to break the silence by providing information, raising awareness towards the issue, and mobilising the international community. 

Learn more about this campaign here.

12. #FreeNasrin Campaign

Nasrin Sotoudeh, an Iranian lawyer and a human rights defender, has been sentenced to 33 years of prison and 148 lashes for defending women’s rights in Iran. Sotoudeh, PEN America’s 2011 Freedom to Write Award honoree and a co-winner of the European Parliament’s 2012 Sakharov Prize, is one of Iran’s most prominent voices. She has been harassed and targeted by the Iranian government, imprisoned multiple times. In June 2018, she was incarcerated on national security-related charges levied after advocating on behalf of women detained for protesting Iran’s compulsory hijab law. 

This campaign calls on Iranian authorities to drop all charges against Sotoudeh, release her and stop their harassment of her family, allow their access to their finances and drop charges against her daughter. It also calls for the release of all political prisoners currently held in Iranian prisons on unjust charges. 

Amplify the voice of Nasrin and hundreds of WHRDs in Iran, sign the petition.

13. #StrajkKobiet

Around the world, women and girls face extreme barriers to accessing legal abortions. This is no different in Poland. In October 2020,  Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal imposed a near total ban on abortion, sparking mass protests, most of which were organised by the Strajk Kobiet (Women’s Strike) movement. Strajk Kobiet has worked relentlessly to stop the various initiatives proposing an almost complete ban on abortion in Poland. A year on, many women human rights defenders who took part in the protests continue to face an increasingly hostile and dangerous environment. Among many others, Marta Lempart, co-founder of Strajk Kobiet has become a target of repeated threats for leading demonstrations supporting legal abortion and women’s rights. Despite this, Strajk Kobiet continues to bravely campaign for women’s rights in Poland.

Check their website to know more about their work of defending women’s rights:Ogólnopolski Strajk Kobiet 

14. Justice for Marielle Franco

It has been 3 years since the murder of one of Brazil's most courageous social leaders, Marielle Franco and to this day no one has been brought to book. On 14 March 2018, Marielle was brutally assassinated on the streets of Rio de Janeiro shortly after leaving a gathering of young Black activists.  

We remember Marielle for bravely mobilising for social and economic change in the lives of people living in Rio’s favelas and for unapologetically advocating for women and LGBTI+ rights.

Recognise the work of Marielle, remember her story and call for her justice.

15. #StandWithThe6 

Shatha Odeh, a prominent Palestinian healthcare expert, and the Middle East and North Africa regional coordinator of the People’s Health Movement (PHM) was detained by Israeli security forces on July 2021. The Israeli campaign against Shatha extended to further criminalise 6 prominent Palestinian civil society organisations by targeting and labelling them as "terror organisations". Among the targeted is the Union of Palestinian Women's Committees (UPWC), a feminist grassroots organisation which has been defending women's rights since 1980. 

The decision puts at risk the legitimate and fundamental work of hundreds of human rights defenders, activists and organisations documenting human rights violations, conducting advocacy campaigns for freedom, justice and equality and providing tools for protection as well as legal social and health/medical support for Palestinian citizens. 

#StandWithThe6 is launched to build solidarity with the Palestinian civil society, pressure the international community, policymakers, and representatives to take the needed measures, and stand with the Palestinian civil society against the Israeli assaults on human rights and human rights defenders.

Stand with Palestianian civil society, #StandWithThe6

16. Write for rights Campaign

Write For Rights is a campaign run by Amnesty International yearly over the months of November and December. The campaign encourages individuals to write messages of solidarity to activists, organisations and movements that have suffered injustice and abuse. 

This year, the Write for Rights campaign is asking that you stand in solidarity with 10 human rights defenders and activists. Among them, 15-year-old Janna Jihad who is facing death threats and intimidation for her work speaking up for human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, 22-year-old Rung who is is facing life in prison for speaking out for freedom and democracy in Thailand and Ciham Ali who has been missing for over 8 years and was last seen taken by the Eritrean authorities while trying to leave the country.

Follow this link: Write a letter, sign a petition and protect their rights today.

 

Our right to protest will determine the freedoms of future generations

Twitter Lysa John graphs

Secretary-General Update: October 2021

In 2020, the Human Rights Committee published its interpretation of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly in its General Comment No. 37, which set out in detail the responsibilities of States in upholding freedom of peaceful assembly. States have positive obligations - they must actively do something, as well as negative obligations - they must abstain from certain acts. These obligations - which apply before, during and after assemblies – include the specific nature of justifiable restrictions on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly; as well as the  obligation to protect participants while and where an assembly is ongoing, and activities that are important in its exercise – such as online communication. 

However, through the CIVICUS Monitor we have documented countless cases of people’s right to peaceful assembly being violated in various ways – through arbitrary restrictions that prevent assemblies from taking place; through violent or otherwise disproportionate policing of protests; and through bureaucratic regulations providing barriers to organising. Our latest brief on protest held around the world since the start of the pandemic records the use of excessive force against protesters in at least 79 countries, which includes the use of lethal force leading to the killing of protesters in at least 28 countries. In over 100 countries, law enforcement officers have detained protesters, often on the grounds of failure to adhere to COVID-19 measures or other laws related to peaceful assemblies. 

There are at least four key challenges that the international community must urgently and collectively address in order to protect and expand the fundamental right to peaceful assembly. The first is the use of emergency laws to stifle protest. During the COVID-19 pandemic, blanket bans on protest have been imposed in the name of public health. This includes the stifling of assemblies in the run up to elections under guise of public health limitations. States have continued to curb civic freedoms without agreeing to sunset clauses that ensure the end of such emergency powers.

The use of internet shutdowns & other measures to restrict access to technologies is another challenge to the freedom of peaceful assembly. In the context of the COVID pandemic, more assemblies have moved online. However internet shutdowns or restrictions on internet data flows are being used to prevent the organizing, facilitation and or carrying out of assemblies online. Shutdowns have been especially deployed to target marginalized and at-risk populations, and often implemented hand in hand with other repressive tactics against protesters, facilitate abuses and gross human rights violations committed in the context of peaceful protests.

A third challenge is the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) & surveillance to threaten protestors. With the growth in number and type of surveillance technologies available to governments, we have witnessed and increase in the use of digitally-enabled tactics to identify, harass and intimidate protestors. The role of tech companies in curtailing or enabling the right to protest also has implications for the oversight that needs to be exercised on businesses and their compliance with human rights. The use of financial restrictions is a fourth critical challenge to the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. Across countries, restrictions on garnering public support, both domestically and internationally, have been imposed on civic actors through laws on financial contributions, closures of bank accounts and other forms of reprisal or sanction. States must, instead, play a role to play in supporting and resourcing grassroots movements as part of their role as an enabler of public participation and civic freedoms.

What actions can we take to address these challenges? Firstly, we need governments to ensure that all laws and regulations limiting public gatherings based on public health concerns are necessary and proportionate. The public health emergency caused by COVID-19 must not be used as a pretext to suppress human rights. States must also ensure compliance with international frameworks that govern online freedoms by refraining from imposing online restrictions and allowing protesters to access information at all times.

In addition to this, states must drop charges and release all protesters and human rights defenders prosecuted for exercising their right to the freedom of peaceful assembly and review their cases to prevent further harassment. Recourse to judicial review and effective remedy, including compensation, in cases of unlawful denial of the right to the freedom of peaceful assembly and use of excessive force must be provided.

Finally, all sections of the international community must work together to foster a more consistent application of human rights standards.  All instances of arbitrary arrests and the use of excessive force in response to protests must be publicly condemned at the highest levels; immediate and impartial investigations into such instances must be conducted with the assistance of international experts and independent civil society organisations. 

There have been multiple examples of civil society and social movements across the world galvanizing positive change, defending hard-won democratic values and developing innovative practices to address issues of injustice, as also outlined in our annual State of Civil Society reports. People coming together to speak out have won better working conditions, furthered equality, ended forms of oppression. In light of the increasingly complex governance challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the fore, we need state and non-state actors to be accountable to enabling the freedom of peaceful assembly and protecting those who exercise their right to protest and organise.

Lysa John is Secretary General of CIVICUS, based in South Africa.
Twitter: @lysajohn
This update is based on her remarks at the 48th session of the UN Human Rights Council. 

 

In their own words: How youth-led initiatives practice constituent accountability

Youth leaders from India and South Africa share how they have been practicing accountability to the individuals, communities and groups that their work serves and supports (otherwise known as their constituents). They have each done this by highlighting one of the three dimensions of constituent accountability: giving account (sharing information about who they are and what they do); taking account (continuously listening to and acting on feedback from their constituents); being held to account (including the role of constituents in organisational decision making). 

ConstituentAccountabilit RRYouth Blog0921

Giving Account

Enhle Khumalo, CIVICUS Youth Action Lab - Johannesburg, South Africa 
How the CIVICUS Youth team has worked to clearly explain the process and reasons for selecting its Youth Action Lab participants, thereby boosting transparency, inclusivity, and the strength of the youth network.  

At CIVICUS, the Youth workstream gathers all members of the alliance under 30. To date, they represent 32% of CIVICUS membership coming from 145 countries. The main means of communication with members are quarterly newsletters, periodic social media posts on the CIVICUS youth united! Facebook group and updates on the website with blog posts, learning stories, or outcomes reports. Since 2020, CIVICUS Youth has been testing a pilot project that was co-created with a group of young grassroots members in 2019 - the Youth Action Lab. In this project we have published the design process, the research and feedback that informed the creation of the prototype and the criteria on why we recruited the 20 activists that we have recruited so far. For this we used the multiple platforms available like the website, social media, webinars and newsletters to make all the announcements in an inclusive manner for members and partners from English, Spanish and French-speaking communities. As a result, over 900 people applied to be part of the Youth Action Lab cohort in 2020 and almost 600 in 2021. When the call for applications closed, all applicants received an email announcing the decision of the youth co-design team who selected the two cohorts and the reasons why they were or were not successful candidates for that round. Additionally, during the course of the pilot project, the coordination team shares learnings, results reports and learning blog posts about the progress the Youth Action Lab is making and the challenges it is encountering. This transparent way of working has allowed the organisation to increase its number of youth members and has allowed the organisation to reach and fund inspiring young human rights defenders and movement builders, especially young activists who are outside of traditional funders circles and generally would not be able to be part of this group had the information not have been clearly explained and disseminated.

The song that makes me think of this project is “We are young”.

Taking Account

Sanaya Patel, One future collective - Bombay, India
How the One Future Collective uses continuous feedback from both team members and training participants to secure buy-in, adapt activities to changing contexts and expand its reach. 

We are a social purpose organisation that leverages knowledge, advocacy and community building towards a world built on social justice and led by communities of care. I’m going to talk about taking account, which means actively listening to community needs and adapting your work accordingly. For us, community begins within the team, so the first thing that we do is that for all our team members, we have a two-way annual review, which means that at the end of the year, just like you would in any other job of yours, you have a review about your work with your supervisor, but the cool part is that you get to review the supervisor and the organization based on parameters shared prior the review. So we do listen to what people in the organization feel about how we function, about team members, whether they have had any issues and how they have been able to resolve them. The second thing we do is that we have feedback for all of our training programs. We conduct a lot of training based on our core work themes around gender, justice, health and feminist leadership, and it’s often helpful to have feedback mechanisms built into your training, which means that as you conduct your programs and as you work with your stakeholders you are able to incorporate your feedback into your work going forward even if the project hasn’t ended yet. And what this helps with is it helps with the buy-in from the communities that you work in because they understand that you are committed to making the changes that they need because you are actively listening to them. I think that one of the best examples of this within our work is our flagship program called the One future fellowship which is a program to develop social justice lense and just Feminist leadership within young members of the society that we live in. Last year was the first year that we went virtual because of the Coronavirus pandemic, and we realized that having an 8-hour day of training was very exhausting, and by the end of it several people were experiencing zoom fatigue, so what we did for this years cohort is that we first took it to the community that had already been part of the fellowship. We had an Idea’s Lab, and asked them what could work. We went to the previous fellowship and asked if they would prefer a different model of functioning and then eventually came up with a system where we have two cohorts of fellows, break down the hours and have fewer hours on screen. The result was amazing because we got to choose not 20 like we usually do but 40 fellows and we expanded our reach from within India to the whole of South Asia because we were able to adjust timings. This worked well because we have a more diverse group with us. This is an example of how we took account from our community to build better systems.

The song that reminds me of our experience here is Stand Up For Something by Andra Day and Common, because I feel we need to give our communities the power to speak and when we do, transformative things happen.

Being held to account

Kejal Savla, Blue Ribbon Movement - Bombay, India
How the Blue Ribbon Movement is using consent-based decision-making to give young people more direct control about the leadership programmes it runs with them. 

Blue Ribbon Movement works with young people to build their leadership skills since 2013, which is almost 8 years now. Around 4 years after doing our work with around 200-300 young people, we were wondering what are these youth leaders doing next, and how can we be sure that the program worked and after the program how can young people really take leadership where they can decide for themselves and there can be spaces which are really youth-led and youth decided. So rather than anybody else deciding and designing programs, and empowering young people, can young people step up to build what empowerment means for them. And let them decide what they would like to learn, how they would like to learn to contribute to society and how they would like to engage in their own learnings in what society would expect in all of them or what they would like to contribute back. So that brought us to the process of designing a youth-led movement and when a movement comes in, movements are citizen-led, so we were wondering how do we make this space youth-led and how do we make decision making open and inclusive because even in young people, there can be hierarchies and there can be a lot of social-economic backgrounds that may be playing out and inclusion may not be really true. We discovered this senior Mohanbhai from Mendhalekha in India who is practicing with 100% consent-based decision making in a tribal village and we learned from him, spoke to him a number of times and we decided to take a better approach. All the key decisions of the movement happen with 100% consent, which means even if 1 person says that they do not agree to what’s happening, all of us are forced to listen to dialogue and then find out what’s a workable solution from them. Of course, when this started, all of us were super nervous and felt that this would take forever. But as times progressed, it helped us learn a lot about each other, so next time we already know what this person will be expecting in this situation and next time we already decide based on their preferences. All in all, this approach has really helped us build ownership in youth leaders. These youth leaders are volunteers and are not full-time employees paid to do this. They decide, they own their decisions, implement their decisions with a lot of ease, and more and more, they own the movement. Anything that happens there happens because they want it to happen, and each of them easily contributes 10-25 hours a week, so it’s been a wonderful experience for us doing this, and I hope some of this can be experimented in different ways at other places.

The following piece of music by Aao Hum Sab Haath Milayein by Kalangan Baalswar and  Varsha Bhave reminds me of the importance of listening and learning from the feedback of communities and using that to improve the way we do our work.

