Coronavirus: Will it change our politics?

Has the Coronavirus crisis changed our view of politicians and what citizens now expect from them? Leaders around the world have dealt with the pandemic very differently, with some being praised for their handling of the outbreak, and some criticised. Is it time for a new social contract between people and their governments? Has there been too much division within nations, and the international community? As Covid-19 continues to rage, with persistently high death rates in many countries and leaving economic devastation in its wake, what do people now want from their leaders?

CIVICUS Secretary-General Lysa John joins Zeinab Badawi and James Graham on BBC's Global Questions.

Journalists fight back: Media freedom is further eroded in Hungary

By Aarti Narsee, Civic Space Researcher at CIVICUS & Orsolya Reich, Advocacy Officer at Civil Liberties Union for Europe

What little media independence remains in Hungary hangs by a thread. The country is in serious democratic trouble. The big question is: does the European Union have the political will to take decisive action?

Read on Visegrad Insight

Stories from the youth climate movement in the Global South

By Inés Pousadela, Senior Research Specialist at CIVICUS

In early 2020, as millions went into lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the environment experienced temporary relief from the impacts of human activity. As skies cleared and birds and animals claimed city spaces, it became apparent that the young people who had mobilized for the climate across the world in 2019 were right: Much environmental damage is the result of human action, and as such, can also be reversed through human initiative.

The experience of 2020 has made clear that whether the threat is climate change or a pandemic, humanity won’t survive its challenges unless people act collectively on the basis of scientific consensus.

Read on Yes Magazine

Civil society in the post-pandemic world

By Inés Pousadela, Senior Research Specialist at CIVICUS

In many circles, ‘civil society participation’ has become a fashion accessory that everyone wants to flaunt. And indeed, judging by the weak ways in which international institutions often offer participation, too many people in powerful places view civil society as merely an accessory.

Read on Transparency International

Ending Systemic Racism

Around the world, protesters have gathered in solidarity with the US Black Lives Matter movement as they demand an end to systemic racism. As the COVID-19 crisis continues to aggravate pre-existing structural and social inequalities, how can leaders join communities in effecting change at this historical turning point?

Thando Hopa, Diversity Advocate and International Model, Thando Hopa Media, South Africa
Lysa John Berna, Secretary-General, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, South Africa
Cheryl L. Dorsey, President, Echoing Green, USA
Judith Williams, Head, People Sustainability; Senior Vice-President; Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, SAP, USA

Moderated by:
Isabelle Kumar, Journalist and Presenter, Euronews, France

Watch the virtual session here: 

WEF Ending Systemic Racism

COVID-19 Used as Smokescreen to Undermine Gender Rights Globally

By Aarti Narsee, Civic Space Researcher at CIVICUS

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, sexual and reproductive rights are being attacked globally: LGBTQI+ persons are facing heightened discrimination, women find themselves trapped indoors with the perpetrators of domestic violence, and access to abortion is being restricted.

Not only have most governments failed to respond to the crisis through a gendered lens, deepening already harmful gender inequalities, but many have used the crisis as an opportunity to introduce laws that threaten to have a detrimental long-term effect on gender rights. In some cases, especially where far-right governments are in power, political leaders are using the opportunity to further push their anti-rights agenda.

Read on Women's Media Center

Coronavirus and European Civil Society

By Aarti Narsee, Civic Space Researcher at CIVICUS

European civil society is in a tug-of-war between restrictions, which may lead to the rise of a more fragile, authoritarian Europe, and resilience, which may suggest a more optimistic future in which civil society emerges stronger than before.

A wave of civic resilience is sweeping across Europe. From online protests to symbolic messaging within the confines of physical distancing, activists are finding creative ways to fight back against perceived injustices amid restrictions to stop the spread of the coronavirus. The extent to which civil society can succeed in these efforts will determine what kind of Europe emerges from the pandemic.

Read on Carnegie Europe

Observations on the quest to build back better

SDG Knowledge Hub’s interview with Mandeep Tiwana, Chief Programmes Officer

  • Five years since the passage of the SDGs, the impulse in many quarters is still to scale up existing approaches, rather than to push for fundamental changes in how our societies and economies function to better realize rights.
  • In addition, there are worrying signs that COVID-19 emergency restrictions could be used as a smokescreen for a broader crackdown on dissent, which would undermine accountability for the 2030 Agenda.
  • Countries that appear to have done better are ones that have empathetic leaders who have been inclusive in their policy responses and have involved civil society in decision making.

The SDG Knowledge Hub spoke with Mandeep Tiwana, Chief Programmes Officer at CIVICUS, about his assessment of responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and impacts on the 2030 Agenda. Mandeep highlights the persistence of “MDG mindsets” and an increase in censorship and surveillance. He also suggests five ways to build a better post-pandemic world.

Read full interview in SDG Knowledge Hub

Right to protest and civic freedoms

By Josef Benedict, civic space researcher at CIVICUS

The right to peaceful assembly is a fundamental freedom and key pillar for civic space. When civic space is open, citizens and civil society organisations are able to organise, participate, and communicate without hindrance. They will also be able to claim their rights and influence the political and social structures around them. This can only happen when a state holds by its duty to protect its citizens and respects the right to protest.

However, for many Bangladeshis going out on to the street to protest can be a terrifying experience. You could end being arbitrarily arrested, beaten up, face rubber bullets and tear gas. You could also be ill-treated by police and even prosecuted for organising or participating in a peaceful protest. Even after the protests end, you could face intimidation and surveillance.