 

Uganda: Over 50 civil society groups and human rights watchdogs illegally suspended

Dunia Uganda Blog Sept web

Dunia Mekonnen Tegegn, Human Rights Lawyer and Gender Equality Advocate

Dunia Mekonnen Tegegn is a human rights lawyer and Penn Kemble Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy. She has also been working with the American Bar Association’s Center for Human Rights. Her previous roles have included working with Amnesty International USA, the Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rghts' Eastern Africa Regional Office (OHCHR EARO), and the United Nations Agency for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, among others.


Authorities in Uganda have suspended more than 50 civic groups for allegedly not complying with regulations. This move, which targets organisations ranging from rights watchdogs to women’s groups, impacts hundreds of thousands of people who directly benefit from the organisations’ activities.

The government’s Non-Governmental Organisation Bureau (NGO Bureau) announced the suspensions on August 20 2021, citing the following grounds: operating without valid permits, permits have expired, not filing returns. This move directly contravenes international guidelines related to freedom of association.

The closure is part of a larger trend in the country. Earlier this year, the President also suspended the Democratic Governance Facility (DGF), which is a multi-million dollar fund which assists local organisations that focus on democracy, human rights and good governance.

In 2019, the authorities banned the Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU), an election monitoring coalition. In January 2021, the authorities also banned National Elections Watch – Uganda, a coalition of local organisations, from monitoring national elections. On Election Day, the police arrested more than 20 people working with Citizens Watch-IT and the Women’s Democracy Network for running a “parallel vote tallying center.” CCEDU and Citizens Watch-IT are among the groups whose activities have been banned by the NGO Bureau.

For Chapter 4 Uganda, the recent closures are allegedly political in nature and related to their work demanding accountability for human rights violations during the past election. Another affected organisation is AFIEGO, which has been involved in the promotion of rights of people affected by the crude oil development project. Together with other charities, they have been campaigning against the proposed East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) project, citing potential impact on the climate.

A number of women’s organisations were also affected in the recent suspensions, including Support Girl Child Uganda, Foundation for Women Empowerment, Kwataniza Women’s Organisation and Twimukye Women’s Organisation. All were suspended for operating without a valid permit.

This move directly contravenes international guidelines related to freedom of association

The guideline of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights on Freedom of Assembly and Association under article 11 states that "states shall not oblige associations to register in order to be permitted to exist and to function freely and that informal associations shall not be penalised or criminalised under the law or in practice on the basis of their lack of formal status.”

Furthermore, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Association and Assembly underlines that an important component of the right to freedom of association is that no one may be compelled to belong to an association. In his commentaries to Canada, Republic of Moldova, Slovenia, and the United States the Special Rapporteur reiterated that the right to freedom of association equally protects associations that are not registered. Individuals involved in unregistered associations should be free to carry out any activities, including the right to hold and participate in peaceful assemblies, and should not be subject to criminal sanctions.

The Special Rapporteur is of the opinion that a “notification procedure”, rather than a “prior authorisation procedure” that requests the approval of the authorities to establish an association as a legal entity, complies better with international human rights law and should be implemented by states. Under this notification procedure, associations are automatically granted legal status as soon as the authorities are notified by the founders that an organisation was created. In most countries, such notification is made through a written statement containing a number of elements of information clearly defined in the law, but this is not a precondition for the existence of an association. It is rather a submission through which the administration records the establishment of the said association.

Such a notification procedure is in force in countries such as Côte d'Ivoire, Djibouti, Morocco, Portugal, Senegal, Switzerland and Uruguay. Under both notification and prior authorisation regimes, registration bodies must be bound to act immediately, and laws should set short time limits to respond to submissions and applications respectively.

The Special Rapporteur echoes a ruling of the 1European Court which provided that “significant delays in the registration procedure, if attributable to the Ministry of Justice, amounts to an interference with the exercise of the right of the association’s founders to freedom of association.” During this period, associations should be presumed to be operating legally until it is proven otherwise.

Conclusion

In closing, the suspension of these civil society groups breaks international law. It further contributes to the squeezing of the CSO space in Uganda accompanied by the pervasive targeting of human rights defenders. The suspension also has implications on advocacy work around women’s rights and empowerment. For organisations such as CCEDU, the suspension cuts substantial work on electoral democracy including political accountability, and voter education. The recent crackdown on civil society work should be understood in this broader context to appreciate the trends thus far and design strategies on the way forward.


[1] European Court of Human Rights, Sidiropoulos and Others v. Greece, application No. 26695/95, 10 July 1998.

 

 

Grassroots action & the right to protest: here’s a look at our annual priorities

SGUpdate 092021

Secretary-General Update: August 2021

In June this year, we presented the CIVICUS Board with our annual plan for 2021/22. The plan reflects lessons we have learnt from civic space trends and challenges in the context of the current pandemic and our resulting intent to invest more actively in initiatives that enable the long-term relevance and sustainability of civil society across the world. 

On cue from our Impact & Accountability team, this update headlines five aspects of our annual plan that I am most excited about. More information about our annual plan is available here.

  • Championing the right to peaceful assembly

Large-scale, public protests have defined the civic space landscape in every continent of the world across the past decade. Our work this year will set the stage for multi-year interventions to support people and communities who exercise their right to protest, while actively challenging unwarranted restrictions on peaceful assembly. We will contribute to the creation of enabling international and constitutional norms; develop context-specific mechanisms for the safety, health and wellbeing of those who exercise their right to protest; and facilitate greater connections between protest movements and wider civil society. 

  • Increasing our ability to define & defend civic freedoms online

As part of our focus on civil society innovation and collaboration, our work this year includes the development of new strategies to support an enabling digital environment for civil society.  We will identify opportunities for civil society to actively monitor and report the misuse of technology to restrict civic freedoms and continue to be propositional about ways in which digital tools and platforms can support the fulfilment of human rights. As a result, we expect to increase the combined ability of the CIVICUS alliance to influence regulatory frameworks that protect and expand the online exercise of fundamental freedoms.

  • Strengthening our peer-to-peer learning, resourcing and solidarity initiatives

We are excited to launch a number of initiatives aimed at improving how CIVICUS members collaborate and innovate together across a range of platforms. Our new online platform for members now enables secure peer-to-peer exchanges on mutual aims and collaborative projects, thereby unlocking a whole new level of dynamic engagement across the alliance. Our targeted grassroots-led resourcing campaign will allow us to test assumptions and amplify lessons on the shifts needed to make grassroots and national civil society efforts more resilient and sustainable. We will also be paying special attention to innovations in youth-focused civic space monitoring and resourcing in this period. 

  • Deepening our commitment to accountability and inclusion in the workplace

In the last few years, we have prioritised a number of processes to ensure our workplace reflects our strong commitment to a culture of diversity, inclusion and accountability.  A rigorous review of internal practices and externally benchmarked evidence on sector standards has enabled a number of improvements in our systems related to recruitment, safeguarding, remuneration and benefits. In addition to progressing our commitment to a Fair Share for Women Leaders, we have undertaken an in-depth examination of how racial justice priorities show up in the culture and existing structures of the organisation in the past year. These processes have set the direction for further efforts that will be undertaken in the current year, which includes the progression of a composite and time-bound Racial Justice Action Plan.

  • Delivering an amended Strategic Plan that outlines CIVICUS’ priorities beyond 2022

In March 2021, the CIVICUS Board approved a ‘strategy amendment process’ aimed at refining our priorities beyond 2022. The decision for a strategy refresh – as opposed to the development of an entirely new strategic plan – was based on the recognition that a light-touch process would help us focus attention and energies on the urgent external challenges and changes that we face at this time. The strategy amendment process draws on outcomes from review and scoping exercises held with a wide range of stakeholders across 2020/21. It will allow us to stress-test our theory of change, update key assumptions and sharpen areas of work that have assumed increased relevance in the context of the pandemic.

We look forward to keeping you updated on the lessons learnt and outcomes achieved in relation to these endeavours in the coming months. Your suggestions are most welcome and could help us strengthen our efforts!  Please feel free to reach me or any other member of the CIVICUS team with your feedback – we look forward to hearing from you!

Lysa John 
CIVICUS Secretary-General
@lysajohn

 

Standing up Against Gender-based Violence

Hello! I am Mohaiminul Raqib and I am a citizen of Bangladesh. I started my journey of becoming an activist and development worker in 2017 when I was just 21 years old. I pursued my education at the University of Dhaka, which is considered as the “Oxford of the East”. However, my story started long before and profoundly shaped my career path and attending university was just a minor step.

I was born in a Muslim society and patriarchally dominated family. Childhood was somewhat better than for the majority and I could not expect anything better. I felt that I had all that was needed in my life. I was bright, loved socializing and making new friends. Being a single child of my parents was a loving memory for me. But the love and happiness did not last long. A home of love, day by day started to turn into a place of sorrow and tragedy, as my parents relationship became unhealthy. I had to witness violence and abuse every now and then. Being a small child, I felt scared and my sense of security was stunted. I started feeling the absence of love, was hurt by broken family ties and was always seeking care. All these incidents, over time, became very traumatizing for me. But I remain grateful to my mother for always being there for me and for being both my mother and father during my early childhood and my adolescence. The most fascinating fact was I could always realize her contribution to my growth as she always believed in me and my visions. I would love every person to feel this kind of support.

As a child, I was always active. I loved sports, adventure and meeting new people. I could always make new friends and connect to them on a deeper level.  I got this inspiration from my mother. Her sense of empathy taught me how to behave, communicate and make stronger bonds with people. I loved sharing stories of our lives and supporting my friends on their highs and lows. But I was also scared and frightened of abusive behaviors, I was afraid of feeling unloved and always would pray to God that I never witness any violence again. Both the positive and negative aspects of my life have helped me to shape who I am. From not having any parents of mine attending my parents meeting in school I have learned how to control my emotions and peer pressure, from attending the tuition at night all alone I have learned not to fear, from not having a senior male person at home I learned how to balance life and interact with the society. All of these situations have helped me to grow and become stronger, being now more concerned, tolerant, hard-working, and understanding.

As I missed my father, there were times when I needed help to deal with society. At times, I felt I was on my own. As a part of this process, I grew a sense of accountability and responsibility. Aware of the hardship that my mother endured, made me realize that something must be done to eradicate gender-based violence (GBV). As I was heavily affected by it, I noticed I did not want this experience to happen to anyone else. Witnessing violence from childhood can be very traumatizing, as it causes anxiety and creates insecurity regarding survival due to lack of love and care. My personal growth was hampered due to the unsafe family environment for which I had to struggle a lot in my school, playground, and basically, all other areas of my life as well. As such, I can understand and empathize with the struggles of GBV affected families. Such experiences shaped me to work for GBV eradication and attain gender equality. 

Being a son of GBV victims I could feel the pain of youths who were hurt and deprived in several ways. Since I mentored myself to keep my mental health in check and speak up for myself I decided to create a private, online platform where I shared my story and I created an opportunity to share all of our stories to create a bigger movement where we will feel valued and listened. This is how the project “Na Bola Kotha” (The Unspoken Words) was born. It is designed to create awareness on mental health issues, break the stigma about mental health, and speak out the life stories of the youth to create knowledge about existing oppression. This project aims to bring the untold stories in front of mass to raise awareness on the mental health issues of the victims and youths of our society. I am really proud that I could motivate and create awareness among 10000 youths so far. I believe that activism can be combined with social entrepreneurship, innovation and community building to create more resilient communities standing up for their rights and building each day a vision of a better world.

Through my work until now we have youth, victims and community engagement, and most importantly, mass awareness creation. For me, raising awareness through building a strong connection is an achievement for my activism. In the coming times, I would like to further explore my work with GBV victims and deprived children of GBV victims. I see how this actions can help to reduce patriarchal mindset, religious extremism, rate of violence, marital rape, and dowry. My work is deeply connected with the sustainable development goals (SDGs). Through an integral and long-term approach, I believe we can build the pillars for a better society.

I want to go beyond my immediate environment. I want to be a global leader in the field. I want to work with stakeholders from all over the earth.  I want to see a world where there will be no violence, no women and children living in fear, where people get their valuable rights, where children from broken families will get access to proper education and access to social and cultural institutions. But to build such an incredible world, we, the victims from GBV affected families, will require to unite together, reach out to a larger community where we can demand our rights, access to political, social and cultural institutions. We need access to funding for our educational development, create a sustainable workspace, create employment for the unemployed victims, and eradicate GBV for a safe family atmosphere. We need more institutions to accelerate our growth, access to facilities of physical and mental healthcare, and incubators for skills development. 

I believe we can develop and propagate our movement and create a safe space for living, attain better health conditions and improve literacy which in turn will create skilled human beings. We must ensure that the youths join our movement. As they possess the empathy to acknowledge the trauma and difficulties of survival of victims of GBV. The effect of physical and mental trauma can be a lifelong tragedy that can cost a lot. GBV affected families including mine are deprived of numerous facilities and it creates a heavy toll. We, as a movement, have the power to motivate the victim to raise their voice against oppression, attain civic rights, speak up for their needs and wants, and most importantly ensure inclusion in the society as a normal citizen. The outcome of the movement can highly impact mental health conditions for a better life. We want hundreds to share their life story, sending the reminder that, “I am not alone and we are not alone”. We can say to the world that, “no matter what happens, we can always choose to be better, we can always speak up for ourselves, listen to others' lives and build harmony and peace.” We, the victims of GBV, deserve to be treated well, have a safe environment and to live a life with dignity and respect. That is why we share the motivating values of non-violence, equity, equality, and justice. We believe peace and harmony in families, schools, work-spaces, and religious institutions can go a long way to make this world a better place to live.

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Get in touch with Mohaiminul Raqib on LinkedIn

 

Scenario planning for agile strategic alignment

By Tamryn Lee Fourie, Jerusha Govender and Khotso Tsotsotso

For CIVICUS, and civil society as a whole, the COVID-19 pandemic drastically shifted the way we work, and the world we work in.  Keeping this in mind, moving towards the end of the Alliance’s current Strategic Plan 2017-2022, we asked ourselves – how can we stay strategically relevant, given the lack of clarity on what lies ahead, and realising the already stretched capacity of staff and membership?

In these uncertain times, Foresight Approaches such as scenario planning, are one potential tool for strategy development, and is a key element of CIVICUS Alliance current strategic realignment process. 

Across February and March 2021, we engaged Data Innovators to review existing foresight analysis and scenario planning documents from members and partners, interact with CIVICUS members, and produce future scenarios related to civic space and citizen action. We then sense-checked these scenarios with allies from other sectors to identify potential disruptors and strategic opportunities that we may have missed. 

The Scenarios 

Four scenarios emerged to guide CIVICUS leadership and support other CSOs in similar stages of reviewing strategy, documented from the perspective of ‘Olwethu’, a civic activist and our persona. The four scenarios are summarised below:

scenario planning blog

Read more about the scenarios here

These scenarios are helping CIVICUS to unpack necessary amendments to our existing strategy, use the four potential futures to open discussion on where specific implementation focus is needed, and keep our constituents (i.e. “Olwethu”) at the centre. Similarly, other CSOs may also find these scenarios useful when considering strategic refinement.