Read on New Age

Censorship and surveillance could be the biggest rights challenges post Covid-19

By Mandeep Tiwana, Chief Programmes Officer at CIVICUS & Marianna Belalba Barreto, Civic Space Researcher

Significant public attention in relation to Covid-19 has focused on the economic dimensions of the virus resulting in joblessness and deprivation on a monumental scale. But something else is severely under threat — civic space — basically the right to freely organise, participate and communicate in public life.

Over the past few months, while health and economic concerns have taken public stage, insidious power grabs have been taking place, prompting the United Nation’s special expert on the right to privacy to warn that “dictatorships and authoritarian societies often start in the face of a threat”.

Read on Mail & Guardian

COVID-19 is a reminder that civil society is vital to the defence of our collective well-being

This article was originally published on Revista da Plataforma Portuguesa das ONGD

What is Feminist Leadershi 2

By Lysa John
Secretary-General, CIVICUS

Covid-19 victims dying in hospital corridors and on the streets of Guayaquil, Ecuador. Starving community members queueing for kilometres for food parcels in Tshwane, South Africa. Millions thrown into unemployment around the world. Not since World War 2 has the world experienced a calamity that has disrupted every facet of life as fast and fundamentally as Covid-19. And never before has civil society had as little preparation to negotiate a catastrophe of this magnitude.

Governments have acted with varying degrees of urgency and efficiency, but most have introduced emergency laws restricting freedom of movement and enforcing lockdowns to flatten the curve. States have had to abide by their fundamental duty to protect people’s lives through lockdowns, but need to balance this with adequate economic and social safety nets to help those most affected by lockdown measures – something many have failed to do.

Few dispute the need for social distancing and travel clampdowns. Such restrictions, however, must be legal and non-discriminatory, and necessary to protect public health. Yet regimes across the world have used Covid-19 measures as tools to cross the line between protecting their citizens and stifling freedom of speech and violating human rights for political or autocratic reasons. More than ever, it’s up to civil society to ensure checks and balances, to call out injustice and assist the marginalised.

Civic space violations and challenges

The enormity and urgency of the Covid-19 catastrophe mean non-governmental, activist and aid organisations are scrambling to meet unprecedented levels of need.

China’s initial censorship helped spread the virus. Social media users, bloggers, activists and journalists have been muzzled, detained, summoned or even assaulted for spreading information about the virus or criticising authorities in countries such as Vietnam, Iran, Niger, Kenya, Venezuela and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Police in Pakistan are reported to have arrested medical staff protesting about a lack of personal protective equipment, while security forces have been accused of using excessive force or degrading citizens breaking lockdowns in the Philippines, South Africa, Kenya and elsewhere.

Activities such as these have made action on the pandemic harder, and have made it more difficult for people to protect themselves and their families, while allowing disinformation to thrive.

National lockdowns have also had unintended, potentially deadly consequences. UN Women has warned of domestic violence increasing as victims are locked down with abusive partners – leading to a “shadow pandemic”. Six months of lockdown could lead to an additional 31-million cases of gender-based violence, according to an analysis by the United Nations Population Fund, in collaboration with Avenir Health, Johns Hopkins University and Australia’s Victoria University.

Last month, in April 2020, more than 600 organisations called on world leaders not to use the pandemic as a pretext to restrict civic space.

Civil society at the forefront

How is civil society responding to this extraordinary time in history?

Community organisations are distributing food and delivering aid to people unable to work or earn during lockdowns. Groups are raising money for emergency relief, medical supplies and personal protective equipment for health workers. In India, NGOs have reportedly outperformed state governments in providing humanitarian relief to stranded migrant labourers and the poor in 13 states.

Beyond relief efforts, rights groups are holding authorities to account. In Zimbabwe, the advocacy group Lawyers for Human Rights secured an urgent application to stop abuses by the country’s security forces.

Organised activities by civil society have been supported by informal civic action. In Brazil, citizens have voiced their anger at President Jair Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic by banging pots and pans on their balconies.

The virus can affect anyone, but its consequences shine a light on existing inequalities. In highly developed Singapore, migrant workers housed in overcrowded dormitories have borne the brunt of the pandemic, making up around 85% of the city state’s more than 16 000 Covid-19 cases by 1 May. Civic groups were instrumental in highlighting this dire situation. 

The G-20 and International Monetary Fund have promised debt suspensions for poor countries, enabling states to reroute resources to healthcare and poverty relief, but these are short-term measures. Recognising that the crisis presents an opportunity to negotiate permanent reforms to international finance institutions’ approaches to debt, civil society groups are ensuring this outcome remains central to the international response.

In spite of social distancing, the pandemic has brought people together. In mid-April, global citizens and artists proved the power of social action when the One World: Together at Home virtual concert raised almost $128-million to support frontline healthcare workers in the fight against Covid-19.

Stronger together

The development sector was unprepared for a calamity of this magnitude. It has compelled us to reflect on the fragility of our support systems, to address this and to present an opportunity for a permanent shift in working towards a more resilient future.

Women make up nearly 70% of the workforce in our sector, but are heavily under-represented in its leadership. As resources shrink, they will be the first to lose their livelihoods, while having a painfully small say in the decisions their organisations make to tide this crisis. We must be bolder in adopting the social security measures we demand from governments and businesses.

Without trust and authenticity, our organisations cannot withstand the formidable challenges that all agencies – large and small – will need to respond to in coming years. It is remarkable that local organisations from the global south have been the first to embrace the Covid-19 Social Security Protocol, developed in line with the International Labour Organization’s Covid-19 policy framework.

Four years after the international community committed to the “localisation agenda”, the percentage of official development assistance directly reaching the southern civil society remains at the same level: less than 1%. This means that while community organisations are best placed to provide a sustained response to complex crises like pandemics, they remain pitifully under-resourced. To emerge stronger, we need to significantly increase investments in civil society organisations in the global south.

An enabling infrastructure for local organisations will allow us to harness the people-powered solutions we need to negotiate the complex, unexpected challenges of Covid-19.

Finally, civil society must significantly upscale strategies to put human rights at the heart of public interventions. We need a serious effort to dismantle systems that perpetuate cycles of poverty, discrimination and violence, including rethinking how our economies are structured and ensuring sustainable means of production and consumption that allow for the regeneration of natural resources.

Our most important indicator of shared progress must be the transformations needed to make the world fit for future generations. We need to recognise those in frontline roles, who are often the least valued in society but who will get us through this pandemic. 

The degree to which we commit ourselves to achieving these reforms will determine our future relevance as civil society.

OPINION: Want a better post-pandemic world? Civil society has the answers

By Andrew Firmin, CIVICUS Editor-in-Chief 

Many of us continue to live in states of lockdown, but even as we do so the debate about what kind of world we want to re-emerge to should be an urgent one. It’s common to hear the sentiment that people can’t wait for life to get back to normal. But we need to ask whether that old normal is good enough. Many in civil society would suggest there is a need to aim higher.

Read on Thompson Reuters Foundation News

To face COVID-19, the human rights community must first protect its own workers

By Lysa John, Secretary General of CIVICUS

This crisis should be a wakeup call to all of us in civil society to strengthen social protection measures in our own sector. This is the moment to change how we work and to protect our own, so that they can go out and protect others.

Read on Open Global Rights

Undercurrents: Protecting workers during COVID-19

Discussion between Lysa John and Agnes Frimston for Chatham House Undercurrent podcast 


In this week's episode of Chatham House's podcast Undercurrents, Lysa John, Secretary General of CIVICUS joins Agnes in discussing the impact that the coronavirus pandemic has had on worker's rights across the world. They also discuss the role of civil society not only in bringing everyone together in responding to the repercussions of the virus on vulnerable communities but also in monitoring states' response to the pandemic and calling on the resulting violations of fundamental human rights.

Listen to the discussion on Chatham House

'Can job security be guaranteed?' Interview with Lysa John

Interview with Lysa John about why protecting workers during the COVID-19 crisis is crucial.

As the COVID-19 pandemic advances around the world, the threat of unemployment creates the main point of stress and discomfort for tens of millions of people. Economic activity across the globe is plummeting - 80% of the global workforce have had their workplace fully or partially closed and the ILO (International Labour Organisation) is projecting that 25 million workers may lose their jobs. CIVICUS Secretary-General, Lysa John sheds more light.

Join more than 200 organisations and adopt the Social Security Protocol

Future of Civil Society Organisations

Lysa John future of civil societyThe COVID-19 pandemic can re-energise the demands of civil society organisations to put people at the heart of the changes we need: to protect the planet from degradation, to ensure that all human beings can enjoy prosperous and fulfilling lives, that economic, social and technological progress occurs in harmony with nature and fosters peaceful, just and inclusive societies. In this publication, a group of leaders of civil society networks and platforms, including CIVICUS, share their observations and thoughts, identifying possible directions that civil society organisations may want to go.

 Read Lysa John's contribution to the publication.



World Press Freedom Day: The assault on media freedom in Asia worsens during COVID-19 pandemic

By Josef Benedict, civic space researcher at CIVICUS

May 3rd marks World Press Freedom Day around the world. During this COVID-19 pandemic, a robust media environment is critical: access to life-saving information is key in the fight against the virus. As governments impose a range of restrictions in attempts to curb the pandemic, journalists help hold authorities to account by providing analysis, engaging in debate about government actions, and creating a space for dialogue about the future we all hope to see.

Read on Inter Press Service

Fit for the future: Can we emerge stronger from the COVID-19 crisis?

By Lysa John (CIVICUS), Chris Worman (TechSoup) and Benjamin Bellegy (WINGS)

It seems ironic that only a few months ago, we were celebrating 2019 as the ‘Year of People Power’ and a mass global uprising against autocratic regimes across the world seemed achievable. At a stroke, we have experienced the abrupt removal of fundamental freedoms that human rights defenders have fought to protect. And yet, civil society across the world has found new ways to respond to the outbreak.

Read on Alliance Magazine

On World Press Freedom Day, the EU must rescue media independence in Hungary before it’s too late

By Aarti Narsee, civic space research officer at CIVICUS

Censorship, smear campaigns and harassment. These are just some of the daily struggles that media professionals are facing in Hungary. And now the threat of jail time may be looming. In the context of World Press Freedom Day, there is little to celebrate in the Eastern Bloc region. The government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Victor Orban and his Fidesz Party, has ramped up its efforts to destroy any remaining media independence with its ‘Bill on the Protection against the Coronavirus’. 

Read on Inter Press Service

Reimagining a post-COVID world: Key principles for the future

By Mandeep Tiwana, Chief Programmes Officer at CIVICUS

Today, the COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting our lives and livelihoods in wholly unanticipated ways, testing the resilience of our social, economic and political structures. Fundamental problems in our economies and societies stand exposed and accelerated. A global recovery effort will be needed. But it must do more than just paper over cracks. Business as usual approaches won’t work. In the current scenario, we at CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, believe that resolute action on five key areas is crucial.