How you can use these scenarios to realign your own strategies:

This exercise stress-tests current strategies for different contexts. It is good practice to identify "No brainers,” - strategies robust across the range of scenarios. However, scenarios may also be sufficiently diverse to require strategies unique to each context. 

Recommended steps to test strategies against these scenarios:

Step 1: Take one scenario at a time, for a moment, assume this scenario occurs. Discuss and explore different aspects, ensuring all participants understand the critical elements.

Step 2: Once the scenario is understood, pose the following questions and document the responses:

  • Is your set of strategic objectives appropriate in the scenario?
  • What obvious gaps are there in the current strategy for the scenario?
  • What additional/alternative strategies should be developed to close the gaps?
  • Considering the gaps/alternatives, how should the Theory of Change (ToC) be adjusted?

Step 3: Repeat steps one and two for each scenario until all scenarios are covered.

If you have sufficient time, move on to step 4…

Step 4: Stand back, look at the lists of strategic options for each scenario. Identify those that show up on all or most scenarios. These are the "no brainers," the strategic options that look good in all scenarios. Start working on a consolidated Theory of Change that draws on the common strategic options, with gaps covered/replaced by alternative strategies. Take steps to address potential bias by asking those outside your regular “circle” to review and validate your work.

Step 5: Test the ToC for logic and refine it. And finally, update the current strategy.

We hope you find these useful! Please let us know if you have any feedback on how you have used these scenarios in your strategy reviews. We would be most interested to hear your experiences and insights!

 

The relationship between civic space restrictions and soaring inequality needs our urgent attention

SG Update July21 Eng

Message from Lysa John, CIVICUS Secretary-General

In May this year, we published the 10th edition of the annual State of Civil Society report. In addition to providing an overview of trends that have inspired civic action in the last decade, the report is full of examples of how, in country after country, public outrage has been provoked by deliberate policy choices made by governments. Such choices that have generated upheaval when seen as deliberately benefitting a small group of elite while blatantly ignoring or undermining the rights and needs of populations who already live in a state of deprivation and despair. If the financial crisis of the last decade signaled a broken economic system, then the profiteering from the ongoing pandemic and the disproportionately negative impacts felt by the excluded have proven that the present system is not merely broken but deliberately malevolent. 

Across regions, protests have been spurred by indications that the pandemic is being used as a pretext to increase the economic hardship of ordinary people while creating obscene profits for politicians and private businesses. Oxfam has notably pointed out that the world’s ten richest men have seen their combined wealth increase by half a trillion dollars since the pandemic began. This amount could not only pay for universal coverage of the COVID-19 vaccine but also underwrite social protection policies to help ensure that no one is pushed into poverty by the pandemic.

Massive mobilisations, including in India and Iraq, have cropped up in response to government policies threatening to increase burdens on already overburdened populations. The brutality with which some governments have responded to protests by those seeking better labour rights and enhanced access to public services highlight the perverse nexus between the super-rich and the politically powerful in continent after continent, raising critical questions about the role played by vested interests in diluting mechanisms for democratic oversight on economic and political processes.

In several instances, public and civil society action led to course corrections. In Guatemala and Costa Rica, governments were forced to reverse austerity measures that were agreed as part of pandemic recovery packages with international financial institutions. In Indonesia, proposals to undermine environmental rights without adequate public scrutiny have been questioned. In Tunisia, mobilisations demanding economic safeguards for livelihoods threatened by the pandemic have been spearheaded by women and young people. While #BlackLivesMatter protests across the world forced public and private institutions to take a hard look at their own role in perpetuating systemic injustice, movements such as End SARS in Nigeria and #ZimbabeweanLivesMatter drew further attention to the misuse of state machinery to intimidate publics and restrict civic action. 

If localised governance failures were a key provocation for public anger in 2020, then the inability to equitably resource and distribute the coronavirus vaccine may well be the trigger for long-lasting disenchantment with global governance and multilateral institutions. The Decade of Action promised by the 2030 Agenda is rapidly turning into a decade of impatience. As leaders and institutions patently look the other way, millions around the globe are discovering that people power is their only option.

In Solidarity, 
Lysa John

 

We need help from the international community

Wai Hnin Pwint ThonWai Hnin Pwint Thon, Switzerland

Wai Hnin Pwint Thon is a Senior Advocacy Officer at Burma Campaign UK based in Geneva, Switzerland. She has worked with the families of political prisoners for over ten years.  Her father, Mya Aye, is a former and current political prisoner who has been at the forefront of Burma’s democracy movement for over 30 years. He was arrested in Yangon on the first day of the coup, February 1st.


This is her story:

As a child, the first time I saw my dad was in Insein prison and there were iron bars between us so we could not even embrace each other. When I heard the news about my father’s most recent arrest, I felt really worried for him and my family. I did not want to believe that we all have to go through this horrible experience for the third time. 

The last three months have been heartbreaking as every day I hear news about peaceful protesters being arrested and killed. Some of my friends are now either in hiding or in prison for speaking out. 

Burma has seen the biggest anti-military protests in 30 years. Students who should have been pursuing their education and their dreams are instead being shot or jailed for fighting for democracy.

Generation Z, who did not experience 1988 and 2007 uprisings, are now understanding what lives would be like if the military governs the country, and they are determined that they can’t live under another military dictatorship again.

We want to live in a country where we don’t have to worry about getting arrested for speaking out. We want our children to go to school happily without having to worry about their schools being bombed. We want to live in a peaceful country with federal values, equality and dignity.

To achieve our dreams, we need help from the international community. We are grateful to see many people from around the world are speaking out on social media, raising funds, holding events and asking their government officials to help people in Burma. This solidarity gives us strength and hope. Wai Hnin Pwint Thon 2

With Burma Campaign UK, I have worked with human rights defenders and grassroots organisations inside the country to make sure that their voices and demands for international action have been heard. We have been campaigning for the international community to impose smart and targeted economic sanctions against the military’s companies, to build a global arms embargo, and to hold the military accountable for all the crimes they have committed.

No government can pretend they don’t know what is happening in Burma and don’t know what action people are demanding they take in response.”


Photo captions: Wai Hnin Pwint Thon; Wai Hnin talking at recent ASEAN meeting. (Copyright: Wai Hnin Pwint Thon.) 

 

The coup in Myanmar spurred me to action

 Supyae Yadanar 1Supyae Yadanar, Dublin, Ireland 

Supyae Yadanar was born and raised in Yangon and is currently studying medicine at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland. She is Advocacy Co-Lead of Global Movement for Myanmar Democracy (GM4DM), an international coalition of grassroots organisations and individuals working to support Myanmar’s democracy. 


This is her story:

“Myanmar is and will always be my home, the streets of Yangon are where I grew up, and my heart is and will always belong to Myanmar.

Watching my countrymen, my chosen family - for our shared love for our country and our revolutionary spirits make our bonds as strong as a blood bond - get shot at, get brutalised, at the hands of the Myanmar military, evokes the strongest sense of fury and determination. Although I may not be in the country to fight together on the ground with my fellow protesters, it is within my power and ability to carry on the resistance from miles away.

From the 1st of February, I started articulating my feelings about the coup into prose and poetry, which was widely read and shared by Burmese diaspora and Burmese people residing within Myanmar; I also read out my poetry on virtual demonstrations of defiance as my prose has themes of defiance and the revolution running throughout, which is what resonates with people, the will that we must succeed.

As soon as the news of the coup broke, I quickly put together an advocacy plan within Trinity College and Ireland, with a group of college students, writing to our Members of Parliament, the Foreign Minister, and appealing to the general public with petitions to gain support to get Ireland to take a stronger stance against the Myanmar military.  

Supyae Yadanar Protest

 Within Ireland, I have written an article on Myanmar which gained traction within Trinity; I went on podcasts, I gave talks and spoke on panels about Myanmar, organised by the University Philosophical Society, the world’s oldest and largest student society, advocacy efforts with the aim to let as many people know about the situation, that no matter how much the military tries to silence the people of Myanmar by cutting off their Internet, our voices will still ring true and ring loud, amplified by diaspora abroad. 

I also attended a physical protest in Ireland as well as a global virtual protest on March 27th, Revolution Day, to protest against the military, to show that the Resistance transcends oceans and borders.

Admittedly, I have not been a strong advocate until the coup in Myanmar despite my enormous interest in activism and social issues. However, the coup in Myanmar spurred me to action as I know I have a responsibility to my people and my country to stand up for them in another country. 

Additionally, my passion for fighting for women’s rights and LGBTQI+ rights was made stronger by the Htamein (Sarong) Revolution in Myanmar on International Women’s Day, when people brandished flags of sarongs to rebel against the patriarchy, and more, and I am certain when the revolution falls, I and the rest of the activists will continue on our advocacy efforts until society as a whole is just and inclusive, and leaves no one behind.  

I urge you to keep reading about Myanmar, and if you are financially capable, donate to fundraisers set up that provide medical aid to people in Myanmar or to support the Civil Disobedience Movement. Ultimately, it is within our duty to speak up for people who are not able to, we owe it to ourselves and to them to use the freedom we have, the freedom to speak up without fear of repercussion."


 

Photo captions: Supyae Yadanar; Supyae protesting outside the General Post Office, Dublin. (Copyright: Supyae Yadanar.)

 

The coup is a catastrophe for our motherland

Thant TunThant Tun, Manchester, United Kingdom 

Thant Tun has been involved in the struggle for democracy in Myanmar since birth. She grew up in the compound of Rangoon University, where her mother was a librarian, and witnessed the arrest of many students during the U Thant uprising in 1974. In 1988 she became involved in the ‘8888’ student revolution and was forced to leave Burma the following year. Her late uncle was a political activist and journalist who wrote a book on federal democracy, he died at age 93 and was arrested many times in his life for speaking out for democracy.
Thant works as a NHS nurse clinician but spends her spare time fighting for democracy in Myanmar. She supported the Saffron Revolution in 2007; during the recent unrest her god-daughter, Khin Nyein Thu, was arbitrarily detained in Yangon on 17th April by the military and later tortured. There is no news of her release.


This is Thant’s story:

“First we became aware of my god-daughter’s unlawful arrest on the evening of 17th April, after that the state media run by the military junta released pictures of her and other youths, showing they had been beaten ruthlessly - she had facial injuries consistent with fractures, her face was not recognisable, which was very distressing for family and friends. 

This needs to stop. I would like to make the international community aware that these types of human rights violations and atrocities affect many in Myanmar, people who are arbitrarily detained have no access to medicine or legal assistance. 

It was a huge blow to hear about the Myanmar military staged coup on 1st February; it was about 22:45 hour GMT time and a friend from Myanmar sent a message - I was shocked and saddened. All the freedom that we have fought for, our hopes and dreams are destroyed. 

After three decades of fighting for democracy we felt that we finally got some freedom under the civilian government - the country has developed so much and young people are far more educated than before. The coup was a catastrophe for our motherland. Thant Tun protest

Our family has always believed in the voice of people and against the junta, so I started working with a few friends to speak out for Myanmar. We wrote to our MPs and to the foreign minister urging them to condemn the military coup and demand the release of political prisoners; we called on the British government to impose targeted sanctions on companies owned by the Myanmar military and their associates. 

We also called on the U.K. government to build a global coalition of countries imposing arms embargoes on Myanmar, and asked the government to join the genocide case at the International Court of Justice and to publicly support the referral of the Myanmar situation to the International Court of Justice.

We also raise funds to support people of Myanmar for their food, shelter and basic commodities.

The international community must act soon to stop the human rights abuse and torture of innocent civilians.”


Photo captions: Thant Tun; Thant Tun doing 3-finger ‘Hunger Games’ democracy salute for Myanmar (Copyright: Thant Tun.)

 

Teenagers my age are dropping out of school to protest

 Bawi Hnem SungBawi Hnem Sung, Texas, United States of America

17 year old high school student Bawi Hnem Sung is also from the Chin community in Lewisville, Texas, and is part of the Lewisville High School Chin Club. Her family fled Myanmar when she was three.


This is her story:

“I got to visit Myanmar back in the winter of 2019, and it absolutely breaks my heart that the streets I strolled are now where shots are fired day and night, the people I met are either in hiding, or fighting for their lives, and the future of going back to embrace my family members once again is now blurred. 

I am heartbroken, and I am angered that the citizens of Myanmar have to face the oppression of the military once again.

To be quite honest, this coup truly opened my eyes to see how oppressed the people of Myanmar are. This is the first Myanmar military oppression that I have witnessed, and although I heard many stories from families and friends, I never truly understood the anger and brokenness that the Myanmar government, as a whole, holds. 

When I say I have the uttermost respect for the protesters in Myanmar, it is an understatement. I have seen videos, and read news, about how parents are sending off their children every morning, with the thought that their children may not walk through the doors of their home ever again, teenagers my age dropping out of school so they can protest for their future and freedom, and just seeing the society in Myanmar work together, really just moves me so much and leaves me in awe of the resilience and strength the people have. 

Being in a different country has definitely created barriers between us and the people in Myanmar, but I have done everything in my power to try and help. With the help of teachers, and my fellow activist friends, we’ve managed to raise donations for the people in our birth country, we’ve shown our support for the people by participating in protests, and we’ve tried our best to let the world hear the people of Myanmar’s voices. Bawi Hnem Sung protesting

We’ve also organised a call to action day to our senators and representatives, and shared what’s happening in Myanmar on our social media. In our annual Chin festival show, we made a segment dedicated to the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) in the hope that it would bring more awareness to the community around us. The Lewisville High School Chin Club also managed to raise over 1,000 dollars. 

 

The Military has put on a fake front to the world by shutting down internet lines, kidnapping famous celebrities who loathe the Military,  and silencing the voices of the people in Myanmar, so it's clear they don't want their evil acts to be shown and blasted on the internet, so the international community can help by posting what’s going on. 

People of Burmese origin have been protesting in many countries all over the world, including South Korea, Australia, Canada and so much more. It means the world to us when we see many of our different ethnic brothers and sisters come and join our protest against the military coup. 

I understand now how much international recognition and help the people in Myanmar need - they need their voices to be heard. They have waited for over 70 years for the world to listen, and I want to make sure that the years are not prolonged.”


Captions: Bawi Hnem Sung; Bawi Sung protesting in Dallas, Texas. (Copyright: Bawi Hnem Sung)

 

There are no words left to describe the brutality of the Burmese military

Myra DahgaypawMyra Dahgaypaw, Washington D.C.United States of America

Myra Dahgaypaw is the director of the U.S. Campaign for Burma, an organisation that works to raise awareness on the human rights violations and mass atrocities against ethnic and religious minorities committed by the Burmese military. She is from the Karen community, a persecuted group living in eastern Burma, and has first-hand experience of the violations committed by the military junta. 


This is her story:

“Talking about what happened to my family still brings about a lot of painful memories.