Read on: InterPress Service News

Elections test Africa’s democracy

By David Kode,  advocacy and campaigns lead for CIVICUS

Once again, the state of democracy on the continent will be tested as millions of Africans go to the polls this year to decide who will lead them for the next few years. The recent ruling by the Constitutional Court in Malawi annulling the results of the disputed 2019 presidential elections may offer a ray of hope to many of those who will be voting in 2020, in that the judiciary can be a final arbiter when there is evidence of electoral malpractice.

Read on: Mail & Guardian

Smeared and vilified by Duterte, activists in the Philippines are fighting back

By Josef Benedict, civic space researcher at CIVICUS

One tactic that CIVICUS has seen increasingly being used by the government to target activists and NGOs is to label them as “terrorists” or “communist fronts”, particularly those who have been critical of Duterte’s deadly “war on drugs” that has killed thousands. Such a process, known as “red-tagging” in the Philippines, often puts activists at grave risk of being targeted by the state and pro-government militias.

Undermining groups that are critical of the government has had serious repercussions in the Philippines. In June 2019 four left-wing activists died in a spate of killings perpetrated by unidentified gunmen. Prior to that, government officials had accused leftist groups that operate openly and legally of being “communists”. No one has been brought to justice for these killings.

Read on: New Naratif

Alpha Condé wants a third term in Guinea. The AU must stop him

By David Kode, Advocacy and Campaigns Lead 

President Ramaphosa and the AU have a crucial role in aiding the continuation of Guinea's democracy. Guinea’s nascent democracy hangs in the balance as current President Alpha Condé’s resolve to defy the constitution and stand for a third term in office threatens to plunge the country into violence. Under the current constitution, President Conde is only allowed to serve two five-year terms. The only way he can change the presidential limit is through a new constitution, which requires a referendum.

Read on: The Africa Report 

The Republic at 71: faced with an unbending government, Indians continue to speak out

By Lysa John Berna, Secretary-General of CIVICUS and Mandeep Singh Tiwana Chief Programmes Officer at CIVICUS

A respected woman social activist and political leader beaten and kicked in the stomach at a police station for recording a public protest. A human rights lawyer arbitrarily detained and given electric shocks by police officers. A journalist covering public demonstrations for a prominent national newspaper taken to a police station, subjected to obscene slurs by the police while witnessing a social activist being badly beaten-up.

Police stand by as an organised mob of masked goons attack students of a premier Left-leaning university in the dead of the night. Blanket institution of highly questionable criminal cases, indiscriminate arrests, caning and use of live ammunition with lethal effect on protestors. This is not the image of their country that Indians at home and abroad want to project to the world.

Read on: The Wire

Counter-terrorism laws provide a smokescreen for civil society restrictions

By Susan Wilding, Head of Geneva Office at CIVICUS

In all regions of the world, spontaneous people’s movements are demanding better governance, rule of law and justice. At this very moment, concerned citizens are coming out in the streets of Lebanon, Chile, Hong Kong, and Egypt, among others. Yet, as more and more people seek to exercise their democratic rights, arbitrary detentions and crackdowns—including the use of unjustified and often lethal force against dissenters and protesters—are quickly being normalized from Russia to Rwanda.

The CIVICUS Monitor, an index of civic freedoms in 196 countries, shows that only 4% of the world’s population live in countries that adequately protect civic freedoms fully. According to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights, 66% of all communications sent to the mandate as part of monitoring human rights abuses are related to States use of counter-terrorism, or broadly defined security measures to restrict civil society.

Read on: Open Global Rights

Here’s how civil society can push rising hate back to the fringes

By Andrew Firmin, editor-in-chief of CIVICUS

Our efforts as civil society will work best when paired with mass mobilisations that demonstrate popular support for rights and defiance in the face of those who seek to deny rights, including by counter-protesting when anti-rights forces seek to claim public space and dominate public discourse. Such mobilisations were a key part of how Argentinian groups won the argument.

What we have seen, around the world, is that civil society is not lapsing into despair, but is committing to the struggle for fundamental rights. There are many responses available to civil society, but they all involve outreach, the making of new connections, the ability to listen and hold unusual conversations, and creative communications skills. Through such responses, as civil society we are able to prove that we are the mainstream and push the forces of hatred back to the fringes where they belong.

Read on: Equal Times

2019 Was a Dark Year for Civic Freedoms in Asia

By Josef Benedict, civic space research officer at CIVICUS

The assault on fundamental freedoms and civil society is escalating across the globe. Over the last decade we have seen governments use various tactics to silence dissent and target their critics. Protest movements seeking political reforms or challenging dire economic conditions were met with brutal force by security forces while civil society organizations have been denied funding or faced smear campaigns. 2019 has sadly not been very different, as we saw ongoing violations of civic freedoms, particularly the censorship of the media and online spaces, as well as the judicial harassment of activists and journalists, especially in Asia.

Read on: The Diplomat 

Burundi: A president “chosen by God” and those who disagree

By Paul Mulindwa, advocacy and campaigns officer at CIVICUS

Four years after Burundi’s crisis began, 300,000 people have fled the country for safety. A further 116,000 are internally displaced and almost 1.8 million need humanitarian assistance. Civil and political rights are under attack, while activists and opposition leaders have been killed in mysterious circumstances.

The media has also been silenced, with media houses being shut down and journalists  arbitrarily detained. This October, Christine Kamikazi, Agnès Ndirubusa, Egide Harerimana, and Térence Mpozenzi from Iwacu, one of the few remaining private media organisations in Burundi, were arrested. Their colleague Jean Bigirimana, who went missing in July 2016, remains unaccounted for.

Read on: African Arguments

Fiji’s review at the Human Rights Council highlights lack of progress on civic freedoms

By Josef Benedict, civic space research officer at CIVICUS

This November in Geneva, the United Nations examined Fiji’s human rights record for the third time. Every state must undergo a Universal Periodic Review (UPR) every four years to take its turn to be scrutinised by other UN member states on their progress in promoting and protecting human rights, and to assess a range of recommendations for improvement.

In its report to the Human Rights Council ahead of the session, the Fiji government reaffirmed its commitments under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to freedom of expression and assembly, as well as its constitutional guarantees of freedom of the press. However, research by the CIVICUS Monitor – a global tool tracking civic space – shows that democratic freedoms are under attack in Fiji. While the country enjoys a positive image on the international stage, for many citizens of the South Pacific’s largest island nation, and its media, the reality is anything but.

Read on: DevPolicy

Out in the cold: The plight of the UWC 143

By Masana Ndinga-Kanga, Crisis Response Fund lead at CIVICUS and Lundi Mazizi, co-ordinator of the UWC Ex-Workers Movement

So much can happen in 900 days. Presidents can be removed from office and new ones installed. Regimes can change across the world. Economic crises can cripple livelihood strategies for the working class when coupled with large-scale exposés of endemic corruption. Protests erupt, tires burn and people become casualties in the crossfire of bullets.

Caught in the ebbs and flows of a rapidly changing socioeconomic climate are those such as the 143 workers dismissed from the University of the Western Cape (UWC), who have been worst affected by the #FeesMustFall and #EndOutsourcing protests. Dismissed on 13 January 2017, these 143 workers have been campaigning for justice for three years and have watched in dismay as workers have been insourced at some universities, or at a minimum granted amnesty for participating in strike action under calls from students involved in #FeesMustFall protests.

Read on: The Daily Maverick

The UN at 75: Time to Give Citizens a Voice

By Andreas Bummel the Executive Director of Democracy Without Borders, Lysa John Secretary-General of CIVICUS and Bruno Kaufmann is co-president of the Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy and board member of Democracy International

Next year the United Nations will commemorate its 75th anniversary. The General Assembly determined that all the UN’s activities in 2020 shall be guided by the theme “The future we want, the United Nations we need: reaffirming our collective commitment to multilateralism”.

The UN Charter begins with the words: “We the Peoples”. The Universal Declaration on Human Rights clearly states in article 21.1. that everyone has the right to take part in the government of their country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.Thus, it should not come as a surprise that this right to participation will now also extend to the forthcoming “global conversation”, as the UN has stated that anybody who wishes to, will be able to join.

Read on: Inter Press Service News

The Rapid Decline in Civic Freedoms: 5 Countries to Keep an Eye on

By Ine Van Severen, Civic Space Researcher at CIVICUS

2019 has been a year of protest. From Algeria, to Chile, to Hong Kong, ordinary people have taken to the streets to voice their dissatisfaction with governance systems. Their causes are as diverse as the people pouring into the streets. Public grievances range from corruption, anti-austerity measures, and electoral irregularities. The reasons for the mass mobilisations may differ, but the response by those in power are becoming alarmingly similar.

In far too many countries, the response has been to shut down the space for people to organise and to persecute those calling for change. The new civic space watchlist by the CIVICUS Monitor shines a spotlight on Hong Kong, Colombia, Egypt, Guinea and Kazakhstan where there are escalating rights violations against activists, journalists and civil society groups.

Read on: Inter Press Service 

Donors aren't investing in a resilient civil society in Latin America, but philanthropy bodies stand out

By Clara Bosco, civil society resourcing advisor at CIVICUS

These last years have marked the tipping point of a growing disconnect between citizens and public institutions in Latin America. There is a wide array of reasons for this: almost 65% of Latin Americans live in poverty or vulnerability with inequality rising in the region. In the meantime, education, health care and justice institutions, to mention a few, are weakening, deteriorating basic social services; corruption remains a big challenge and extremist and anti-rights movements are gaining power.

Popular discontent has manifested in massive social mobilizations and unrest, with citizens, activists and civil society organizations (CSOs) leading the charge to challenge unequal and repressive public policy, hold governments accountable and bring about real, positive social change. Many of these groups are now the target of repressive governments and non-state actors who oppose their goals.

Read on: Philanthropy in Focus

Vibrant Civil Society Essential for Sustainable Development in Iran

By Masana Ndinga-Kanga, Crisis Response Fund Lead at CIVICUS & Sohrab Razzaghi is Executive Director of Volunteer Activists Institute 

2019 has not been a good year for Iranian human rights activists. At a time where civic space had completely closed, many watched in disbelief as the regime mounted even more restrictions on civil society. Over recent months, many activists have been arrested, like Noushin Javari (a photographer), Marzieh Amiri (a journalist), and Javad Lal Mohammadi (teacher).

As the UN Third Committee prepares to meet in October 2019, it will be worth following whether the General Assembly will take proactive steps to respond to the crisis in Iran or continue to avert its eyes in the face of complicated global politics that have emboldened President Rouhani in his regressive anti-western crackdown on civil society.