The Burmese military troops came to my village, burnt my house down to the ground, and forced my family, those in the village, and myself to flee in the middle of the night. I experienced airstrikes like those in Kachin state now. I remember my school was surrounded by trenches so that we could jump into them as soon as we heard the fighter jets. I saw many people killed, including my own classmates. 

Fearing for my life, I fled with just my clothes on my back, similar to what many Karen are experiencing right now. When I was a child, I was not allowed to cry when I was too tired to walk among the adults, in fear of alerting the Burmese military of our location. I had to sleep under a plastic tarp that wasn’t big enough to cover my little body. My family and I had very little food to survive on and more often than not, we did not eat. Because I was the youngest, I was the only one who got to eat a small amount per day - a fist of rice. 

My youngest aunt was gang-raped by the Burmese troops.  She was then dragged away and taken to another city. During interrogation, she was hung upside down by her feet while troops dotted her skin with cigarette burns until she gave the answers they wanted. It took our family over a decade to find her again. 

Her husband, my uncle, was arbitrarily detained. While detained he was brutally tortured during interrogation. The Burmese military sliced his skin into strips and rubbed with salt so he would painfully bleed out. When they came across a stream, the troops did a form of waterboarding, partially drowning my uncle to obtain answers they wanted during his confusion. When they were done, the troops stabbed him and left him bleeding to death. 

It was a living nightmare until I became a refugee in Thailand.

What's happening in Burma now is not far off from the Burma I knew from when I was a child - there are still terrible human rights violations and mass atrocities taking place, with some crimes amounting to war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. The situation is beyond what I can express - there are no words left to describe the brutality of the Burmese military junta. 

Our team, along with many other activists in Burma and across the world, are trying to amplify the voices of those on the ground. We protest at the Burmese military attaché office, Chinese, Russian and other embassies, particularly ones who support the Burmese military by selling deadly weaponry or training the Burma army. 

We also petition our government officials and send out letters with important and relevant recommendations with the hope that Congress will help us bring change to Burma. Besides this, we also have supporters who use social media channels to help share information about the current situation in Burma while calling on their Senators and Representatives to help raise concerns in Congressional meetings. 

The attitudes of perseverance, resilience, and courage of those on the ground are my inspiration. Internally displaced people, refugees and now the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) protesters must live among guns and bullets as a constant threat on their lives, and yet they are smart in finding ways to survive these unspeakable hardships. They are the ones who have to live in fear of what will happen to them tomorrow, but live with a dignity and appreciation that is very much inspiring.Myra Dahgaypaw protest

Friends and colleagues around the world - the people of Burma are the ones who put their lives on the line to fight against the brutal Burmese military junta. They don’t have the time to figure out what their future holds. You and I have the time, and if we can spare some of our time to amplify the voices of the impacted communities in Burma, as well as educating yourself, those around you, and your government officials, this will help greatly. 

Please keep advocating for your government officials to put their words into action - condemnations don’t mean anything to the junta. We need tangible action. Your petitions, letters, phone calls, emails, and information sharing on your respective social outlets will make a difference. 

All in all, now more than ever, Burma needs you. I need your help to join me in this fight against the Burmese military regime. Let’s say ‘NEVER AGAIN’ to the Burmese military junta once and for all.”


Photo captions: Myra Dahgaypaw; Myra on left, organising a multi-ethnic rally in front of the Burmese military attaché office. (Copyright: Myra Dahgaypaw.)

 

3 Reasons Why Relationships are Vital to Expanding Youth Networks

The Youth Action Team (YAT) and Youth Action Lab at CIVICUS has now had several rounds of calls for candidates to champion youth engagement and civic space. A question we are now asking ourselves is - how are we making sure there is a diverse, committed, and innovative pool of candidates to select from? Here are some of the key lessons we have learned so far, highlighting the relevance of building strong social capital -through fostering reciprocity, trust and generating value for individuals and the community. 

YAT2021

1. Past participants of your programme are your ambassadors to attract new ones

When creating a programme, we need to make sure to give participants a great experience. Of course, this includes the project length but goes beyond it. Keeping in touch and being a witness to their journey, ongoing communication and providing support to make sure they reach their full potential are ways in which we can build long-term connections. This is an end in and of itself, but the benefits do not stop there. When people have a good experience, they are compelled toshare it with friends and networks. In fact, a recent survey showed that 90% of YAT participants said they will recommend the programme to peers. That is exactly what happened ahead of the call for applications for the YAT this year, where 92% of the chosen candidates applied because the experience was recommended by a colleague who participated in a CIVICUS programme.
 
 2. Young activists acting locally are well-connected and can extend this network to your organisation 
 
The Youth Action Lab co-design team has a great bearing on the representation of countries and the number of applications received in 2020 for the Youth Action Lab. Even though CIVICUS membership has a global coverage of over 175 countries, receiving more than one application from countries like Iraq or Trinidad & Tobago in an open call is not very common. The local networks of the co-design team served as a direct pathway to these countries and, instead of relying only on the reach of CIVICUS alone, their outreach in the recruitment process was very valuable to achieve more diversity in the pool of applications. 
 
3. A good relationship can last for years and lead to ongoing collaboration 

The co-design team had its first engagement with CIVICUS in 2019, when co-creating the Youth Action Lab. Yet, a network is about a constant flow of exchanges. This connection was nurtured through ongoing participation in the call for applications of the first Lab in 2020. To keep engaged with the Lab, all 9 co-design team members were invited to select the new 2021 cohort voluntarily, 4 said yes. Being it a time-consuming process, the fact that they have helped to shape the programme, motivated them to ensure that the best candidates are part of it.

 

21st century activism is complex, persistent and all-pervasive. Governments and businesses will have to reinvent themselves

Lysa John SGUPDATE2021

Message from Lysa John, CIVICUS Secretary-General

The nature of civic space has changed significantly since the start of the pandemic. The CIVICUS Monitor, which systematically tracks the status of civic freedoms across countries, has shown that even in established democracies, governments have used the pandemic to disproportionately curtail fundamental freedoms. Nearly 9 of 10 people now live in countries where civic freedoms are under attack, and over a quarter of the world’s population – 4 of 10 people –  live in countries where civic space is completely closed. That is, in contexts where they can be routinely attacked, arrested, or even killed by state or non-state actors for simply exercising their universally recognised right to expression, peaceful assembly, and association.

Across 2020, we have seen an exponential rise in two trends that seriously threaten the work and lives of both activists and active citizens: one, the devastating misuse of technology to increase censorship, surveillance and targeted misinformation or propaganda against civil society, particularly journalists and human rights defenders; and two, the impunity with which state and non-state actors are able to attack and intimidate civil society and active citizens who speak out against governments and organize for their rights. The CIVICUS Monitor has also made a special note of the rise in attacks on women and peaceful protestors in the past year.

Despite this, we see that civil society has striven to find new ways to fulfill its unique purpose. Our annual State Of Civil Society report, now in its 10th edition, provides evidence that social movements are more diverse, more connected, and more mainstreamed than ever before. Technology has made access to opportunities for cross-border, multi-sector, and inter-generational civic action more possible. The old playbook of leadership that thrives on fear, hierarchy, and control is hopelessly insufficient in present times as 21st-century activism is complex, persistent and all-pervasive. Governments and businesses will have no choice but to reinvent themselves to be more open, accountable, people-centered in the coming years. This not only requires us to rethink mechanisms for civic participation and people-centered accountability at the level of global and multilateral institutions but also requires a radical change in the way public and private institutions operate at national and local levels.

As evidenced in this pandemic-related survey on sustained support systems for civil society,  every country must put in place the infrastructure and investment needed for a strong, well-networked, and fully empowered civil society. We need stronger national and international laws that protect civil society and civic freedoms, and we need greater public engagement to demand and ensure the effective implementation of these laws. People of all ages and affiliations should have the means and resources to actively understand, influence, and engage with public policies. In addition to this, we need to foster dialogue & initiative across all sections of society and demonstrate an inclusive approach to leadership that celebrates a creative & collaborative engagement with diversity and dissent.

In Solidarity, 
Lysa John

 

It is up to you and I to be the pillar for those struggling in Myanmar right now

 Par Tha HniangPar Tha Hniang, Texas, United States of America

Par Tha Hniang is a youth member of the Bethel Baptist Church of Texas in Lewisville. She is from the Chin community, a persecuted ethnic group from western Myanmar, and lived there until she was seven. Many of her family members are back home. Lewisville is home to around 4,000 Chin refugees, making it one of the largest ethnic groups in town. Par Hniang is part of the Chin Youth Organization of Dallas (CYO Dallas) and the Chin Youth Organization of North America (CYONA). 


This is her story:

“As I watch my brothers and sisters in Myanmar crying out helplessly, I can’t help but feel heartbroken. I am constantly brought to tears as I hear and see what is happening in Myanmar. Anger at the evil intentions of the military is also inevitable. God tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, but it is certainly hard to contain one's emotions especially when blood is constantly being spilled. 

As part of the youth at Bethel Baptist Church of Texas we have sold our Chin traditional food, sabuti, as a fundraiser. There were so many supportive people and each time it was sold out within an hour or two. Although we made more each time, it continued to be sold out and many of our parents donated extra as well. 

As Chin Youth Organization Dallas we have held a concert to fundraise and have participated in protests organised in various places by the ethic groups of Myanmar. As a youth of Chin Baptist Churches of America (CBCUSA), we each have donated $100 or more to the Civil Disobedience Movement. Par Tha Hniang Protest

I like to believe that I am active in my community and always looking to improve my home country. The events in Myanmar are slightly different as we know what our brothers and sisters are going through from our own experience. The fact that our friends and family members are suffering fuels us with anger. We want nothing to do with the Burmese Military anymore, it is the feeling of now or never. We are tired of experiencing the same bondage over and over again. It is time for new leaders to arise and build a military that protects its citizens rather than one that is a parasite.

I have noticed that hashtags regarding Myanmar barely exist compared to other causes. We must tell our friends in our schools, contact our local news, authorities, our representatives and show them there are voters that care about this cause. 

There should be no country supporting this coup. Even if all you can do is post a picture on social media, that is 100 times better than doing nothing. It is up to you and I to be the pillar for those struggling in Myanmar right now.”


Captions: Par Tha Hniang; Par Tha Hniang protesting for Myanmar in Dallas, Texas. (Copyright: Par Tha Hniang.)

 

Labour activists and unions stepped up to defend workers during the pandemic

 

By Josef Benedict, CIVICUS Monitor

Across the globe every year, workers and trade unions gather together on 1 May which is Labour Day to commemorate the hard-fought struggle for labour rights and to make demands of their governments’ where they are failing to protect workers. 

The last year has been particular painful for workers across the Asia Pacific region. According to the International Labour Organisation, a total of 81 million jobs are estimated to have been lost in the region in 2020, due to the pandemic.  The impact of the crisis was far-reaching, with underemployment surging as millions of workers were asked to work reduced hours or no hours at all.

Although there have been various commitments made at the national and international level to address inequalities exposed during the pandemic and to ‘build back better', in a number of countries in the Asia region, governments and businesses attempted to use the opportunity of the pandemic to erode and restrict workers’ and unions’ rights, deny them wages and force them to work in unsafe conditions and even remove them from their jobs. 

One glaring example has been in Indonesia where the authorities bulldozed a controversial job creation law through parliament during the pandemic. The government claimed the law was aimed to improve bureaucratic efficiency and cut red tape, particularly in regard to business permits and investment but has been criticised by workers, human rights activists, academics fearing that that it would erode workers’ protections and trigger job insecurity. 

Thousands of workers and trade unions took to the streets in 2020 to protest the law but were met with arbitrary arrests, excessive use of force by the police. Even journalists were not spared. Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security affairs Mohammad Mahfud also attempted to smear the protesters, by telling a televised news conference that the protests were being led by anarchists “aimed at creating chaos and fear in society”. 

In Malaysia, in March 2020, police arrested and charged five labour activists and supporters of the National Union of Workers in Hospital Support and Allied Services (NUWHSAS) who has organised a protest outside a hospital in Ipoh to highlight concerns about cleaners working in state-run hospitals who lacked adequate protective gear against infections, which puts them at risk during the pandemic. Health workers have also been subjected to harassment, victimisation and union-busting activities. 

Malaysian union leader N. Gopal Kishnam also faced government harassment after speaking in a news report by a United Kingdom broadcast, Channel 4 News in June 2020 on the safety and health of workers exporting personal protective equipment at rubber glove manufacturer Top Glove. 

Migrant workers have also faced the brunt of the pandemic with many forced to work in unsafe conditions or not paid wages and others facing racism and xenophobia.  Often, they had very few avenues for redress and when they did speak up, often faced reprisals. 

In the Maldives, in June 2020 migrant workers At least 80 persons – mostly migrant workers - were detained for protesting against unpaid salaries, inhumane conditions and labour rights violations.  Authorities invoked national security to detain the workers.

Despite this, the  CIVICUS Monitor, a global tool tracking civic space, documented how labour activists, trade unions and others also mobilised to push back on these violations despite attempts to silence their voices.

In South Korea, in November 2020,  tens of thousands of workers demonstrated across South Korea calling on the government to withdraw a regressive labour law revision which would ban workers from occupying certain facilities at workplaces during strikes. These amendments were in violation of the principles of freedom of association existing recommendations by the tripartite ILO Committee on Freedom of Association.

Unions leaders also took on businesses trying to use the opportunity of the pandemic to target trade unions and sack workers. In Cambodia, Soy Sros, a female union leader, stepped up when approximately 100 workers in a handbag factory were told their jobs would not be renewed in March 2020 due to the coronavirus crisis. The factory also suspended unions members including a pregnant woman. When the management refused to meet her, she criticised the decision on social media. Subsequently, all the workers had their contracts renewed. However, Soy Sros ended in detention because of the social media post. After mobilisation by activists and trade unions, Soy Sros was subsequently released after being detained without trial for nearly two months. 

In Taiwan, Migrants Empowerment Network in Taiwan (MENT), an alliance of migrant workers’ groups mobilised protests in May 2020 outside the Ministry of Labour in Taipei calling on the government to guarantee safer working conditions for migrant workers. The protesters said that employers had barred migrant workers from going outside due to the COVID-19 pandemic, while other workers have been unable to return to their jobs in Taiwan or visit their home countries.

According to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the pandemic has shown the key role played by labour activists and unions in defending employment and wages and campaigning for decent health and safety at work. In some cases, the pandemic has also accelerated the experience of virtual organising – over Zoom or other internet platforms. Unions represented workers threatened with being laid off, pushed for adequate severance pay, sought expanded access to social protection and raised the concerns of women workers who faced even greater discrimination and of migrant workers denied equal access and equal treatment.

Instead of repressing their voices, it is crucial that moving forward that governments and businesses in the Asia region recognise the vital role that labour activists and unions play in representing working people ,  respect the fundamental rights and freedoms and engage them with them if they truly want to build back better.  

 

 

Intimidation, censorship and defamation in the virtual sphere

In Syria, hundreds of thousands of people have died since 2011. Numerous human rights violations have taken place during the Syrian crisis - arbitrary detentions, torture, assassination of journalists and the violent repression of protests, make Syria one of the most volatile countries in the Middle East and North Africa. This region has the worst record for human rights globally; crackdowns on civic and democratic rights are frequent and widespread, and journalists and human rights defenders continue to bear the brunt of authoritarian regimes. Life is particularly hard for women; across the region, the repression of women and those advocating for women’s rights continues.  

Originally from Syria, Weaam Youssef is Programme Manager for Women Human Rights Defenders for the Gulf Region and Neighboring Countries. This is her story:

Report, block, speak up, reflect, seek help digitally, and practice self-care

As an exiled human rights advocate and a feminist coming from a volatile country, I find the online space is sometimes the only cosmos where I can interact with fellow activists and feminists from the same region and beyond. Yet the virtual world is packed with complex challenges and uncertainties. Its backdoors and obscure pathways can lead to jeopardies, persecution, and unanticipated impairments.

As someone who works on women’s rights by profession and embraces feminism by passion, I tend to use my words as my advocacy tools - written, spoken or conveyed in any way through solidarity and compassion. It is imperative to be assertive in a changeable world, but most importantly, to be ready to be proactive in an interactive space.

Before the COVID-19 crisis and the world awakening to the misinformation and information associated with it, and even before we were all forced to work online as part of the imposed lockdowns, activists from all around the world had already resolved to use online spaces as alternatives to the vicious physical ones. But even in the online sphere, we have been faced with constant intimidation, censorship, prosecution, defamation and electronic armies that strived to confiscate freedoms and attempted to steal our voices, our words. 

There have even been unarticulated threats, such as the development of Cyberlaws and anti-cybercrime laws, that are mainly designed to silence rights activists and defenders’ free speech and control any anti-government tweets and posts.

After the Syrian revolution started in 2011, and by taking inspiration from other revolutions in the region, social media contributed to breaking the fear imposed on us for decades and helped to mobilise efforts, convey solidarity and share learnt lessons. However, this has put many at risk of detention and resulted in a severe backlash from the government’s forces. The violence perpetrated by the Syrian government has put hundreds of thousands in prisons; many have been detained, tortured or have forcibly disappeared

Sometimes, if we survived, we found ourselves in the limbo of exile, participating in online demonstrations and campaigns. Safety remains relatively challenged. If we are unharmed physically, we may lose ourselves in the oblivion of self-flagellation for our insufficient activism, helplessness and inability to be physically present to be part of these unprecedented demands for freedom and dismantling authoritarianism. Yet, despite the internal struggle, we are often called traitors, home country destructors, agents for foreign agendas and more.

These challenges have never stopped for once, as online harassment mainly affects us as women and, even more, if we are activists. However, this form of gender-based violence continues to vary in its techniques yet is uniform in its cruelty.

As someone who is - most of the time - wearing so many hats, my work in human rights makes it extremely difficult for me to alienate myself from the other women activists and feminists, especially when speaking up about harassment in all forms and shapes.  Every single story I heard, every online incident I witnessed, every case I documented or supported has not only touched me, but it scared me forever! And pushed me to do what I do every day. Despite the burnout, the blemishes and the vulnerability that might put me off for days, these stories push me to work determinedly for years.

A week ago, I found myself navigating the newest social media platform, Clubhouse, speaking about the status of women in Arab countries, their challenges and risks; they are called extremist, hysterical, social disruptor, a traitor to religions, traditions and Arab society morals, only for advocating for women’s rights and speaking up about equality, abolishing patriarchy and demolishing authoritarianism. 

The struggle is real and continues to correlate with the COVID related challenges, as harassers are now spending the majority of their time online to enjoy their favourite hobbies of fabrications, gender-specific verbal abuses, virtual sexual harassments and cyberbullying. 

It is unfortunate that harassment reporting mechanisms remain chaotic and arbitrary in many cases, as abusers tend to create multiple accounts with fake names and identities to expand their abuse scale and make it difficult to track them and end their online violence. At the same time, online protection remains unfitting when women are twice as likely as men to experience sexual harassment online and less likely to take action and ask for help. For now, my advice to myself and all women: report, block, speak up, reflect, seek help digitally and practice self-care! 

 

Building a diverse global team of activist for social transformation: Welcoming the CIVICUS Youth Action Team 2021-22

We at CIVICUS Youth are very thankful to the Youth Action Team (YAT) 2019-2020, a group of accomplished and inspiring young leaders from all over the world who work together for a year and a half to instill a more youth-friendly vision within CIVICUS and act as an inspiration for other organisations across the world to have youth at the center and make decisions that do not leave behind the power of 1.8 billion, the largest youth generation that the world has ever seen.

CIVICUS YAT 2021 22 4The YAT was actively engaged in the process of design, selection and identification of the next generation of this team. Each one became an ambassador in their own region to disseminate the call for applications with local activists, thus helping us to have a presence in communities that otherwise we would have missed. Then, they provided useful ideas to better assess  applications, like having less but more provocative questions that got to the core of the activism of the applicants. Finally, they help to assess the profiles of the incoming YAT and choose the most promising profiles to create a team that is complementary and can harness diversity as a key asset to foster innovation and a global community ready to tackle local challenges.

The key criteria used included: their experience as an activist and part of a larger youth-led organisation, their passion, commitment and resourcefulness; having a good understanding of CIVICUS Youth; skills and resources that can nurture and be nurtured by a global community of activists and; have an endorsement of an organisation/movement/collective that can confidently assess their leadership skills, proactiveness and capacity for mobilisation for social causes. Through these elements, it was easier to identify holistic profiles that would highly benefit from being part of a larger network with global reach and influence.

After this careful selection process, the new YAT comprises a gender-balanced group with 7 females and 6 males, representing the Americas and the Caribbean, Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Europe and Middle East and North Africa. It has activists as young as 18 years old and up to 30 years old, with experience ranging from global organisations like UNICEF, One Young World, and Amnesty International, to regional networks like the Afrika Youth Movement and local groups such as Ayudando a Honduras or One Future Collective. A mix of storytellers, grassroots activists, international advocates, social entrepreneurs, organisers, mobilisers and researchers, the team has an ample skill set to approach local challenges with a global perspective. The YAT 2021-22 includes an LGBTI rights activist and a champion for the inclusion of young people living with disabilities. While individually, each one has their own niche area of focus, collectively they can instill social change. However, it is not only about young people. Kejal Slava from India, the convener of the Blue Ribbon Movement – a group aiming to redefine leadership structure and use nonviolent practices – says that a world with meaningful youth engagement would be painted with colours of inter-generational wisdom, that creates space for everyone to learn and creatively act together. Yi Kang Choo, a law student of human rights from Malaysia adds that it is a world where national leaders and young people lead together, working as partners with equal relevance and value.

It has been a short while of getting to know each other so far and they have set the courageous vision of creating a powerful ecosystem of transformation, where the youth is at the center and challenges the status quo through togetherness and diversity. This might be the start of a shift that expands throughout the CIVICUS alliance and beyond.

 

Strengthening young activists by tagging-in local mentors and standing back

By CIVICUS youth

youth action lab logo finalOn the celebration of the International Youth month in August 2020, CIVICUS Youth launched a new mentorship format for the ten participants of the Youth Action Lab. The Youth Action Lab is a pilot project that seeks to test ways to strengthen youth activism in the global south. In the first year we learned how to better resource the next generation of changemakers in civil society through different approaches and the most valuable one was the mentorship component of the Lab.

Why mentorship was part of the Youth Action Lab

During the design phase of the Lab in 2019, the co-design team, composed of nine young grassroots activists itself, said that a mentorship or bespoke support component was necessary to support young activists to strengthen their activism strategies. Furthermore, other research from CIVICUS previous pilot projects with young activists, such as the Goalkeepers and interviews with other organisations working with youth, also highlighted the importance of mentorship and how valued it is by young people. Therefore, we knew that mentorship had to be a key part of the Lab to strengthen the efficiency, resilience and sustainability of youth movements advancing social justice agendas at the local level. With the support of an Advisory Group, we framed the mentorship as a horizontal learning exchange between the Lab participants and experienced civil society partners - not a traditional hierarchical mentorship. We wanted both parties to learn and grow from the experience in a safe and respectful space.

How did the Lab learning partnership start?

By the end of August 2020, each of the ten Lab participants identified a thematic and a technical learning partner to engage with over the course of 6 months. The Lab participants chose the themes and technical areas based on their area of work, geographic location, and previous skills needs assessment. Reflecting the diversity of the Lab participants themselves, there was a range of themes such as feminist leadership in the Pacific, Indigenous Rights Advocacy in the Philippines and rights of rural trans sex workers, women and youth in Uganda. Laber’s skills need assessment also showed diverse needs, so there were technical partners covering project management, budget management, and volunteer coordination to mention a few. In two cases, the thematic and technical partners were the same person, but in most cases, these were two separate experienced civil society partners. A really innovative arrangement came from the Lab participant Seif from Tunisia. He was interested in completing a film project during his lab year, so he decided to use his video service provider as his learning partner. This allowed him to learn directly with his partner by completing a project together. It was an arrangement outside of how we had conceived the partnership but led to an impressive body of work and skills transfer.

Seven of the ten Lab participants identified people they already knew and three were introduced to each other by CIVICUS. We tried to have the learning partner in the same country as the Lab participant and this worked for those that identified their own, but the CIVICUS matches were in different countries than the Lab participant. The CIVICUS matches also took longer to find which meant they did not get the full six months. Having the partner in-country was a high predictor and factor for success.

Once the learning partner confirmed interest in participating, CIVICUS sent a formal invitation, including the expectations: time commitment of six months, two sessions a month, one hour a session, USD900 stipend for the full commitment. If the learning partner accepted, they sent back their CV and three references. CIVICUS sent them a contract, workplan template and care pack which included information about CIVICUS, the Lab, CIVICUS Diversity & Inclusion Statement, accountability mechanisms, and how to create teams and psychological safety. They had one month to complete the workplan and submit it to the CIVICUS Youth coordination team along with the signed contract. The workplan was a one-pager that asked: what is the knowledge or skill you want to build, the projected outcome, the skills needed and the target completion date that the Lab participant and the learning partner agreed on.

The workplan was the only formal deliverable in the program. It was up to each of the partnerships to determine the times, ways and methods to best accomplish the desired objectives. Therefore, they had the flexibility to proceed with the meetings in the ways and times that worked best for them. They decided how to best use their time. For many, they had conversations on networking and advocacy plans. The learning partners filled many different roles over the six months – sometimes as advisors, sometimes cheerleaders, and sometimes actively making connections. For example, one learning partner helped connect the Lab participant to someone in government for an interview that furthered their activist objectives.

What were the key ingredients of the Learning Partnership?

Offering a stipend to a civil society leader or specialist in the area of interest of the Lab participant for their time mentoring them allowed both the Lab participant and learning partner to engage in a committed relationship structured by a contract moderated by a third party and in a space where the time of both partners was respected and valued. It was an investment in local network strengthening and provided flexibility within clear objectives and structure. Both aspects have been shown to be ways CIVICUS can add value and provide a high-quality experience for participants.

Relationships are key to building leadership and that takes time. Therefore, a space within a program to really invest in challenges and working
with young leaders expands our understanding of the reality they live in while also working together to grow through it. The Program is quite
open and flexible without a lot of complicated systems or interference from the CIVICUS team, thus giving ownership to the participant to work
the way that is best for them
.’ - Youth Action Lab Learning Partner

We evaluated the programme with the most recognised standard, the Net Promoter Score (NPS) and it scored 92, which falls into the highest range: World-class. The learning partners all showed up for a final reflection session to share what worked and what to improve for the next round. The learning partners said it was a good experience because they learned about how to be mentors and about the struggle of the work of young activists in their countries. Because the learning partners were in the same country as the Lab participant in most cases, they could really provide specific and personalised advice better than what CIVICUS could provide. The Lab participants noted how important this was and it highlighted that for a global organisation like CIVICUS, it could not provide such bespoke support that a local experienced civil society leader could for these youth activists. They specifically mentioned that they really appreciated the workplan template, the autonomy, and the flexibility.

‘The learning partners helped expand on practical and contextualized knowledge I needed in my work, especially because they were also focused
on the same area, which for me is Indigenous knowledge in the Philippines. The programme also allowed me to gain more relevant skills such
as comms.’ - Kinja Tauli, Youth Action Lab participant

Despite the high score, the learning partners and lab participants still had ways we could improve. They highlighted that six months was too short, therefore, the 2021 cohort of the Youth Action Lab will have a ten month instead of six-month learning partner engagement. From the feedback session, we learned that some additional support on tracking the journey and sharing what is learned would be welcomed. As such, the new resources will include tools to track the progress of their learning journey through outcomes and story harvesting. And if interested, they will also have the possibility to write a blog post capturing the highlights of their work as learning partners.

To keep following the progress and learnings of the Youth Action Lab, subscribe to e-CIVICUS and join the Facebook group: CIVICUS youth united!

 

Deepening Roots: How our partners are doing nine months on

PJL9 Symposium

Photo: Projet Jeune Leader

By Jack Cornforth, Resilient Roots Coordinator, CIVICUS

Towards the end of 2020, we spoke to many of our national partners from the initial phase of the Resilient Roots initiative to find out how they are doing nine months after our financial and technical support for their pilot accountability projects ended (see them on our interactive map). Overall, the news was very encouraging, with the vast majority reporting sustained positive outcomes from this work, including ways it has enhanced their ability to cope with challenges related to Covid-19. Several key themes came through strongly:

Deepening and expanding accountability policies and practices

All partners have continued their accountability practices in one form or another, with most actually going a step further to deepen or expand their efforts. They told us this was because of multiple positive outcomes from the pilot phase, ranging from more engaged and active constituents, to a more collaborative and transparent internal working culture. 

This ongoing work has included training more staff and partners on the topic, new rounds of surveying constituents to assess organisational accountability, the maturing of new constituent-driven organisational bodies like Video Volunteers Council (India),  or even electing constituent representatives to the board of directors (PCCDS, Palestine). For many partners, this has enabled them to go beyond simply asking for feedback about their performance, to adopting an inclusive planning approach that directly involves constituents and wider stakeholders. Projet Jeune Leader (PJL) in Madagascar, for instance, have expanded their now annual partner school learning and planning symposium to involve a wider group of constituents. This includes school directors, whose involvement has been vital for embedding their programmes within the curriculum, aligning goals and how to measure them, and reducing pushback from skeptical parents.

In Peru, Kusi Warma has found that being more consultative when deciding what they do and how they do it - as well as transparent about how tight their budgets are - has helped the community to step up and take charge. For their new community kitchen project, for instance, the organisation provides support and advice but decisions are made by local people. Similarly, PJL is now attempting to run its programmes in twice as many locations by putting its trust in local delivery partners to roll out its activities more independently, whereas Poverty Reduction Forum Trust (PRFT, Zimbabwe) has enabled its constituents to play a more direct role in their advocacy work.