Read on: Inter Press Service

Interview with AfricaNews: Concern over human rights violations in Egypt

In an interview with Africa News, David Kode our Advocacy and Campaigns lead spoke about the alleged crackdown on people in Egypt, large scale arrests and heightened security in Cairo and other major cities signal another low moment for human rights in the north African country.

Watch the full interview on: Africa News

Exposing human rights violations through sport in Eritrea — is anyone taking notice?

By David Kode, advocacy and campaigns lead at CIVICUS

Sport is a major unifier among all nations and the plight of Eritrean athletes should be enough to force the international community, particularly states that now host many Eritreans, to exert pressure on President Isaias Afwerki to implement reforms, 26 years after taking power.

Read on: Daily Maverick

Khashoggi paid the price for being a 'different Saudi'

By Masana Ndinga-Kanga, Crisis Response Fund Lead at CIVICUS

Since Jamal Khashoggi disappeared on October 2, 2018, in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, the Saudi authorities have continuously changed their narrative of what happened. From claiming that he left alive and well, through asserting he got into a "fistfight", to insisting he was the victim of a "rogue operation", Riyadh has been unable to present a convincing, coherent explanation of what exactly happened that day in the consulate.

Read on: Al Jazeera

A seat at the table for civil society

By Lysa John, Secretary-General of CIVICUS & Mandeep Tiwana, Chief Programmes Officer at CIVICUS

2019 may well be remembered as the year in which ordinary citizens finally lost patience with incremental changes and called for the bold and urgent actions we need to address the challenges we face. To date, we have witnessed citizen-led protests from Bolivia to Hong Kong, Sudan to the United Kingdom, as well as school strikes in over 100 countries as young people demand decisive action to combat climate change across.

Read on: Together First

Listen to the future – how 26 youth-led organizations are supercharging the UN's Global Goals

By Lysa John, Secretary-General of CIVICUS

From gun control marches in the United States to impassioned climate change speeches on the global stage of the UN, youth are leading the charge to hold governments accountable and address our biggest challenges. Despite the magnitude of this responsibility, however, they remain optimistic. The Gates Foundation found young people (ages 12-24) are in fact more optimistic about their personal and political futures than their elders – and optimism is highest among youth from lower- and middle-income countries.

Read on: World Economic Forum

Co-creating grassroots resourcing alternatives: shifting from theory to practice!

By Clara Bosco, senior advisor on civil society at CIVICUS

In recent years, inspiring funders and grassroots movements have experimented with different funding and organising models to better support smaller, local, spontaneous and less formal groups, and to make themselves more accountable to these. Feminist funds and community philanthropy organisations have led this effort and new approaches in resourcing citizen action are becoming integral parts of resourcing strategies of big coalitions such as Greenpeace.

Read on: Alliance Magazine

Lysa John: “Attacks on civil society mask the failure of governments”

*Interview with CIVICUS SG, Lysa John. 

Our ambition is not to stand up (only) for established organisations, "Lysa John emphasizes. “We stand up for everyone's right to speak out and be heard, and for the right to organise with others to stand up for your own ideas or interests.” Gie Goris spoke to Lysa John, secretary -general of CIVICUS, possibly the largest alliance of civil society organisations.

*Interview is in Dutch

Read more: MO* Magazine

What a Dhaka slum fire and the Rohingya crisis tell us about enforced disappearances in Bangladesh

By Dominic Perera, CIVICUS Monitor Project Officer at CIVICUS

Earlier this month, Bangladesh captured international headlines as an enormous fire ripped through an informal settlement in Dhaka’s Mirpur area. Thousands of people became homeless overnight. Already, questions are beginning to be asked about the circumstances surrounding the blaze and the control pro-government groups exerted over the settlement, charging residents disproportionately high sums of money to provide them with illegal electricity and water connections.

Even as groups like these have helped Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her ruling Awami League to consolidate power over their ten-year reign, Bangladesh has been hailed as a welcoming host for Rohingya refugees fleeing persecution in neighbouring Myanmar.

Read on:

Asia's Disappearing Activists

By Josef Benedict, Civic Space Researcher at CIVICUS

Since June 2019, over a million people have taken to the streets of Hong Kong on a weekly basis to demonstrate. Protesters have faced attacks and injuries as police used tear gas, rubber bullets and pepper spray to quell protests.

The original target of the protests was a proposed change to Hong Kong’s extradition law. Hong Kongers’ fear of the bill is justifiable. Amendments to the Fugitives Offenders Ordinance Bill would allow individuals, including human rights defenders, journalists, and civil society activists, to be sent to mainland China to face trial, even if the person was outside the mainland when the crime was committed. China’s justice system is notorious for its lack of independence from the government, and the Chinese Communist Party has a record of arbitrary detention, torture, and fabricating legal cases against activists and journalists.

Read on: The Diplomat

What other African protesters can learn from Sudan

By David Kode, Advocacy and Campaigns Lead at CIVICUS

Exactly four months after former President Omar Al-Bashir of Sudan was pushed out of power, and a few weeks after the military rulers and civilians signed a peace deal to thrash out the political transition, ordinary Sudanese continue to pay a heavy price. The latest known casualties were four activists brutally killed by paramilitary forces in the city of Omdurman. The victims were participating in a million-man-march in protest against the killing of five schoolchildren - who were themselves demonstrating against rising costs of living in the city of Al-Obeid, North Kordofan.

Aside from the four children killed, 60 others were wounded in the same incident.  While the month of June registered some of the heaviest casualties from the Rapid Response Forces, the trigger-happy paramilitary organisation responsible for the worst of the violence, it is hard to provide exact figures — and there is no sign yet that the violence will stop, despite the agreement of a new deal between the military and protestors on 4 August.

And yet, ordinary Sudanese continue to protest...

Read on: Mail & Guardian

Your life or your freedom? The ultimate price to defend the environment

By Natalia Gomez Peña, Advocacy & Network Engagement Officer, Vuka! Secretariat

For the family of indigenous Guatemalan activist Jorge Juc, the announcement last week by US President Donald Trump of an agreement declaring Guatemala a “safe third country” could not be more bitterly ironic.
The deal requires central American migrants who cross into Guatemala on their way to the US to apply for protections in Guatemala instead of at the US border – a move immigration advocates have called cruel and unlawful.

Read on: Inter Press Service

Success in Sudan

By Paul Mulindwa, an advocacy and campaigns officer with CIVICUS.

Mediating a deadlocked political dispute is difficult work in the best of times. Mediating the conflict in Sudan between military rulers and opposition demonstrators – following the dramatic ouster of an autocratic leader, and against a background of widespread (violently suppressed) protests – was supposed to be nearly impossible. Yet the African Union has managed to do it.

After weeks of tense negotiations, AU negotiators, led by Special Envoy Mohamed el Hacen Lebatt of Mauritania and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, managed to secure a power-sharing agreement between Sudan’s ruling military council and civilian opposition leaders. It is a major step toward ending the political crisis that has gripped Sudan for more than six months.

The crisis began last December, when street protests erupted in response to cuts in bread and fuel subsidies. The economy was near collapse, following years of US sanctions (mostly lifted in 2017) and the loss of oil revenues following South Sudan’s independence in 2011, and the protests quickly grew into large-scale demonstrations against President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s brutal three-decade-long dictatorship.

Read on: Project Syndicate 

Narendra Modi Has Five Years to Change His Track Record on Democratic Values

By Mandeep Tiwana, Chief Programmes Officer at CIVICUS

Recent raids by the Central Bureau of Investigation on the homes and offices of human rights lawyers Anand Grover and Indira Jaising are deeply worrying. Together with their organisation, Lawyer’s Collective formed in 1981, Grover and Jaising have frequently used India’s courts to seek justice for victims of major rights violations such as the Union Carbide Bhopal gas leak, 1984 Delhi riots and 2002 Gujarat riots. Lawyer’s Collective has also played a key role in the passing of legislation to address violence against women and sexual harassment at the workplace.

This is not the first time that outspoken rights advocates and their organisations have been targeted in India. Nonetheless, for the country’s premier investigation agency to go after Lawyer’s Collective for alleged violations of the discretion riddled Foreign Contributions  Regulation Act (FCRA) which has been discredited by UN experts, might be a step too far in a country that claims to be the world’s largest democracy.

Read on: The Wire 

Tanzania continues clampdown with new restrictive laws that undermine development

By Paul Mulindwa, an advocacy and campaigns officer with CIVICUS.

'Tanzania's human rights comes in the form of sweeping new legislation, rushed through its parliament last week, that places new punitive restrictions on civil society organisations and tourism', writes Paul Mulindwa.

While the government of Tanzania trumpets its Vision 2025 – a lofty plan to become a middle-income country within the next six years through sustainable development – it continues to thwart real development with its ongoing campaign to clampdown on fundamental freedoms in the country.

Its latest attack on human rights comes in the form of sweeping new legislation, rushed through its parliament last week, that places new punitive restrictions on civil society organisations (CSOs) and tourism in Tanzania. 

Read on: News24

Youth movements and funders need to learn to understand each other better

By Gioel Gioacchino, research consultant with CIVICUS

As a keynote speaker at a global gathering of a thousand activists and NGO workers in Belgrade in April, the host of a popular Serbian television spoof news show, Zoran Kesic performed 24 minutes of brilliant (and cathartic) satire.

He took aim at a range of subjects, including politics in his country and region. And he did not spare his hosts either.

During Kesic’s piece, the image of a red stapler flashed on a screen behind him. “Say you need a stapler”, he started, “you might think of going to the store and buying one”.

Kesic offered instructions that he thought this crowd might need for such a purchase:

"Make sure you put in the budget a tender for the purchase of the stapler. Include the cost of transporting the stapler from the store to the office, and don’t forget to add extra costs for purchasing a little table where we will keep the stapler. And, of course, the carpet on which the table will stand.

“The worst thing of all,” he concluded, “is you will then keep the receipt of the stapler for months.”

I burst into laughter, but I also thought that starting the conference, International Civil Society Week, by poking fun at each other was an invitation to address the structural problems that we are facing as a civil society ‘sect’, as Zoran Kesic called our field. He joked that civil society organizations have to budget for every little thing and picked on the way the sect(or) is overall failing to question the status quo and instead replicates the same structural absurdities of our society.

For the last four and a half years I have worked with youth-led civil society groups, researching how they resource themselves (or struggle to do so), and ways of understanding and achieving social transformation. I have learned that many young people experience a tension between the vitality and fluidity that emerges in their work and the rigid modus operandi required to budget for Kesic’s red stapler.

But the problem is not only that there are many powerful youth-led groups and movements and comparatively little funding to sustain their work. Neither is it that the type of funding available often comes with tedious requirements and is mostly allocated to deliver narrow projects, without investments in the organizational strengthening necessary for the organisation to keep up the work.