Accountability to staff

It was also wonderful to hear many organisations reinforce that being more transparent with their own staff, and taking a more inclusive approach to organisational planning and decision making is absolutely critical for both a healthy internal working culture and external accountability efforts. In Russia, OVD-Info has now created a specific action plan for increasing accountability to their staff, which includes clarifying their structure, values, and how decisions are made, while in Greece, Solidarity Now attributed its ability to more quickly close the feedback loop with its constituents to improved communication channels between different delivery partners. Others have started internal newsletters, and even developed a new scorecard system where educators can assess their supervisors and feel more energised as a result of having a greater voice. 

Engaging in the context of COVID-19

All partners reported a range of new challenges associated with the pandemic, including their ability to maintain a two-way flow of information with their constituents as virtually all engagement has moved online. Some have been able to help bridge the gap, such as PCCDS’ provision of microgrants to constituents for the purchase of mobile data. However, despite these efforts, many people have remained almost impossible to reach or include in activities. As a result, PRFT said that both the quantity and quality of feedback they’ve received has dropped. 

PCCDS 2

Photo: Palestinian Centre for Communication and Development

Nevertheless, several partners said that they were better prepared for the shift to virtual-only engagement because of their improved understanding of who their constituents are and how they prefer to communicate, and having multiple online channels already up and running. Kusi Warma, for instance, switched to primarily engaging their communities through telephone conversations. But they have also regularly sent simple staff-shot mobile phone videos with information and advice, so people can see who they have been talking to.

Adapting to new constituent needs

Many partners told us that the upheaval from Covid-19 has required them to pause, ask what their constituents need during this time, and adapt their activities accordingly. This has ranged from providing badly needed new services, such as psychological support for families hit hard by the pandemic, or even helping ensure access to clean water - something totally new for child rights and education organisation Educo (Nicaragua). Other shifts have been more subtle, with human rights watchdog OVD-Info eventually meeting increasing demands from their constituents to provide guidance on quarantine-related restrictions, despite them initially seeing this as out of scope for them. Whereas FemPlatz in Serbia helped to address changing constituent needs more indirectly by connecting them with other organisations who could provide the services they needed.   

Accountability for resilience 

Several organisations explained that the ability to pivot and meet the changing needs of their constituents is itself crucial for organisational resilience. Even if their accountability practice isn’t directly helping to counter closing civic space, which has made the work of several partners during the pandemic not just harder but in some cases more dangerous, there was a clear feeling that maintaining community trust and support is key to organisational survival. Furthermore, several organisations have been able to successfully integrate their accountability work into subsequent grants - including from a new domestic donor for PCCDS - and use the positive outcomes from these efforts so far to sell themselves to donors in what has become an increasingly tough fundraising environment.  

Supporting Others

Many partners have also been able to share their new-found accountability expertise with wider audiences. By regularly telling the story of their successes and lessons learned, PJL has been building a new evidence base on how to effectively build community support for sex education programmes in socially consertaive contexts. In this regard, their regular magazine isn’t just important for closing the feedback loop with the communities they work with, it’s also a key advocacy tool. Similarly, PCCDS has produced what it believes to be the first guide to good accountability practice for organisations in the Palestinian context. And in Serbia, FemPlatz used their growing network and enhanced consultation skills to bring many of their partners together to discuss how the pandemic has affected their constituents, and how their organisations can adapt to help meet these changing needs. What’s more, they have also provided recommendations to both partners and donors about how to support women with disabilities, as a group hit particularly hard by the impacts of Covid-19. Overall, there was also much interest from the partners in engaging more with CIVICUS and its wider members on accountability work. 

Beyond the progress made by each partner, reconnecting with these colleagues has been an important way for CIVICUS to sense-check our approach and validate our ongoing organisational commitment to taking this work to wider audiences. But it has also provided us with further lessons and good practices that others can learn from and adapt to their own contexts. In this regard, we look forward to continuing our collaboration with these important accountability ambassadors, including via the Dynamic Accountability Community of Practice (please do join up!). You can also read this summary of the Resilient Roots phase two, which we have been implementing since July 2020, and join our mailing list to receive updates and opportunities related to the initiative. 


For more info, contact  

A massive thank you to Hannah Wheatley and Oriana Castillo for helping to craft our approach and conducting the interviews, as well as to our amazing partners for doing such an incredible job at taking their constituent accountability practice to new heights!

 

2020 to reshape the future of humanity

By Hafiz Jawad Sohail, Climate Reality Leader and SDGs Advocate from Pakistan

2020 was a year of real superheroes. Never before has there been a borderless event of this magnitude that has influenced our thinking, lifestyle, decision making, and inter-dependence. Local and global dynamics have totally changed and 2020 has not been a normal year in any way. 

We cannot deny the fact that this year was dramatic and horrific for many of us. On top of nearly two million deaths from the virus there has also been a rise in domestic violence, unemployment and economic instability. Disinformation was also widespread and the role of social media was criticised for not fulfilling its due responsibilities. COVID- 19 disrupted the operational capabilities of businesses across the globe and put in danger many small and medium enterprises. In short, this year has changed the economic, political, social and environmental dynamics forever. 

Now we realise the devastation caused by the pandemic but COVID-19 has also acted as a wake-up call for all of us to adapt to the changing environment and to reimagine the roles of industry, government, and civil society. We saw many positive things this year and believe me, the events of 2020 are going to reshape the future of humanity. For instance, this was the year of creativity, digital connectivity, virtual events, remote working, innovation, and dare I say evidence-based decision-making. We saw many inventions in the field of healthcare, fintech, and online education. We also witnessed many acts of kindness & charity, sacrifice, and gained a new appreciation for those that work on the frontlines. This was also the year of social activism, women leadership, and Black Lives Matter. 

There has also been a greater demand for accountability and transparency in decision making, inclusive of all sectors. We also looked back at our food production strategies and the risks facing our global supply chains. During this year we also talked about the prospects of digitalization, the digital economy, green finance, data protection, and the importance of cybersecurity. Most importantly, our planet got a breather after many centuries of resource-intensive industrialization. In a year that science could not be denied, many of the skeptics finally woke up to both the crisis and the opportunity of climate change.

As we welcome another new year, we also have many challenges ahead of us in 2021. Successful recovery requires redesigning our economies so that we prioritise sustainability over short term profits. Building back better will also require us addressing rising inequality. The distribution of the coronavirus vaccine will be a critical test to see if we are serious about equitable access to public goods.

 

Persevering through the pandemic

Message from Lysa John, CIVICUS SG

Dear CIVICUS members and allies,

What a year it has been! 2020 came with so many new challenges - both personally and professionally.  Many in the alliance reported new and worrying civic space restrictions taking root, shrinking funding, and vital activities forced to a standstill under lockdowns and health concerns. 

Yet, we have persevered as an Alliance. Both at the Secretariat and across the world, activism shifted online, we found new ways to convene and conduct research, and adjusted programming to address new realities shaped by the pandemic. Listening to the Alliance, work at the secretariat largely focused on resourcing, rights, and resilience. Recent months have been just as busy: 

  • We published 2 thought-provoking research reports  - you can learn more about People Power Under Attack or read inspiring stories of Solidarity in the Time of Covid-19 
  • The first series of ICSW virtual events has been completed - 7 unique conversations,  11 hours of streaming,  41 speakers from 25 countries, with over 650 attendees! 
  • Linked to Human Rights Day and 16 Days of Activism, we continued to encourage people to #StandAsMyWitness and celebrated the release of 2 featured HRDS since the start of the campaign in July. 
  • We’re expanding our network of member spokespeople across the globe, with a pilot group already taking part in media training. 

We’ve just wrapped up the virtual CIVICUS Annual General Meeting held 7-11 December 2020, an opportunity to reflect on our collective strength and discuss priorities going forward. Members reviewed the annual report, connected with each other, and participated in events about resourcing, how language shapes narratives, the #StandAsMyWitness campaign, and diversity & inclusion.

Recently, CIVICUS undertook a scoping exercise with staff, board, and selected members thinking about challenges facing our sector and how we could innovatively respond to these. We used a design thinking approach and held online engagements with 80+ individuals and came out with 10 ideas that we are integrating into our planning and programming in the coming year.

This coming year we'll be reaching out to the alliance to explore post-pandemic re-building for good and piloting a new member to member communications platform.  We’ll also be celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the publishing of the State of Civil Society Report! Building on virtual events this year, the revisioned 2021 ICSW journey will continue to be a space for civil society to connect; watch for the open call for innovation awards nominations in early 2021 to celebrate the best civil society has to offer. Innovation Awards. 

In January, CIVICUS is pleased to welcome newly elected board members. I’d like to thank all of the outgoing board members for their work with and commitment to CIVICUS, and look forward to working with the incoming members. 

CIVICUS offices will be closed from 24 December to 4 January. I look forward to connecting with all of you again next year. It is my great honour to work with such inspiring activists and organisations that make up the CIVICUS Alliance, who are daring to organise and mobilise in new and creative ways, pushing back against threats to democracy, and raising their voices for change. 

In solidarity,
Lysa John
Secretary-General, CIVICUS

STANDASMYWITNESS COVER   PPUA cover
      
Twitter PPUA 2020 top violations regions 12   ICSW2020 Cover

 

 

#SiConLasOSC - Yes with CSOs!

By Oriana Castillo, CIVICUS

In July 2019, the VUKA! Coalition, a group working to coordinate civil society actors to reclaim civic space across the globe, supported VUKA! ally Alternativas y Capacidades to bring together 25 CSOs from across Mexico for a pilot workshop on strategies to counteract the stigmatisation and demonisation of civil society in the country.

Ori blog

There is a growing perception of insecurity and corruption in the country, which has affected everything, including public perceptions of CSOs.[1] Mexico’s corruption index, as announced by Transparency International, is one of the worst in the region.[2] Furthermore, the CIVICUS Monitor lists Mexico’s civic space as “Restricted”, with many CSOs facing surveillance, harassment and intimidation from the government or other non-state actors like organised crime groups like the drug cartels.[3] One tactic used by actors who are trying to avoid scrutiny from CSOs is to undermine their legitimacy via campaigns to discredit their work and leaders, which has contributed to a narrative that CSOs are also part of the country’s corruption problem.

Therefore despite a fairly strong institutional framework on paper, much of the country continues to lack a political and legal culture in which CSOs are able to operate freely and hold decision makers to account.[4] In order to maintain their independence from those in power, there is therefore much onus on CSOs to be transparent and rigorous in their approaches, as well as vigorously defend their space and access to resources.

Against this backdrop, the workshop brought participants together to explore ways to directly confront the discrediting messages they face. This included via campaigns to share impact stories through videos and other accessible formats, to change the narrative about the role and work of Mexican civil society. As a next step, allies in Mexico created a civil society campaign called #SiConLasOSC (Yes with CSOs), which currently involves more than 200 groups. In particular, #SiConLasOSC aims to rebuild trust and awareness of the role CSOs play in the community and the positive effects their work has in the country.

For example, CSOs are currently generating the equivalent of 3% of Mexico’s GDP and reinvesting that money in promoting social welfare, providing public services such as education and health to vulnerable population groups, renewing and safeguarding the environment, and preventing domestic violence directed towards women and children.[5]

One of the coalition’s strengths is the diversity and plurality it represents, with a presence throughout the country, and most importantly, a clear understanding of the needs of the population. Now more than 1.5 million people work for organisations involved in the campaign, who have a further 2 million volunteers all around the country.

They have gained legitimacy by listening to those communities they seek to represent, but also by working together they have generated fresh momentum for their respective causes. The organisation Fondo Guadalupe Musalem, for instance, which advocates for women’s rights, is helping members of indigenous groups to access formal education. Whereas another organisation, ASHOKA, created an alliance with American Express to host a workshop on Social Entrepreneurship for Development, in order to address needs related to income generation identified by the communities they work with.

The support these organisations give to the excluded communities has proven to be effective in reclaiming spaces and overcoming previously hostile attitudes and perceived connections to the corruption and waste that continues to contribute to poverty, violence and lack of access to health and educational services.

By bridging divisions, offering support, and fighting government laws that promote the use of “legitimate” force against protests, for example, the organisations involved in the campaign are attempting to strengthen a culture of citizen participation, accountability, and create a sense of community. Furthermore, the coalition has accrued legitimacy by constantly demonstrating how they are spending and investing their money, and explicitly communicating how their activities are helping community-embedded CSOs in Mexico to flourish. And, in doing so, they continue to say “yes with CSOs” and the fight for further public support. #SiConLasOSC!
 

 

[1] Una fotografía de la Sociedad Civil en México

[2] México detiene caída en el Índice de Percepción de la Corrupción: Transparencia Mexicana

[3] CIVICUS Monitor: Mexico

[4] Una fotografía de la Sociedad Civil en México

[5] Picture translated by the authors. For the original version please visit Alternativas y Capacidades

 

Low engagement in virtual events: are we lacking digital confidence?

As virtual events become more relevant in our lives, we need to analyse what elements are limiting people’s willingness or capacity to engage with others in the virtual space

By Richa Puri

This year is like no other. The COVID-19 pandemic has left most of us trapped in the world of video-calling interfaces and virtual interactions. But are we all comfortable enough interacting and expressing ourselves in this new space? After being part of the ICSW team organising seven virtual events this year, I have the feeling that the answer is no.

We had webinars where participants were very engaged. They commented in the chatbox, posted questions in the Q&A box, and even raised their hands to give an opinion in front of the camera during breakout room sessions. But in some events, engagement was low. And I saw this happening more and more in other online events outside ICSW as well.

With my anthropological lens, I tried to analyse the hidden reasons leading to this dwindling engagement in webinars and online meetings. Are we experiencing virtual hesitation, shyness, anxiety, social phobia, fatigue or fear? Do we need to build or boost our digital confidence?

I believe that a mix of those factors can undermine the digital confidence of people attending virtual events and limit their willingness or capacity to engage with others. Maybe some are too shy to speak in front of a camera or to take the microphone. Others could be intimidated by “high profile” speakers, experts or peers in the audience, and that could stop them from sharing their views, opinions or asking questions even in a written way. Nowadays, many events offer simultaneous interpretation (we did in every ICSW/virtual event), but if it is not provided, attendees who do not feel confident communicating in the main language of the event may choose not to engage, not even writing comments or questions.

To some extent, people may experience social anxiety induced by the idea of being negatively judged by other attendees and organisers during online events.

Of course, low levels of engagement could be influenced by other elements not linked to digital confidence. Maybe the event is just not engaging. Attendees may be multitasking or have a poor internet connection that limits their interaction. The kind of device used to join an online event also plays a critical role in increasing the attention span and lowering participation.

For example, while using Zoom on mobile phones, attendees cannot see the live stream and access the chatbox at the same time because screens are too small. In this case, it is understandable that some people prefer to focus on watching the presentation, the speaker or the performance rather than exchanging comments.

Online communication is here to stay. That means that we need to pay more attention to digital confidence and to any other digital challenges and gaps that reduce the meaningful engagement of participants in online meetings and events.

The ICSW 2020-21 journey will continue next year and while we may focus more on local, in-person events (if the sanitary situation allows it), virtual events will continue to be a part of our global conversation about people power. We will increase our efforts to make this conversation more interactive, including finding ways to strengthen the digital confidence of those who join this journey.

 

The humanising power of art in virtual events

By Bistra Kumbaroska

“...Do whatever it takes to fuel the fire, fuel the fight
Take a knee, march for your lives…
They will give us hashtags and petitions
We will rewrite the narrative, we will be the revolutionaries...”

-Tarryn Booysen, South Africa

 

In May, we hosted a webinar that opened up our eyes about how powerful art could be to deepen connection in online events. During the event, “Why Positive Narratives are Critical to People Power” organised with Innovation for Change, participants joined different breakout rooms and one was hosted by ArtLords, an Afghanistan-based grassroots movement that shared how they promote social transformation through wall murals and art. The interest and engagement in that breakout room were outstanding! Participants could not get enough of the murals and community building activities presented by ArtLords. They also shared their own passion and similar projects using art for change in their countries.

At that moment, we were a couple of months into the pandemic and most online event organisers had noticed that people were experiencing online fatigue and low energy, were bored of stiff webinar formats and uninspiring content and needed more human connection. Planning for our next event, we knew that we needed to go beyond the panel format. Inspired by the wonderful experience with ArtLords, we decided to dedicate our next webinar completely to art.

Our colleagues at DIGNA, the Diversity & Inclusion Group for Networking and Action, co-organised and co-hosted that webinar with us. They came up with a brilliant concept that resulted in the most unusual, vibrant and human event of our ICSW/virtual series: a live art showcase under the title Artivism for Inclusion (artivism is the intersection between art and activism).

The DIGNA team opened a call for art submissions and received a vast number of submissions from artivists all around the world. Ten artivists were chosen to present their work or perform during the live show. The group was a mix of talented poets, writers, musicians, muralists and collage artists who are activists in areas like feminism, land rights, human rights, youth activism, anti-racism and LGBTI rights, among others.

The Artivism for Inclusion showcase went live on July 1st, 2020. The artivists delivered the most powerful, vulnerable, honest and courageous performances and interventions to present their work and share the stories behind it. From the first presentation and until the last one, attendees flooded the chatbox with admiration and thank you messages.

On top of the performances, DIGNA members hosted follow-up breakout rooms where the artists and the show attendees, also from diverse backgrounds and locations, engaged in inspiring conversations about art, activism, change and life in general. It was great to see attendees open up to share and express themselves. It felt like everyone had something to say and this was the exact place where they wanted to say it.

“Art connects straight to the heart and makes everyone feel like home. Everyone who performed was pure joy and love. I saw so much strength in each one of them. I was so happy to be part of it!,” wrote one participant. Another person said that the session felt like “nurturing radical kindness.”

Thanks to the power of art, this event allowed us to experience kindness, unity, togetherness, self-exploration and creativity, things that are especially cherished in these difficult times. It allowed us to simply be human together.

The showcase recording is available on our Youtube channel. Additionally, DIGNA published a collection of the work presented that day, and curated a truly unique online gallery including submissions from other artivists who were not featured on the online event. The response from our community to this event and publications has been so positive that we plan to feature the art gallery in future local or regional ICSW events in 2021, and we definitely will continue to include art in our events, either virtual or face-to-face.

 

Beyond the checklist: what made ICSW/virtual events special?

By Bistra Kumbaroska

Let me start this blog post with a personal confession: I love organising events, any kind of events - workshops, conferences, hackathons, week-long summits, team building activities, celebrations and anniversaries. From experience, I can say that part of the success when organising in-person events is to pay as much attention to delivering great content as to curating the venue and ambiance: having a great welcome desk, a nice coffee corner, providing spaces for people to make connections, keeping the goodie bag exciting, the garbage bins regularly empty and making sure the “behind-the-scenes” team is visible and approachable at any time.

Reflecting on our experience organising the ICSW 2020 virtual series, I realised that in virtual events, the screen is the only thing we have to deliver a full event experience, to try and keep the audience's attention and to meet their scrutiny and expectations. And that screen is home to hundreds of other apps, messages, and inboxes that you cannot control. Plus, behind that screen the pets might be having loud fun, the kids might be dancing or the neighbours might be ringing the bell right at the time of the event. So, without coffee breaks, networking spaces and happy unexpected hugs from colleagues - what can one do to offer a good event experience through the screen? I want to share three things that I think made ICSW virtual events especially valuable for our participants, which go beyond all the customary preparations and steps on our checklists.

  1. We made sure our speakers felt as if they were stars (or at least, we tried)

We were very used to preparing speakers for previous ICSW physical events, but preparing speakers for online events is a very different task. Even the best and most experienced speakers can feel uncomfortable online. It takes more time and preparation to help speakers and hosts feel comfortable “on-air”. We found out that regular check-ins and preparations calls before, sometimes quite ahead of the event, help a lot. During these calls we figured out if the speakers needed another microphone, a room with better light, if they could share their screen and if their presentation would be engaging enough for an online audience. Bringing a wide diversity of voices, backgrounds and opinions into our conversations also required many context-based preparations and individual calls. This time dedicated to the speakers was key to helping them show the best version of themselves during the live event and to connect with the participants in authentic ways! From our first fishbowl discussion to our last engaging panel with 10 speakers - we tried to serve our speakers the best way I hope that they felt like stars, at least for a few minutes.

2. The backstage team was the heartbeat of every event

Always and forever: teams and people matter! But in online events, they matter a tiny little bit more. Each of our ICSW/virtual events was hosted with different CIVICUS clusters, teams, partners and members, and the happier and more organised our team was, the easier it was to have a positive energy shining through the screen. Virtual events take lots of online coordination, checklists, emails, documents, chats and meetings - it took us an average of 50 emails, 16 calls and 19 people to organise each event! During all those sometimes messy steps, our team came up with the most brilliant ideas and solutions. Why? Because we consciously created the conditions and designated the time needed to discuss every detail of every event and we made sure everyone’s voice was heard and followed through. Providing and protecting a space for honesty and creativity for the coordination team was a key element, the heartbeat of each event. Whenever a speaker, moderator, interpreter or any other person joined us, they felt that backstage heartbeat and energy and strengthened it.

ICSW Team 2020

                                                                                             The lead team behind ICSW 2020 virtual events

 3. We are building a community, not an audience

ICSW 2020-21 was designed as a one-year journey including virtual events, in-person local and regional events, and a global event. To us, all the people following this journey are more than an audience, they are our community, and we tried to engage with them in that way event after event. We tried checking what resonated with them and what didn’t to adjust our global conversation. We cherished all chat comments and received every individual email from our attendees with great pride and care, responding in the most honest and open way possible every time. We tried to allow spaces for people to connect with each other beyond the livestream and tracked five connections that led to meaningful partnerships thanks to ICSW virtual events! During our fourth ICSW event one participant wrote, “this event made me feel more connected to people than I have during the pandemic.” Knowing that we helped create that sense of connection and community is one of the most valuable results of our virtual journey together.

 

 

3 hard lessons learned during the ICSW/Virtual webinar series

Organising our webinar series was a joy met with a few challenges like dealing with Internet trolls. Check out what difficult lessons we learned in the last months.

  1. Webinar overload and video call fatigue are challenging online engagements

We conceived the ICSW/Virtual webinar series last year, in a pre-COVID-19 world. People seemed to have a little bit more time and excitement for joining online events, and we knew that there was a strong interest in the topics we planned to cover. Then the pandemic happened and all human interactions moved online. The number of Zoom’s daily meeting participants grew from 10 million in December 2019 to 200 million in March 2020. The web also became flooded with webinars - webinar platforms reported hosting from 330% to 500% more webinars compared to last year. In the meantime, people started experiencing online and ‘video call fatigue.’

In March, we realised that we would have to compete harder for space, resources and attention to organise, promote and deliver our webinars. We had to reconsider our planned content because people had new worries and priorities. The pandemic had serious implications for civil society and we wanted to provide relevant information. We tried to adapt quickly and to keep the events relevant and engaging, considering that people are increasingly overwhelmed by webinars and are tired of being on video calls all day. But in the end, we had to accept that things like attendance or the time people could stay in our events could drop, and sometimes did. We are still learning how to adjust to these circumstances to keep providing valuable online engagements for civil society.

  1. Prepare to avoid but also to face Internet trolls and Zoombombings

Our first ICSW/virtual webinar, ‘Supporting Youth-led Movements and Groups as Key Drivers of People Power,’ was very successful in attendance and engagement, but it was also the first time that we had to deal with an Internet troll. We were very aware of all the Zoombombings happening with the increased use of videoconferencing platforms due to the pandemic and we took precautions to avoid having our sessions hijacked. However, we kept the chat enabled to allow webinar participants to engage with comments during the conversation, and that is how the troll posted insulting comments directed to a speaker. We removed the troll immediately, but it was technically impossible to remove the comments.

Luckily, we did not have any security issues in our six remaining events. We became much more alert and are regularly improving our security practices to provide safe and inclusive spaces for conversation. But we know that there is always the risk of facing something similar and we must be prepared to deal with it. An interesting fact is that we considered disabling the chat during public webinars, but attendees request having this space to interact, share their name, post a comment (most of the time positive and enriching), and say thanks and goodbye. People crave some interaction; it gives online events a soul! We continue looking for ways to keep our online events safe without having to sacrifice human connection.

  1. We need to get better at hosting inclusive events

The CIVICUS alliance has 10,000 members from all around the world, who speak many languages and have different needs in terms of accessibility to content. During the ICSW/virtual series, we made sure to have speakers from several countries, contexts, ages, areas of work, etc. We promoted the events in English, French and Spanish (the three main languages spoken by our audiences), and provided simultaneous interpretation in these languages during the events – once we had eight interpreters! That took a great deal of coordination, effort and investment. But we acknowledge that we were not inclusive enough.

We know that a good number of people have limited access to the Internet and joining online events is not an option, or their attendee experience is not the best. We are aware that part of our target audience speaks other languages that we are not providing interpretation for or need captions or other supports that we were not able to provide. Sometimes our interpreters had technical issues and attendees could not hear them, or people joined from devices that did not allow them to access the interpretation feature. In a way, we learned that online events can’t be 100% inclusive, but we took notes and are committed to improving our strategies and practices to make sure that more people have quality access to online spaces and conversations.

 

3 positive lessons learned during the ICSW/Virtual webinar series

After celebrating seven online conversations about people power, we are inspired by the potential of virtual engagements and the resilience of civil society

  1. Virtual events can be fertile ground for people power

Through our seven ICSW/virtual webinars, over 400 people (between attendees, speakers, collaborators and video viewers) engaged in meaningful conversations and exchanges that enriched our knowledge, souls and amplified the voices of civil society. Diverse activists from several countries shared their work, perspectives, concerns, recommendations and real-life solutions to current civil society issues related to COVID-19, global governance, youth activism, funding, digital security, positive narratives, self-care and even artivism! Some participants built connections during our webinars that translated into greater visibility and new collaboration opportunities. And these virtual conversations will be the foundation for the next step of our journey: in 2021, activists around the world will organise local events (COVID-19 permitting) to expand on these topics at a community level.

We acknowledge that there are significant gaps that must be addressed to make virtual engagements more safe, inclusive and enabling for all civil society, but we must recognise the good and try to build on it. After ICSW/virtual we are inspired by the potential of virtual events as fertile ground for people power!

2. People power is tenacious and resilient

Hosting these conversations in the middle of a pandemic allowed us to see how the crisis exacerbated the threats and challenges faced by civil society around the world, but they also evidenced the tenacity and resilience of people power.

For example, young activists in our events showed how they are working under very adverse financial conditions, but they keep leading powerful social, political and environmental movements around the world. Other activists shared how lockdowns increased restrictions on key freedoms and stopped crucial mobilisations in their countries while funding for their work plummeted, but they were very solution-driven and focused on reinventing strategies to face this new reality. While issues and injustices were voiced, people focused on the way forward, on collaborations, sharing lessons and creating solutions in every conversation. And that attitude shows in the field. Movements like #blacklivesmatter got stronger during this crisis, and as we documented in this report, despite the limited resources and other restrictions, civil society everywhere has provided vital, bold, creative and innovative responses to the pandemic.

3. Turn your good and hard lessons into useful tools

Organising and delivering a series of webinars does not seem like a big deal. But it is. Coordinating with many teams of partner hosts and numerous speakers spread around the world is quite complex. Delivering all the engagements in three languages is hard. And technically, everything can go wrong before, during and after a webinar! From dealing with problematic software to manage participants or host the events; having a bad internet connection, microphones not working or Internet trolls threaten your webinar; to losing your webinar recording.

But we learned so much! We had a learning log to track all the things that went great, not so well and very bad, and those reflections were used to develop protocols and tools to improve our webinars. Thanks to the ICSW/virtual experience, we have new checklists, security protocols, consent forms, and knowledge that helped our small team and also other colleagues in our organisation. We also have a good list of things left to do, learn and fix. We are determined to translate this learning into better experiences and an improved global conversation about people power for everyone who is following the ICSW 2020-21 journey.

 

Myanmar elections show the regression of civic space over the last five years

By Lisa Majumdar, Advocacy Officer, CIVICUS

Amidst a flurry of high-profile elections this week, it will be Myanmar’s turn to go to the polls on 8 November. Nearly 100 political parties are contesting the country’s general election, with the upper and lower houses of the national, state and regional governments all to play for.

This will be the second election in Myanmar since the end of military rule in 2011. But the contrast between the two could hardly be starker. While the 2015 elections saw a landslide victory for Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) amid a groundswell of hope for democratic progress and human rights change, the upcoming election will take place in an environment of ongoing serious human rights violations, escalating attacks on democratic freedoms and discriminatory policies.

Unfree and unfair

The conditions for free and fair elections depend on an open civic space, where voters have access to information, can enjoy freedom of expression and opinion, and are able to organize and gather. Countries that purport to be democracies have a responsibility to ensure that these conditions are met, so that people can truly have a say in their own governance.

But in Myanmar, these conditions are in short supply.

As the CIVICUS Monitor has documented, there has been a sustained attack on civic space in the country over the last few years. Human rights defenders, journalists and critics have been criminalized and attacked for speaking up about human rights violations. A raft of old draconian laws are deployed by the government and military to silence dissent. 

This already has created an unhealthy environment for elections. However, in the run-up to the election, authorities have compounded this by actively targeting electoral processes. 