I have learned that behind their struggle is a mismatch in values between donors and youth-led groups and a lack of meaningful understanding of each other.

For the last five months, as part of trend analysis on resourcing youth-led groups in Latin America and Africa conducted by global civil society alliance, CIVIUCS, I have asked more than 20 youth activists to think back to the most positive relationship they had with a donor. What did they do to make the relationship positive? What did the donor do?

I organized the feedback in a mind map and found myself in front of what looked like a list of tips on effective dating. The best relationships are ones in which the non-profit was able to communicate openly and transparently, nourish a close connection, and ask for help when faced with challenges or complex decisions. ‘Good donors’ are relatable, flexible, enthusiastic, present, mindful of the operational context, and non-judgemental. As one of my interviewees put it, the relationship works when both parties can say “We enjoy each other’s company and have real conversations”.

In other words, the collaboration can flourish when donors and grantees are able to listen to each other. Seems like common sense but the problem is that listening can be extremely difficult, given the way donor-grantee relationships unfold. One challenge, for example, is that communication is mediated by jargon. And the jargon can feel imposed, it can be misunderstood and misused, especially when translated across different cultural context.

This issue became evident recently as I facilitated a day-long dialogue between donors and representatives of youth-led groups. The discussions were attended by a group of 20 people who rarely get the chance to share the same space. Imagine a room with social entrepreneurs, activists, NGO directors, representatives of informal movements from Ghana to Brazil, with a range of conservative and progressive institutions.    

In designing the workshop, I wanted to make sure to prevent people from getting into a space of formality and serial buzz-wording. My strategy was to loosen things up and get to the heart of the communication issue. I brought a series of paintings and asked participants, arranged in groups of three, to sit back-to-back with one acting as observer. One partner was asked to describe the painting to the other, who had to re-create it. To make things more interesting, the painter was not allowed to ask questions at first. The observers were also given a shot at painting.

During the debrief of the exercise, I asked participants how the exercise related to their work experiences. The conversation cracked open like an egg: they shared how challenging it was to use clear language and to communicate without being able to see each other or ask questions. The activists talked about the way the pace of communication constrained their work, the challenge of asking the right questions and how language can be so easily misinterpreted.

This reflection naturally led to a discussion on donor relations. When a donor puts out a request for grant proposals, youth-led groups often feel they are applying without a clear understanding of the call or being able to read between the lines of the call. Plus, as many of the interviewees stressed, applications often feel akin to throwing a football in the dark. The only feedback some donors give is that the application was unsuccessful, without saying why or where it fell short. Others won’t respond at all.

One interviewee likened a grant application to going on a first date and then having your date ghost you – just vanish without any explanation why.

When I shared grantee organisations’ frustration with the lack of meaningful feedback on grant applications, donors explained they are also under-resourced and have the constraints of limited staff time.

In fact, this conflict is superficial. To understand resourcing patterns, we need to look at a much broader ecosystem of actors interacting dynamically with each other. To visualize this, I facilitated a presencing theatre exercise.

The image we created by embodying different actors and forces present in our ecosystem was a messy knot of powerful actors such as private companies, government and INGOS, in contact with each other. One side of the knot was surrounded by a range of grassroots actors, standing disconnected from each other. Young people were not even represented in this scene until I pointed it out. It seemed to reflect the often-tokenistic nature of youth engagement. The message here was that resourcing of youth-led work won’t happen if young people aren’t meaningfully included in the picture.

What emerged also was that the agents of social transformation are very fragmented. Why? One answer is structural – competition for resources. Civil society organizations compete for the same resources – a twisted dynamic that diminishes the transformative power of each actor.

In my experience, people working at the grassroots level are more likely to allow their whole self into their work – this leaves more space for authenticity but also more room for bruised egos and for differences to be amplified. Or maybe we simply lack a common vision?

In any case, we also realized that youth-led groups and movements are not effectively listening to each other. Plus, civil society groups often strive for independence. Yet resourcing connects or separates groups - the need for resourcing is a constant reminder of our interdependence.

What does this all mean? Like many of the groups I interviewed, I’m still trying to figure that out.

Maybe we need to find new geometries of collaborating that doesn’t look like the awkward funding chains we are used to.

And yet, working together in an open way requires relationships that feel more genuine and real. We need to support each other to grow the skills for nourishing relationships across differences that might feel messy and sticky and require us accepting each other more fully and letting emotions flow.


Gioel Gioacchino is a civil society practitioner and an action researcher. Currently a PhD candidate at the Institute for Development Studies, her research explores how different funding models affect organisational culture as well as the quality of social organisations’ internal and external relationships. She is a research consultant at CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation.

Listen to the summary of her research and some case studies here.

Read on: Alliance Magazine


Time to act: Sustainable Goals

By Lysa John, Secretary-General of CIVICUS.

The year 2019 is already proving to be one in which ordinary citizens are demonstrating an increased impatience with incremental changes that do not lend themselves to the bold and urgent actions needed to support structural and transformative change.

We have witnessed it in the street protests in Zimbabwe and Sudan and in the thousands of school strikes that have seen young people demand decisive action to combat climate change across more than 100 countries.

Since such change requires fundamental shifts in the way power and resources are traditionally organised, it is hardly surprising that the places where these efforts for change are located are outside the spaces dominated by established development actors.

Read on: United Nations Association – UK



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