For example, Myanmar’s Union Election Commission (UEC), which has been accused by human rights groups of making critical decisions without transparency, has censored the speeches of political parties that want to broadcast campaign materials on state-run TV and radio networks. The election commission’s stringent guidelines on the content of speeches means that criticism of government policies by opposition parties has essentially been banned from state-run airwaves, denying voters crucial information. 

Government-imposed internet restrictions in Rakhine and Chin States – which have now lasted for more than a year – has had a serious impact on the ability of voters in the affected areas to access information about candidates, parties, and their positions. 

The government’s response to COVID-19 had a negative impact on media freedom, affecting the ability of the electorate to be informed. Journalists and media workers have been declared a nonessential business and face travel restrictions due to the government’s strict stay-at-home orders, hindering comprehensive coverage. Four national newspapers – the Standard Times, 7 Day Daily, the Myanmar Times, and the Voice Daily – announced their decision to suspend circulation of their newspapers from 23 September 2020. Notably, the publication of state-owned newspaper will not be affected. 

Discriminatory policies 

Most egregiously, though, the Myanmar government is preventing people from voting or from standing for election altogether. 

It has systematically and deliberately disenfranchised voters from ethnic minorities, using the discriminatory 1982 Citizenship Law and the Election Law to prevent Rohingya candidates from running for office, even though most Rohingya families have lived in Myanmar for generations. 

They include Abdul Rasheed, a Yangon resident whose father was a civil servant and who was born and has lived his whole life in Myanmar. Kyaw Min, the chairperson of the Democracy and Human Rights party, has also been barred despite having run in the 1990 election and spending years as a political prisoner alongside thousands of NLD activists and others.

The authorities have barred an estimated 600,000 Rohingya from registering to vote in the election. None of the million Rohingya who fled genocide in Myanmar for neighbouring Bangladesh will be allowed to vote. This adds yet another layer of repression and discrimination on a community that has experienced ethnic cleansing and a systematic denial of their rights in recent years. 

Voting has been suspended or cancelled in various constituencies in Kachin, Karen, Mon, Rakhine, and Shan States, and the Bago Region, with the election commission citing security concerns. As a result, over 1.5 million people will not be able to vote.

It is a common feature of would-be autocrats to attempt to suppress the votes of those who disagree with, or are negatively impacted by, their policies. Myanmar is not the only country to attempt to do so; it is not even the only country to have done so this week. But for a country where optimism for change and freedom shone so brightly five years ago, this represents a bleak failure of democratic progress. 

The two elections, five years apart, have bookended a downward spiral into gross human rights violations, attacks against dissenters, and a curtailment of democratic freedoms. While some countries have spoken up and stood by human rights defenders and victims of violations, other countries, particularly in the Southeast Asian region, have failed miserably to call out Myanmar on its actions.  Whatever the outcome of this elections – marred already by acts of censorship, racist voter suppression and other restrictions – we all must redouble our efforts to support civil society and activists to reverse the democratic regression we have witnessed since the 2015 elections.

 

Violence against transgender people in Pakistan

TW/CW: transphobia, physical abuse, emotional abuse, financial abuse, sexual violence, rape, torture, murder, self-harm, drug and alcohol abuse


Saro ImranI am Saro Imran, a transgender activist running a community-based organisation in Pakistan. Pakistan is a signatory to several international human rights conventions that are of relevance to transgender people and other marginalised minorities, which the country has systematically failed to protect. The exception is the Trans Protection Act of 2018, which we already have in place. As a consequence of this limited protection, transgender people and other marginalised minorities suffer discrimination and violence in many spheres of their lives. 

Earlier this month, a transgender person was killed and another was injured from gunshots fired by unidentified men in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) region of Pakistan. Both victims were rushed to the hospital, where doctors pronounced one victim dead. The other victim is undergoing treatment. According to the First Information Report (FIR), a group of transgender people had gone to perform at a wedding function and were preparing to leave when unknown people opened fire on them.

In the same month, a transgender person was gunned down by his younger brother from Swabi. The person had gone to Rawalpindi and Islamabad to participate in several dance parties. His family was opposed to his dance performance, and his brother had warned him of ‘dire consequences’.

Human rights violations and discrimination on the basis of gender identity are still prevalent and mount a big challenge for Pakistan. The transgender community and other marginalised minorities face stigma, discrimination and violence much more than non-marginalised groups. Transgender people, and transgender women in particular, face harassment, mistreatment and exclusion from society, from the public health care system, education system, employment and other institutions of government. They face different forms of abuse, ranging from exclusion from society to brutal murder. They are subjected to trafficking, extortion and forced prostitution. After the Trans Protection Act of 2018, things have slowly started to change. However, for the proper inclusion of transgender people in society and the acknowledgment of their basic human rights, the government will have to take a number of measures to address the gravity of the situation.

In Pakistan, transgender people and other marginalised minorities are ostracised by society and sometimes disowned by their families. Transgender women, in particular, live in groups for protection and survival. Due to widespread stigma and discrimination, many transgender women engage in sex work in extremely unsafe environments and circumstances. Their clients or sex partners feel that the sexual abuse of a transgender woman is permissible. Therefore, when they solicit their services, they invite friends over and gang rape them. These abuses cause severe emotional distress and mental agony for many transgender women. To cope with these realities, many survivors start indulging in drugs and alcohol or resort to self-harm.

trans in PakistanAlso, transgender individuals are often responsible for financially supporting their biological families, families who tend to resort to abuse, violence and torture to maintain their control over them. Forced marriage and physical and emotional torture are common forms of abuse against them, recorded in studies done by various organisations. The worst thing is, if police arrest perpetrators of violence, the biological family tends to forgive them in return for money. 

The only support for transgender people in Pakistan is provided by their peers. In the absence of medical care that is sensitive to their needs, relief usually comes from community members looking after them using traditional methods and wisdom. 

Community-based organisations all over Pakistan have arranged a protest against the murders and violence faced by transgender people. We demand justice for victims and survivors and security for the transgender community from the Government of Pakistan. We call for the development of provincial policies and legislation to criminalise offenses such as sexual violence and murder of transgender people.

 

Case Study on the Power of Radical Collaboration: People Before Projects

Conversation between Enhle Khumalo, CIVICUS Youth and Abigail Freeman, Alliance for Gender Justice Liberia in August 2020. 

Transforming information into impactful formats 

1. Who is Abigail?

I am a 22-year-old social justice activist and founder of the Alliance for Gender Justice and Human Rights- a movement formed on the basis of advocating for women’s rights, promoting gender equality, and amplifying the voices of women and youth in  Liberia. I am also a Youth Action Lab participant.

2. How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the communities you work with?

We had just launched our movement prior to the pandemic. However, due to the preventing measures to spread the COVID-19 pandemic we could not go on with our planned activities which included the construction of a physical space for young women and victims of sexual violence to participate safely in the campaign for sexual violence prevention and gender justice. So in the spirit of people before projects, we decided to adapt our plans to fit in with the needs of people during the COVID-19 state of emergency in Liberia that started in March.

3. How were you able to adapt your plans to accommodate the changing environment? 

My team and I wanted to adapt our plans to address people's needs and not our assumptions of what they needed. So, my team and I decided to see how we can work with communities and  to learn how to better address this issue and direct our efforts to protect women and children.

4. What was a major take-away from the work you were able to produce using this approach?

Gender issues are extremely sensitive in Ganta, Liberia. For instance, during our time working there with fellow grassroots activists, we discovered a case where four rapists had familial ties to the judge that ordered their medical release due to COVID-19. First, I was able to reach out to people working on those issues in the town. Working together, we built a campaign to raise awareness about this and the community demonstrated an overwhelming amount of support by joining us in protests demonstrations and press conferences calling for the immediate arrest of the rapists and along the way we gained traction and got legal support from the Liberia Justice Association. This strategic alliance assisted our advocacy efforts by introducing a legal entity, which we are not qualified as. Now more people know our movement and we are recognized and referred to as a group that stands up for gender justice in a context where this is a sensitive topic. Thanks to this we are reaching more people than if we had stayed with the original project plan.

5. What would you say to organisations/donors who are looking to support youth activists like yourself in these challenging times and post-Covid?

Abigail interview 2Many women and children living in rural communities are vulnerable to violence. Creating a space that will allow women, girls and children to acquire education and skills training will be a radical approach in the fight against GBV. At the SheLeads Academy, women, children and teenage mothers will be given an opportunity to build their capacity through skills training programs, counseling and mentorship,health care and leadership development. This will serve as a means for reducing poverty and domestic violence. 

Funding and logistical assistance is also important. It will help advocacy organisations to expand their networks and support the work we are doing in our communities.

6. Any advice for other youth activists facing similar challenges?

Young people have the power to change the world and as such, it is time we build a united front by bringing young people from diverse backgrounds to elevate our advocacy.

Gender Justice, safety for women and children, women empowerment and girls education is everyone’s responsibility. 

Collaboration is key. We managed to cut across many sectors and have had many people support the work we are doing.  Value the power of collaboration., Young people can cut through the noise and advocate for a fair and just society when they organise with and through their community.

 

Celebrating our 10,000 strong alliance!

Secretary General’s Update: August 2020

lysajohn

 

India: Rich Land of Poor People

On International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples (9 August), we commend the work of imprisoned lawyer and activist Sudha Bharadwaj, defender of Indigenous communities in India.

 Sudha Bharadwaj

                                                                                                              Sudha Bharadwaj

 

By Alina Tiphagne, Human Rights Defenders Alert (HRDA)

India’s Adivasi community

For decades, India’s Adivasis, the collective name for the many Indigenous people in India, have borne the brunt of development-induced displacement. Indigenous communities in India have had their lands taken, livelihoods destroyed, and rights trampled on as a result of business activities and urban expansion. Adivasis make-up about 8% of India’s population and rely on their lands and forests for their livelihood.

Over the past year, the CIVICUS Monitor has tracked several cases of arrests, intimidation and violence carried out by state authorities on Indigenous people and their allies. Such harassment and brutality are active in the mineral-rich state of Chhattisgarh, central India, which has the highest output of coal in the country and where limestone, dolomite and bauxite are found in abundance.

In Chhattisgarh, a significant proportion of people are Adivasis from tribal and Dalit communities. Many have been displaced due to businesses seizing land and natural resources, and rampant human rights abuses have been reported in the state. To add to this already complex situation, southern Chhattisgarh is the epicentre of a five decades-long insurgency between the Naxalite Maoist group and the Indian government. The fighting has negatively affected the tribal population, densely forested districts and neighbouring states.

The work of Sudha Bharadwaj, human rights lawyer and former General Secretary of the Chhattisgarh People’s Union for Civil Liberties, lies at this fraught intersection. Sudha has lived in the state for 29 years, fighting for the rights of Indigenous and working-class people. However, she has been in pre-trial detention for nearly two years after being charged under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, on suspicion of being involved in Maoist terror activities and conspiring to incite public unrest.

Political Consciousness

Born in Massachusetts, US, Sudha moved to New Delhi at the age of 11. Her mother, renowned economist Krishna Bharadwaj, founded Jawaharlal Nehru University’s (JNU) Centre for Economic Studies and planning. Sudha spent her childhood years at JNU, where her early political consciousness was formed:

“One of my early memories of JNU in my childhood was when Vietnam won the war against the US. I remember a lot of singing and celebration in the first quadrangle. That was the kind of atmosphere in which I grew up,” Sudha said in a recent interview.

At 18, Sudha moved to Kanpur, central India, to study. At this time, Kanpur was at the peak of its industrial boom, with a string of mega textile mills, attracting migrant workers from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal. Through her work in the National Service Scheme (NSS) and its outreach programs, Sudha became exposed - for the first time in her life - to the appalling living conditions of the workers.

She was also introduced to Shankar Guha Niyogi, a trade unionist, and decided to join his organisation in Chhattisgarh in 1986. After Niyogi was assassinated at the behest of a local industrialist, the organisation splintered, with some choosing militant ways and others moderate. It was Bharadwaj who managed to unite the workers.

Women & Workers’ Rights

Sudha began working in the mining trade union of Chhattisgarh and strove to involve women in the fight for workers’ rights. She felt women experienced issues that were not being addressed and made sure the Women’s Committee discussed all topics, even sensitive ones including alcohol abuse and domestic violence. Other issues affecting working class wives were the threat of their huts being demolished, and the daily struggle for water and electricity.

After being involved in the struggles of the working classes for decades, Sudha decided to study law in the early 2000s. She soon gained a reputation as a formidable lawyer and became iconic in the pro-people struggle after standing up to corporate giants and big business. She is now a visiting professor at the National Law University and Vice President of the Indian Association for People’s Lawyers (IAPL).

Much of Sudha’s legal work has revolved around the rights of Adivasi people in India. Since 2016 Sudha has been fighting for the rights of villagers in Ghatbarra, Chhattisgarh, after the government cancelled the rights of villagers and Adivasi people to live in the forest and surrounding areas. It is alleged that the authorities want to make way for a coal mining facility, even though the move would damage over 1000 hectares of land and disrupt an elephant corridor.

Smear Campaign & Imprisonment

Becoming a well-known lawyer who fights for the rights of Indigenous and marginalised communities has pitted Sudha against a government sensitive to any criticism.

In September 2018, Republic TV, a channel known as the ‘FOX NEWS of India’, alleged that Sudha had written a letter identifying herself as “Comrade Advocate Sudha Bharadwaj” to a Maoist called “Comrade Prakash,” stating that a “Kashmir like situation” has to be created. The television presenter also accused her of receiving money from Maoists.

The Indian Supreme Court ordered that Sudha be placed under house arrest for four weeks. Her home was raided at midnight by police who seized her laptop, pen drives, work papers and mobile phone. In October 2018, Sudha’s bail plea was rejected and she is currently being held in pre-trial detention at the Byculla jail in Mumbai. Recently, a special court rejected an interim medical bail plea filed by her lawyers after an inmate tested positive for COVID-19. The National Investigation Agency accused Sudha of using the threat of COVID-19 as an excuse to seek bail.

As we observe The International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples this year, let us not forget the hundreds of Adivasi community workers, social activists, trade unionists, environmental advocates, human rights lawyers, grassroots doctors and nurses who are languishing in prisons - or have lost their lives - fighting for the rights of marginalised people across India. They have shown immense strength and resilience in fighting an increasingly oppressive regime whilst living through a global pandemic.

#StandAsMyWitness

As the Narendra-Modi government continues to target grassroots activists, student-leaders, academics and anyone who is critical of the state - let us not forget Sudha’s words:

“If you try to be safe in the middle, you will never succeed.”

We urge you not to be safe in the middle. Join our campaign #StandAsMyWitness and demand justice for imprisoned human rights defenders like Sudha. We ask you to stand with them, so they do not stand alone.

Human Rights Defenders Alert (HRDA) is a national network for the protection and promotion of human rights defenders in the country and a research partner of the CIVICUS Monitor.

 

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